To Bless Africa

How can we make the biggest impact with the most efficiency for the greatest good?


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Patient Capitalism

A little while ago I was introduced to TED talks – an organization that takes experts in a variety of different fields and asks them to distill the greatest nuggets of wisdom/insight/innovation that they’ve encountered in their work into the 20 minute ‘talk of their lives’. These talks are then made available for free to the world. Here’s an idea that is changing the world – nothing short of inspired.

I recently came across a talk by Jacqueline Novogratz, a lady who has since become one of my heroes. For around 20 years she’s been working in South Asia and Africa to eradicate poverty, and has some radical ideas on how to do it. There was so much to learn from what she’s said that I thought I’d share it here:

She begins and ends her talk by speaking about the interconnectedness of today’s world. Having already called 4 continents ‘home’ at different times, I am totally in synch with this. What is really exciting though is to see more and more people in North America begin to get this – from young people who’re willing to spend more to buy Fair Trade coffee so as to ensure that farmers in Colombia – who they’ll never meet – get paid sufficiently; to professionals who give generously for the relief of people in Indonesia who’ve been struck by a tsunami – again, people they’ll never meet; to families who commit – for years – to give monthly for the education and well-being of a child in Kenya who again, for the most part, they’ll never meet. To see this growing global awareness, this realization that we’re all in this together begin to gather momentum is exhilarating. What a great time to be living in!

Something else that stood out is her mention of how Good Will donations in North America destroyed the retailing industry in Rwanda – how well intentioned kindness can have consequences that are completely unforeseen. This reminds me of a story I heard while visiting with some friends in Chad about how a large UN presence in the capital – Ndjamena – was in the process of deeply affecting the local economy. Some UN personnel tried to buy some chicken, and thinking that the price they were being charged was far too low, offered to pay several times the asking price – just to be kind. Very soon this made meat unaffordable to local Chadians. Strategies can be a lot more effective when they are fully thought through – from every perspective – and learn from past mistakes.

Last, but not least, there was her main point – ‘the only way to end poverty is to build viable systems on the ground that build critical and affordable goods and services in ways that are financially sustainable and scalable’. Ms Novogratz founded the Acumen Fund just over 10 years ago, which invests in medium to very small scale enterprises, over long periods of time (a non-profit capital venture fund for the poor). The intention is to see local people who are more enterprising natural leaders come up with solutions that work in their own communities. Rather than just give via foreign Aid and charities, and rather than just invest financially into building factories (which hopefully don’t collapse) which would create low-level jobs, they seek out a middle-ground. They seek to use business to pull people out of poverty, but with patience and long investment time-frames in mind, what she calls Patient Capitalism. A method that allows people to make their own decisions, solve their own problems, and keep their dignity.

Lots of food for though, lots of ideas for chewing on. I really recommend checking out some of her other talks on www.ted.com/talks.

Dignity is more important to the human spirit than Wealth.
J. Novogratz.


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On Protests, Uprisings and Revolutions…

I just read an article shared by Jonathan Glennie on the revolutions sweeping through so many developing nations. The writer, Paul Mason, makes specific mention of BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Having spent big chunks of my life in both Brazil and India, and seeing principles here which apply to Africa, I thought I’d write a little bit about this.

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American Revolution – darn those Redcoats

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French Revolution – poor lady’s clothes are falling off!

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Russian Revolution – How did they get so burly on turnips and potatoes? No whey!

Revolutions have been going around for a while now. A little over two centuries ago some Americans, tired of being ruled and taxed from far away with no say in the matter decided that the system was broken, and fought to create a better system. Shortly after some Frenchmen were feeling miserable because much of the power and wealth in their country rested in the hands of a very few, so the people rose up, heads rolled, and voila – a Republic was established (i believe it was a bit messier than it sounds). A little while later poor Russian peasants who lived on potatoes and turnips (which get old fast I’d imagine) became outraged that their nobility had caviar with their Faberge eggs while attending the ballet; and boom, revolution ensued there too. In the following decades dozens of colonies – outraged that the wealth and power of their nations lay in the hands of a foreign minority – went boom like dominoes so that from 1945 to 1985 around one hundred new sovereign nations came into being.

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Gandhi leading a march against Colonial rule

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Uprisings in Egypt – way more flags per capita!

Just a couple of years ago we saw another wave of revolutions start for much the same reasons – the Arab Spring – the wealth and power of nations rested in the hands of a very few, the increasingly educated masses felt disenfranchised and hopeless, and corruption at all levels of society just made it sting all the more. Revolutions went around and regimes fell, or in some cases are still falling. More recently Turkey went up, and in the last week, Brazil did too. That hits closer to home. Brazil was my home from 3 to 12 years old, and i still have a deep love for easy-going Brazilian culture and the open, accepting, unbelievably friendly people. Yet I remember even in my early teens – way before people started talking of BRICS – reading that no countries at the time had greater disparity between rich and poor than Brazil, South Africa, and India (possibly in The Power of One, a book I highly recommend to everyone, everywhere!).

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Protests in Brazil – is it me or have protesters been getting browner through the centuries?

Mason writes that given the injustices and the differences between what life could be like and what it actually is for increasingly educated populations in developing countries, unhappiness is bound to be fomented. He ends his article by stating that until those injustices change, this ‘Human Spring’ seems destined to continue. I agree with him, but I don’t think he’s gotten to the root of it. Power may tend to corrupt, but I’m pretty sure a whole government doesn’t suddenly become corrupt the moment they take the reins of power. Replacing a corrupt government with another corrupt government, which tragically seems to have become a habit in Africa, is no improvement at all.

Without societal transformation from the bottom up instilling integrity as a core value in society, without teaching the importance of transparency and accountability – both governmental but also personal, neither general populations nor leaders are suddenly going to be transformed into incorruptible bastions of virtue. Beyond this, until a mature citizenry realize that leadership starts here, at home, and not with Government; until individuals and groups begin taking personal responsibility for the development, improvement and transformation of their countries, things aren’t going to change. They might get shifted around on the plate, but it’ll be the same old meal.

This blog was established in part to help determine the best way that we, as a family desiring to see transformation, could be used to help see it happen. I think vital to any solutions we think we might see, to any systems we think might work, would be a component of this – one on one speaking into people’s lives, encouraging transparency, promoting accountability, modelling integrity. Could you imagine the difference that a generation of leaders who live out these values would make?


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Roadkill

Two mighty roads obsidian flowed
split by a concrete divide,
and by this barrier lay
what had once been a raccoon, no more.

I gazed in passing and wondered what
didst draw this poor beast to its dead end.
Said my love, perhaps being a visionary it looked,
and saw not the obstacle, but the treetops beyond.

Thus did I learn from this idealist, now deceased
that though we dream of brighter futures,
without an eye on the ground,
we might see naught but headlights,

in the end.


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Now where do we go?

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Well, I started a blog hoping to engage people and had 3 hits on my first day. I’m pretty sure two of those were me on my phone, but to be fair I haven’t told my mom about this yet – I’m sure I’ll get a lot more hits/day  once she knows…

Changing the world (or, for that matter, bringing change to a continent) seems like an ambitious undertaking, so I thought I’d start by laying out where we’re coming from.

A lot has been written lately on the ineffectiveness that seems to have inadvertently crept into many of the currently operating models of charity. Books like Walking with the Poor, When Helping Hurts, and Toxic Charity look through the eyes of wisdom and experience at the waste, lack of sustainability, inefficiencies and dependency created by much of today’s charitable system, while books like Dead Aid and The Trouble with Aid do the same for Government to Government foreign aid. Of course this does not include mismanagement and ‘misallocation of funds’ (which seems to be a nice way of saying that someone in government just got a new sports car/house/jet/Swiss bank account). Having worked within this system and seen the good and the bad, but also desiring to be the most effective in what we do, we thought this blog might be a good avenue through which to explore better models, or perhaps even find the best model.

The truth is that trillions have been given, through foreign aid and through charities, to governments and projects in various African countries. Just last year Africa received some $50 Billion in government aid (almost a quarter of which was given by North America), and another $310 Billion was given by North American donors through charities. Why is it then that poverty in Africa has barely been dented? North Americans may be generous, but this system is obviously broken. What could we be doing differently that could bring lasting change? What is being done out there that is working? If you happen upon this blog and have an answer to any of these questions, I would really love to hear it please!

Meanwhile, here’s where we are: we really believe that change in Africa won’t come as a result of pouring more money into it. No duh. The path taken by that money – how it’s spent and what it ignites –  has to change. The current, most prevalent system is too akin to a tap pouring water into dry sand – the sand will drink it up and be just as dry once the tap runs out of water. You can’t irrigate a desert that way. How does one tap the aquifer? Dig deep enough to find water under the desert? Engage the average Tanzanian/Malawian/Congolese/South Sudanese/Libyan into working for the betterment of their own country, and not just what they can get out of it (which leads to corruption), what works for the immediate term (which leads to poverty), or what’s always been done?

And ultimately for us, what can we do to catalyse change, where do we start?

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Here it Begins…

The story began a couple of decades ago…

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Well, not really, that’s just kind of where we joined the story, but for the purposes of this narrative, the story began a couple of decades ago, when my wife – then a little girl – saw the picture of another little girl, this one sponsored by her family in far away Africa, and wondered what life was like through her eyes. What struggles she faced, what the world she lived in was like… and how this girl in far away Canada could relate. Fast forward ten years and – now around twenty, her bags packed – she’s saying goodbye to teary parents on her way to see for herself. The majority of the last 10 years spent in Africa have seen that curiosity grow into a deep love for the friendly, kind, generous people of this great continent, and a burning passion to see their lives blessed.

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Lindsay, back then.

Now let’s go back another 10 years when I, in my early twenties, having just finished an undergrad degree and recently entered the ‘real world’ of work and bills, contemplating grad school; begin feeling a deep unease/unsettling/unhappiness about the way my life’s going, about living just for ‘fun, friends and money’. When i begin wondering what I’m doing with my life that is making any difference in this world. This feeling eventually develops into an intense yearning to do something that matters, and this yearning leads me – in my mid-twenties – to coastal Tanzania, to learn/teach/live/love with one of the poorest people-groups in the country.

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Dan and friends muddying it up back in the day…

Again, fast forward to the present. We met (in Africa!), fell in love (with a proposal on top of Kilimanjaro!), and got married. This is several years and almost three kids later, with the majority of those years spent in Africa where one of those kids was born and two of them were at least partly gestated. Between the two of us we’ve now lived in or visited over a dozen African countries, and can at least get by in most of the trade-languages of the continent (English, French, Arabic, Portuguese, Swahili, Somali… but only greetings in Amharic!), our love and passion for this vast and amazing continent continues to grow, as does our desire to see it’s peoples blessed. Yet after having spent almost two decades in the continent between the two of us, we keep coming up against our own limitations – our impact is so limited, and even counting all that’s been done by the organizations we’ve worked with, we’d love to see so much more done.

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When we were first married…

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…and now

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Our older girls in disguise..

And so we decided to start this blog as an avenue to explore possibilities, to connect with people, to spread the vision – to see how we can do more, how we can see our efforts multiply, how we can see fatalism, corruption, poverty, ignorance and disease eradicated from this amazing continent which has in so many ways become our home.

We have ideas – but our exposure, our wisdom, and our knowledge is limited. We would love to connect with and learn from others who are already running systems that work; discuss, hone and improve on our ideas; and through this blog to spread our passion to the greatest number of people so as to see them – even in small ways – begin to engage. Our hope, our dream, our prayer is that in our generation we can see this continent transformed and blessing begin to pour out of Africa into the rest of the world.

Care to join us?

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