To Bless Africa

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

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For Profit or not for Profit… is that a question?

In our general and sundry research in preparation to launch To Bless Africa, we have come across tons of fantastic, exciting, awesome (not to overstate or anything) like-minded ventures (like check this one out for example – – how cool is that?! I especially recommend their videos). These ventures are run by individuals and groups who are passionate about the people of Africa, who seek to make a difference, and who are changing the world. Perhaps not too surprisingly, the majority of the ventures we’ve come across are non-profit initiatives.

And yet – you may realize – we have chosen to pursue a different path: arising from the same desire to positively impact people’s lives, we have chosen to create a for-profit company, and you may wonder at that. Dear reader, wonder no more for we are about to substantiate our decision before your reading eyes (or at least attempt to!). There are in fact several different reasons why we chose to pursue this path, and not necessarily in order of importance, the reasons include:

Scalability (is that a word?) – Not-for-profit ventures generally would have a limited pool of resources they can draw from – what the people and organizations they can engage with donate to their cause; whereas a for profit venture, if they build efficient systems that can be replicated, multiplied, and scaled up, have a potentially limitless ability to increase their operations, thus – at least potentially – being able to multiply their impact indefinitely and quickly.

Promotability (that’s definitely not a word!) The ability to promote the business – to have a bigger marketing budget than a not-for-profit venture, would allow us to engage a bigger audience which in turn would help the business grow faster. The faster the business grows the more communities we can impact.

Efficiency (now that’s a word!) Profit would not, of course, be THE bottom line of this venture, but by having the profit of the business be one of the bottom lines, there’s an added pressure and accountability to use whatever resources are available to us with ideally the most efficiency, the least waste.

Flexibility (also a word, lots of points in Scrabble!)- By making this a private, for-profit business, accountable to a board of like-minded individuals who understand its purpose and objectives, we believe the company would have greater flexibility in trying out different methods and approaches with the least amount of bureaucracy. Furthermore, we’d have the flexibility of being able to offer outstanding customer service, a great return policy, etc, even if it costs more to us, because customer satisfaction then becomes one of our top priorities.

Perspective – The media is replete with depressing stories out of Africa. By connecting with vibrant partners in the continent, we hope to help portray a different Africa – a productive, enterprising, striving, creative, exciting, value-creating Africa; as opposed to the same old war-torn, impoverished, malnourished, corrupt, suffering Africa that we see in so many movies, news stories, and donations appeals.

Having worked with charities through most of our time so far in Africa, we have a deep appreciation for the tremendous work they are doing across the continent (and the world!)- from education to healthcare, to healthcare education; from clean water to better nutrition to better farming practices – and everything in-between – non-profits are directly affecting the lives of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions of African men, women and children on a daily basis for the better. Rock on!

But that, dear reader (you can start a sentence with ‘but’ if you’re using poetic license right? I’m sure I have my license here somewhere…) is why we have decided to pursue a different path!

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A Manifesto to Bless Africa:

Several months ago, after having lived in Africa for several years and as a result of our love for its people, my family embarked on a journey to explore not only the best and most effective methods of making a positive and sustainable impact on the continent, but also to find ways of multiplying that impact beyond what one small family could achieve. After much reading, many discussions, and extensive exploration, these have been our conclusions:

1. Faceless people matter. We’re in this together.

If we don’t care where our t-shirts are made, hundreds die in Bangladesh under collapsing factories. If we don’t find out where our shoes come from, 10-year-olds lose their childhood in Pakistan making them. If we don’t know who mined the stones in our rings, communities get enslaved or slaughtered in Sierra Leone to put them there. We cannot afford to allow ignorance, complacence or indifference to be an excuse. We choose to care. When one human being is dehumanized, humanity suffers, and we are lessened as a result. We can do something about this. It is worth doing something about this.

2. Charity is important. Dignity is more important.

If charity and foreign aid were to end, millions of the neediest people on Earth would perish. Just like that. Don’t stop giving – your soul needs it. Nonetheless, the trillion dollars that’s been given to Africa over the last 50 years has not pulled it out of the hole, and we are convinced that the next trillion will be no different. It’s not until people are given the opportunity to not only survive, but to hope and to dream; not until they are allowed the dignity of striving, working, and sacrificing for the fulfilment of their dreams; not until they have the luxury of choice – including the choice to make their own mistakes and to learn from them, that communities – and nations – will begin to change. We are convinced that it is responsible, transparent, and sustainable enterprise that will bring forth this change.

3. The challenge is enormous. Enormous is not impossible.

War, terrorism, disease, poverty, ignorance, famine, corruption, hatred… the list goes on, and does not fail to overwhelm. That is not sufficient reason to give up. We will never cure every ill, right every wrong, impact every community. But every ill we alleviate, every wrong we help bring to light, every community, family and individual we impact will make a difference; and the more of us that come together, the greater that impact and the greater that difference will be. Africa doesn’t need us – it could carry on just as it has for decades; but today we have the opportunity, the honour and the joy of standing together and making a real difference. We choose to seize that opportunity.

4. Ultimately, it’s all about Jesus. It has to be.

We love Africa, and we love her people – they are kind, gentle, hospitable, generous, industrious, beautiful people. But if this endeavour becomes about them – eventually friends will let us down, corruption will dismay, cultural differences will shock and fatalistic worldviews will exasperate – it’ll be a matter of time before indifference or despair sets in, and then this potentially amazing endeavour becomes just another chore or worse. We are of the absolute conviction that if this endeavour is to thrive it has to be about something greater, greater even than a continent of a billion people. We love Jesus – tremendously – and we pray that never changes. Jesus loves every man, woman and child in Africa – more than we ever could – and desires to see their families and communities blessed. That will never change. Our driving force in this endeavour is, and will always be, Jesus and His love.

Rooted in these convictions, we hereby establish To Bless Africa as a trading company that will seek to form partnerships with communities across Africa, that will seek to encourage, promote and advance local enterprise while at the same time modelling integrity and transparency, and that will seek to genuinely bless the communities it does business with rather than to hold to the pursuit of profit as its ultimate goal. In the fulfilment of this endeavour, To Bless Africa will seek to develop relationships with communities across the continent so as to procure the best locally made merchandise available, and will seek to sell these goods in North America – thus creating an avenue for anyone who so desires to not only buy and enjoy them, but to have a direct hand in impacting and blessing our partner communities. Would you walk with us – we want to go far. So help us God.

Through the public posting of this manifesto of our foundational convictions, we ask any members of this community who agree with them and would seek to support this venture to please help hold us accountable to them. If you would be willing to do so, could you please indicate this below by means of a comment?

I do believe we have taken the first bite of this elephant!


Back to business… again?

Here’s another guy who believes that Aid is not the answer. I listened to this TED talk by Andrew Mwenda, an Ugandan journalist who has apparently gotten into some trouble for criticizing the political elite in his home country, and who believes that business, enterprise, and wealth-creation will do more for Africa than Aid. Here’s what he has to say:

I really appreciated what Andrew had to say about corruption, and how with corrupt governments not making it easy for new businesses to be created, many of the brightest and most enterprising young people in many African nations end up seeing the Government as their best opportunity for success, which makes for an ever-growing bureaucracy. But without individuals paying taxes (because of widespread poverty), or businesses paying taxes (because they are so few), governments instead end up relying on foreign aid rather than taxes for survival, which means that they don’t need to encourage policies that are necessary to build up their economies, and as a result, don’t. They end up listening to international creditors rather than their own citizens.

This so resonates with my observations – Aid’s been around for decades, hundreds of billions of dollars have been given, but poverty is still growing across the continent. Then there’s the corruption – how can corruption be so rampant when people can see the horrible effects that corruption is having on their country?

I’m beginning to think that perhaps business is the answer, perhaps creating jobs by building businesses, or investing in local entrepreneurs to encourage enterprise – in an accountable and transparent manner – is how we will end up making a difference. Any thoughts?


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

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.

amer rev

American Revolution – darn those Redcoats


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

russian rev

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.

gandhi march

Gandhi leading a march against Colonial rule


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!).

brazil protests

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?


Now where do we go?


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?