Wednesday, November 24, 2010

No! I won't carry you. But will take a bullet for you!

Recently, I had the privilege to visit France as part of a group social entrepreneurs, aspiring social entrepreneurs and students studying social entrepreneurship at INSEAD - yes, it is indeed the trendy new bandwagon in development. (Even Hillary Clinton endorsed it In Speech and In Deed recently). It was an interesting and supportive experience to share our thoughts with many like-minded people and professionals so far from home. 

I returned with a head full of thoughts about our work to date and our strategic direction for the future - and the thoughtful support of trustworthy people with our best interest at heart. It was an empowering and foreign experience (to be really honest) - this receiving side of entrepreneurial support. One of Uthango's key programmes in the past - recognised by the Impumelelo Innovations Awards Trust (some pictures via link)- is called 'Poverty Alleviation through Social Enterprise Support in Communities' and it focuses on providing training, personal development (coaching) and business mentoring services to micro-entrepreneurs with the potential to make a difference. "All of a sudden" (as a friend would say) I found myself on the other side of the spectrum in a reversal of roles and I had to trust a process that we did not design nor had much influence over at the time.  

In the programme, each social entrepreneur was 'allocated' a 'mentor/coach'. This (in itself) was an interesting 'first' as social entrepreneurs and non-profit leaders traditionally travel the road of their cause or (com)passion fairly alone - at least in my experience and view. It is not the popular option to be an entrepreneur in a developing country, such as South Africa, where there is a high premium and status attached to being employed in the formal sector. Compensation is low and working environment tough.

For me, it felt like gaining an instant friend for our business that I just had to get to know better. Someone to carry a bit of me - not all of me! I explored with the dynamics of the relationship and trusted  her with business 'inside information' and my expectations were exceeded. 

Granted, I find the existing definitions and clarifications of mentoring versus coaching stale and uninspiring and we had to carve our own way forward. How do you describe someone who is trusted as a close friend, with much-needed expert professional knowledge about another industry, and an analytical, critical open-mind to defy all definitions and design a relationship devoid of power politics and personal agenda? I had to resist the urge to climb onto the back of this newly 'assigned mentor' and sigh with a relief: "Carry me, Carry me". After all - THIS would not be the ideal scenario: Apart from me breaking the back of the new trustee with my local burdens of our work, it would slow me down; it would slow all of us down. 

So, the gurus write about the difference between a mentor and coach and it appears that a coach is chosen to lead someone to greater personal and/or professional heights with an emphasis on the person, whereas a mentor are more directive, asking the right questions at the right time. with much focus on goals to achieve. There is another interesting piece about the different roles on the Six Figures blog written by Kelly Magowen  with her 14 years experience in career coaching. (And coaching is NOT therapy, even though it could lead to it or evolve into it - a responsibility that a coach who is not a trained therapist should defer). By now, I have read several articles and academic write-ups about coaching, advising, consultation and mentoring; and I have decided that in practice - from the social entrepreneur side - there are two elements  of the relationship that matters much more than all the definitions combined: boundaries and expectations

I would argue (in my short experience within this programme of support to social entrepreneurs in Africa) that we need neither a coach nor an adviser, and also not a mentor or industry 'expert'  as much as we could do with a trusted friend willing to share from her/his network and from her life experience and knowledge as an equal on a path of learning. Setting boundaries jointly and levelling expectations are part of building a stable working relationship. Let's put it this way as well: Social entrepreneurs need someone that believes so much in us that she would 'take a bullet' and is willing to stick her neck out for our business.  I also prefer the term 'consigliere' in this sense - not part of the family, but close enough to be family to be mistaken as part of it - always retaining loyal ties with the members. Our faithful counsellor respects our autonomy and would even communicate the vision of the business, but is not afraid to voice her own opinion fearlessly: 
The role of a consigliere is a remnant of medieval times when nobles of a conquered court would make themselves available to the new monarch.
Asking too much? Yes, maybe - but why not? Our social businesses ARE different; and it does ask for more risk - more reputational risk, on our side and on the sides of those aligned to us.  Some argue the risk is less, because it is a social enterprise, and less money is involved. Nonsense. Much is at stake. Therefore, make the choice carefully, but when you do become involved with a social enterprise, expect the journey to be exhilarating and rewarding.

It is an exciting time for us and there are so many people that are turning to us to ask how they can assist us to scale our initiatives. We are realigning and in this process, we are choosing the friends of our business, and they are choosing us... I am encouraged - not by definitions or programmes or activities of support, but by the expressed good intent of people and the selfless demonstration of their belief in the approach we follow to development and the sincere desire we share to have social impact way beyond ourselves.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I have nothing. Do you remember me?

Been a tough, but interesting week so far - and we are only at Tuesday! Yesterday, I saw a man with a poster at the stop street close, to the local McDonalds: "I have nothing. Please help me". I knew he REALLY had nothing. We have learned to tell from someone's eyes because we work in communities where there are people with 'some things' and those that truly have "no things". He was such man. Vulnerable, defeated, beyond poor, rejected from within and lost in the public, entirely reliant on the mercy of any passing stranger.

And then today, a few minutes ago, I received a copy of this via our company mail:
***** Uthango Website Enquiry *****

Date: 19 October, 2010

"'s me Anthony*...I just hope you still remember me, I've trying to find you with regarding what you were about to help us with. I don't know if you can meet with me regarding that please I really need you more than ever just call me when you had this messege".
Anthony* and his friend approached us three years ago - wanting to open a butchery in a local township. There were many health regulations that concerned our agency, Uthango Social Investments, but they were adamant that 'as youth' they had the advantage of "getting support from government" and the local councillor. With meat being so popular in South African communities, I imagine they had something in mind like Skhoma in Gugulethu - eventually. However, they would start out with some 'rock chickens' (indeed as big as rocks) that they would drive on the back seat of a car from the other side of town and keep in the back yard until... well... (Needless to say, the health regulations were a welcome excuse to advise the young men at the time to "work on their business concept" a bit and get back to us).

So here we are again: Later this week, we shall call Anthony* and ask what their plans are and what progress they have made. Coincidently, there are several other organisations in this particular community, and we have not been directly involved with the men for quite some time. It seems that they have fallen through the cracks like so many enthusiastic young people here in South Africa - leading to an unacceptable high unemployment figure and more than 1 million people not being economically active.

I think when someone has something and not nothing, we should probably assist them to make more of it. As for the man on the corner, with the poster pleading directly for help, I believe that social justice and humanity failed him to date. I wonder what will happen if he has an opportunity to work and earn a living. Just that: an opportunity.  Someone that trusted him to deliver to his abilities and paid him fairly.

Ps: I am angy at myself when our organisation cannot do more, when my own weaknesses cannot be overcome, and when our resources are so stretched - when we cannot answer his plea for help when he need it most.  In some ways we all stand with posters or drive around for chickens, don't we?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Unbearable Lightness of Seeing

Ke Nako! Celebrate Africa's Humanity: This slogan was launched in November 2007 for the 2010 World Cup Soccer and declared boldly in an indigenous language "It is Time" - time for Africa.  And it was followed soon by optimistic voices and prophets of doom alike about hosting a world class international sporting event in an African country.  

And then there was the 'Waka Waka' to celebrate the optimism - the official song for the event performed by Shakira: "Today's your day. Feel it.... This time for Africa..".

The event has come and gone. It has dominated Twitter for an entire month, with the vuvuzela trending early on every single day. Social Media was a game changer in this African-hosted World Cup - connecting the world on a massive scale, and launching applications dedicated to the fans globally. Our own company also had a small social enterprise in this time to provide earplugs that would prevent hearing damage. "This year’s World Cup has an unprecedented volume of social media outlets and initiatives from Twitter feeds to Facebook fan pages, viral videos to mobile apps and more".(The World Cup's Social Media Evolution, Mashable) 

With my love for social media and its potential, and my passion for African development - I will be the first to admit that it was indeed a very special time in Africa.  Was it a time for Africa? Away from the world class soccer stadia, the fan parks, elaborate shows, the media conferences, the lobby meetings for business people and the vuvuzela-crazy crowds - in the rural parts, in the muddy townships?  Was it also Ke Nako? Did the time come?   

“I think as South Africans, we need to remember that we are a teenager in the world of nations and for us this has been a proud moment since 1994 and from the economic point of view all the investment was money well spent,” the South African Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan said at a FIFA press conference early this month.  
The government makes the point that it spent more than R33 billion over a period of four years on infrastructure and preparation for the World Cup. Close to R12 billion was spent on stadia infrastructure with another R11 billion spent on transport and R1.5 billion spent on event broadcast and telecommunications. (Source: BuaNews)

I am no economist. It is being said over and over again  in the media  and in workshops that Africans may not see the benefits of the World Cup immediately and that the investment made now will pay off in the long run for the country, and set South Africa up as economic force on the continent. This is good news and opens a window of hope in terms of the potential white elephants that we erected  as monuments for the world's entertainment on the doorstep of poverty. Take the extravagant Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit, close to Kruger National Park as an example - with its roof suspended from 18  bright iron "giraffes" and its zebra-striped seating. The local people saw their schools closed two years ago so that the construction company could use these as offices. (Unbearable). There were quite a few such decisions in favour of the one-month event and short term solutions that are difficult to understand. The exclusion of many South Africans from the immediate benefits of the World Cup is even harder to swallow. Mat Mackay, journalist of WWOS, labels the same magnificent Nelspurit stadium the 'stadium of shame' and for good reason as this video clip shows.

Let me share with you my own experience though - one that turned out to be unbearable in this time. of hope. I have seen Africans sell soccer flags made in the East on street corners in freezing cold weather and I saw children huddle together at small television set in a cold room without floor. IYes, I have also witnessed a rainbow of nations speak different languages, but cheer for the same teams. And I have seen thousands of people walk down Cape Town's streets with laughter and joy for having a moment of pride in our country as host nation. But I have heard more conversations of fear amongst Africans for the day after the World Cup Finals, and the frustration of  micro-entrepreneurs that cannot access the new market walking down our streets due to FIFA regulations.  There was concerns about millions spend on stadia that were not even used for practices as promised. And I have known that there is a lot of sugar coating...
Xenophobia in South African townships is as real as the fact that Paul the Octopus predicted a win for Spain against the Netherlands in the final and was right. The South African government has tried their utmost to play down the problems of foreigner hatred as 'ordinary crime' and 'just rumours'  in the media. Police Minister, Nathi Mthethwa angrily denied claims from organisations on the ground, saying "an investigation had shown that those leaving were foreign migrant workers returning home". He accused politicians who had raised the spectre of violence of being "peddlers of fear". Yet, there was a heavy police presence in townships on Monday, the day after the World Cup. My own housekeeper from Zimbabwe simply replied on enquiry, about her well-being: "Tomorrow. They said they will kills us, tomorrow. Three-quarters of the people have fled (if true, close to 5000 people in one community!) , but I am staying". The real face of xenophobia showed itself in 2008, and no matter how much denial - or whatever name you call it - it remains an underlying theme in our poor South African communities, as shown by this excellent piece in The Daily Maverick: Faces of Xenophobia. So difficult to face the unbearable light of truth in the shadow of the euphoria: South Africa welcomed the western and eastern visitors with their money, but chased away their own African neighbours with empty pockets - seeking only a way to make a living themselves.

There was such excitement in South Africa, and indeed in Africa, about the Soccer World Cup. It is after all true that soccer (or football, called by some) is not so much a sport in Africa as it is culture - a tradition; a way of life.  The Belgium-born photographer Jessica Hilltout 'gets' this about the beautiful game: ""In Africa football is not a religion, but it is everything a religion should be", she says about her inspiring book called 'AMEN' in which she pays homage to those people that will never benefit from the World Cup, no matter how much public relations spin sanctioned by the Swiss FIFA boardroom.

On a continent where people will walk miles to support their local teams on dusty fields and meet with neighbouring villagers, there is little need for a vuvuzela button in YouTube or a dedicated Twitter portal for the World Cup. A ball, shoes and some players on an uneven field. And the benefits are clear, with free trade amongst the fans and no corporate owners of the game except all those who are part of it and make it happen. 

When all is said and done, it is unbearable for me to see that so little immediate benefit has been achieved for those living with poverty every day. I cannot help but remember the elderly Sarah losing her handmade table cloths at the hands of two police men when she sat just 3 meters too close to the entrance of one of the stadiums. So, as much as I really want to celebrate with our President Jacob Zuma, and as much as I also enjoyed the moment - I do not feel it. Not really. It is not here yet. Not from where we stand.

Friday, April 9, 2010

I am the Poor...

"I am the poor..." says Julius Malema, the African National Congress Youth League leader in a recent interview with 3rd Degree on ETV. From the interview it is clear that this  charismatic leader defines himself clearly in terms of association and solidarity with the plight of the poor and his own background as the child of a domestic worker.  

And Malema's loyal followers understand exactly where he is coming from, as he articulates the boiling frustration of (mostly unemployed) youth in South African poverty-stricken townships.  As a development agency with an ear to the ground, we have seen the growing resentment. In 2004 , during the Mbeki-era Uthango conducted a six-month enterprise programme in Khayelitsha in Cape Town (with its 500 000 odd people, a very young population  and 75% under the age of 35 with more than 55% living in poverty) and had various socio-economic discussions with 'comrades' attending the sessions. Frustrated young men and women said they cannot stand the fact that they still live without employment and skills in the same 'shacks' that their parents erected to create a 'better life' for them all when when they arrived in Cape Town.

Township Art by Mogano
And the 'young lions' blamed the government for not moving fast enough... for not transforming society and business to provide much more access for blacks to economic powers. Our entire team sensed an urgency and a human 'time bomb' in the air that day and we facilitated discussion on ways to overcome challenges of poverty  and exclusion via enterprise and dialogue. It was not enough... and we realised then already that the system and the leaders need to change along with individual young people that battle for their fragile future on the streets of Khayelitsha. Government. Business. Education. All of it would need a compass towards mutual respect for diversity and creation of equal opportunity.

Political freedom of 1994 did not translate into economic freedom to date - despite the Black Economic Empowerment policies by the South African government. Why not? For me, here is the issue: How can any person, business or any ethnic group transform without a substantial change of heart? I am not talking about a change of policy or environment, nor a change of political or corporate leadership, but a true deepened sense of understanding, and a new  united dedication towards nation-wide transformation which seeks respect for all people irrespective of race, background or views.  Many South Africans  on both sides of the spectrum did not have such change of heart prior to the 1994 democratic elections, but instead, were swept away by circumstances and manoeuvred into a new democracy by their leaders. Deep transforming dialogue together with healing and forgiveness was not facilitated, nor did South Africans truly co-design the future. There was a bloodless exchange and negotiation of power between leaders and followers had to trust the political process. Fears, ignorance and high expectations for the future were suspended in a "wait-and-see" form at grass roots, and everyone waited... and too few actively worked towards the ideal. Too few stories told. Too few people working and living together with too few new skills transferred and gained.

Today is the funeral of the late Eugene TerreBlanche, described in the international media as a 'white supremacist' and leader of the 'Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging' (AWB). He was murdered on his farm earlier this week and it sparked racial tension across the globe (actually). "We are here to avenge his death and to get our country back," said one AWB member who didn't want to be named. "It's been stolen from us; we built it with our blood and it was taken away and given to them for free." (via I look at the khaki-clad followers speaking my native language and I cannot associate with any of them in any possible way. I listen to the frustrated youth of Khayelitsha and I cannot distance myself far enough from their justification of violence to achieve a political aim. The past week, the intolerance of two groups has surfaced in the public arena when an AWB leader exploded on national television and threatened the co-attendee:

In a similar (and equally unacceptable fashion), Julius Malema, showed his own lack of respect for the BBC reporter yesterday - after the ANC Youth League visit to Zimbabwe:

Both the above incidence have since been strongly criticised by the ANC, as shared in this tweet (and many others) by young South African Gideon Monaise: K2metz ANC condemns Malema's behaviour

In Twitter today, I follow various tags and meme's, such as the latest #DearJulius  or simply 'Malema' or '#TerreBlanche' 'related to the politics of South Africa. We work in a politically charged environment, and even though our organisation is a-political and a-religious, we allow debate and interaction. It is important to stay abreast of the most important latest socio-political trends. The two most interesting phrases I have heard the past few weeks were this one: "We are not racist, we are nationalists," (Visagie of AWB, on the right) and then "I am not a communist, but a progressive nationalist" (Malema of ANCYL, on the left). Did anyone else pick up on this? Both describing themselves as nationalists. What do we make of this? Possibly, that the "nation" is important. If so, which nation? All of us, or some of us...?

And then there was the remark by an Afrikaans-speaking man in a quick interview (forgot his name now), where he said, I am a 'more moderate racist than those people at the AWB'. There is no such thing! Either you are, or you are not. There is no middle road here.

Words are interesting: If I work with the poor, associate with the poor and live to make the environment of the poor less harsh, and I am the granddaughter of the poor working class - a mechanic that walked to school for 5 miles a day - can I also say (like Malema): "I am the Poor". Or if I believe in the nation and building it, do I say I am a nationalist? Progressive or Conservative?

Incidentally, I believe that words are futile without the actions. I may be a revolutionary at heart, but if I am not one in action - I am empty. Similarly, I can advocate for justice and building a nation in the vision of Mr.Nelson Mandela, and fight for equal human rights and dignity, but if I do not practice peace when the inter-racial heat is turned on after a brutal murder by a person of one race on another (regardless of reason), I am a fool. This is a simple individual call for courageous and honest leadership and less pretence that all is well in the South of Africa in the face of the world (and a Soccer World Cup 2010).

2010 could be our moment - again - and maybe not because we build sports' stadiums and host another world class event, but because we filled it with people RICH in understanding and mutual respect... So we can all say: I am NOT the Poor, I am Rich in understanding with a heart for all suffering from injustice of any kind: Be it a farmer murdered by disgruntled farm workers, or a young woman for being a lesbian in a township, or an activist loosing his life to fight for freedom.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Contact Me

I use the name Alanagh Recreant in many social networks - borrowed from Second Life. I also use metaMeerkat.

I guess it was originally a bit of a buffer to protect my privacy. The pseudoname has since grown on me. You are welcome to contact me in one of the various ways listed here. Thanks for sharing my journey online as we wade through endless information.

The easiest is via email:

in reference to: Alanagh Recreant - Google Profile (view on Google Sidewiki)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Non-Profit Social Enterprises: An Oxymoron

Today, in Twitter, my attention was grabbed by a 140 characters little headline and my immediate thought was: if ever there was an implied oxymoron, this was it: It simply hints that one should differentiate between 'for-profit' and 'non-profit' social entrepreneurship:

The link posted leads to the respected website on the topic of "Social Entrepreneurship" and an article by Nathaniel Whittemore with the redundant reference to 'for-profit' in the title that deserves attention: "The State of the For-Profit Social Entrepreneurship Field". It is a good article and thought-provoking.

It is indeed unneccessary to so feel compelled to include 'for-profit'  in the title (as if the other kind exists) and after reflection, I can only say that entrepreneurship has at its heart ENTERPRISE and PROFIT (thus, an oxymoron to speak about 'nonprofit' social enterprises or social entrepreneurship). Much more valuable is the comment that entrepreneurs or companies are becoming more socially orientated in their thinking and ideas as they explore emerging markets.  They may very well move into the space of nonprofit delivery, and (I have to say) some times in a more sustainable way due to better business practices and acumen.

In the same way,  and at the other end of the spectrum, traditional 'nonprofits' (a term I have never liked as I prefer 'public profit') find their way into other forms of generating income. This does not make these 'charities' or 'civil society organisations' now suddenly for-profit at their core - but it makes them clever and enterprising in the way they raise funds for charitable work through entrepreneurial ventures.  Afterall, Uthango itself just kick-started  another venture, called vuvuzela unPluggedTM, for the purpose of generating an income for operational expenses. Many 'non-profits' are led by very enterprising people with very strong desires to be independent from "grant-taking".  And many leaders of non-profits are opening their eyes to the social value of economic activity, because they are forced by the global economic crisis and socially-savvy corporates to reconsider options. I totally agree that entrepreneurship could be expected to be social as much as it is profitable:
"I think that recognizing the social value of economic activity at the root of entrepreneurship helps us re-calibrate not only what we think social entrepreneurship looks like, but what we expect all entrepreneurship to mean".
So what are we looking at then? Companies and entrepreneurs (with a focus on profit and viability) moving towards a social agenda and Civil Society organisations (with a focus on social gain and sustainability) shifting in the direction of an economic agenda. And in the middle we find the meeting point of social entrepreneurship - by its very definition FOR PROFIT and FOR SOCIAL GAIN.  I maintain that nonprofit social entrepreneurship does not exist, in the same way as for-(personal)-profit charity work has no place. 

As our own organisation debate our existing projects vigorously to position it as social enterprises OR funded socio-economic projects, we find ourselves reflecting on the basic principles of good business. 

I am thinking, it is unfair to compete with a 'non-profit' status in an entrepreneurial market place and use grants and donations to generate profit as it distorts the market.  However, in a competing world, where those companies and entrepreneurs with financial assets could enter the arena where civil society organisations thrived in the past, it is equally unfair that the social deliverables of these organisations are now engulved by corporate agendas. Surely, the middle way lies in recognising the best in both worlds and collaborating in partnerships (and building capacity) rather than reinvent the wheel either way??

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Consider this an Invitation to Africa

It is five years since an article from the UN News Centre warned: "Donor fatique, cynicism could lead to millions of death in Ethiopia". And today, it seems to me that there is not only donor fatigue, but donor paralysis has stepped in. And who is to blame them?? Well-meaning people take their hard earned cash and hand it over to respected international aid agencies in the hope to make a difference.  Then, the scandals  and stories of corruption hit the media - true or not - and taint the process . Hearts and hands close. One recent story that broke on CNN caught my attention, simply because I remember well how upset I was with the images  of dying children as a young  South African in a rural town, quite sheltered from realities of Africa by our self-important leaders at the time:
An investigation by the BBC has found just 5 per cent of the money raised by Live Aid and Band Aid actually made it to the victims of famine in Ethiopia. Instead, the millions of dollars of international aid intended to buy food for starving Ethiopians was used by rebel groups to buy weapons. The 1985 Live Aid and Band Aid concerts, organised by Bob Geldof in the UK and the US, raised $250 million.
The comments on this article are even more interesting and disturbing, and show the disillusion of people with aid projects, and their future intention to do it themselves instead and not support the agencies any longer (let alone local agencies), like MiWi saying:
There is only one way to ensure that AID is received by those in need and that is to deliver it personally and ensure that the intended recipients actually receive it.

Let me say outright that I believe many lives were INDEED saved by the funds tof the 80s that found its way to Ethiopia at the time. I do believe that there were good people in the country and at these aid organisations, and good people with good intentions are still working tirelessly to make an impact on poverty. However, most of the time,  its not enough to WANT to do just DO something, anything that seems to be a great! idea .  Do yourself a favour like I did and spend a few minutes with entries at this blog - part of The Charity Rater: Good Intentions Are not Enough


Oh, and I am not pointing fingers at all. Our own organisation made its share of mistakes and learned some wonderful tough lessons in this regard.  Good intentions.  Some of our projects not executable due to realities that were unforeseen at the time.  Some even in our virtual world of Second Life. This is as much part of the business of development work than it is of any other kind of business practice. Change is inevitable. 


The point is: there is value in respecting local civil society organisations when implementing local projects, simply because it reduces the risk of being wrong. More importantly, it becomes indispensable to LISTEN. And this is very much the new thinking of social innovation that has been emerging in development community since the 80s when Africa still stood with a grateful open hand, and the best minds in international development came "to solve its challenges". Some Universities like Stanford Graduate School of Business took the lead in a discourse on different and more appropriate ways to deal with social problems than a top-down hand-out of resource and intel - see there Centre for Social Innovation.


We need to rethink the models of giving. In a big and bold way. We need to distill the lessons learned and unpack them into uncompromisable principles that apply globally to all agencies operating in developing countries. Poor people without skills should not become the marketing vehicle for the latest 'bottom-of-the-pyramid' product nor the 'convenient angle' to any other superior agenda of self-enrichment or power. Which is exactly! why I am so over the moon with the newly launched EVOKE multiplayer serious game on social innovation and social entrepreneurship:


I would encourage any parent and educator to encourage young people to play this game, to become an agent. It will change minds and shape views. I am in love with it. I have the greatest respect for the developers, the World Bank Institute with funding from Infodev and the Korean Trust Fund on ICT for Development. (And by the way, do look at the most amazing project related to spacial data and the Millennium Development Goals - also by InfoDev). The team describes their aim with the EVOKE serious game as:
EVOKE is a ten-week crash course in changing the world. It is free to play and open to anyone, anywhere. The goal of the social network game is to help empower young people all over the world, and especially young people in Africa, to come up with creative solutions to our most urgent social problems.
Life is no game - especially not for people living in hardship every day. We all know this well. However, their is much to be said for using the principles of games in learning about development in the world. In the first Mission in Evoke as 'secret agent', we are called upon to 'shadow a social innovator' and to listen and learn from someone we respect. This is the best possible way to start in development. Absolutely! For us, the Uthango iPekX tool generates indigenous knowledge for decision-making prior to social investment. We know not to develop where we could not listen, or are not listened to.
Why then does THIS simple principle of listening with attention not apply when international well-meaning and good intentioned development workers and volunteers and academics land in Africa, with a healthy budget and sense of adventure? Listen to local organisations and enhance their financial and skills apacity as long-term inheritants of any programme. Marieme Jamme the CEO of SpotOne Global Solutions, is one of my favourite motivational speakers and strategists and makes many more good points about 'How NOT to give money to Charities working in Africa'. My favourite hint is this one:

11. Why not consider a visit to Africa to see for yourself before donating ...

Maybe then we will not have so many paralysed donors now...because we will have confidence in the ability of social innovators from Ethiopia and other African countries to evoke the change we seek... And maybe we will not be so quick to judge...
Ps: Consider this a personal invitation.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Just a Convenient Angle

We had a verbal commitment with a company for the past eight months: We shall assist them to network and find a suitable investor needed for a project in South Africa and in return, our organisation will be contracted to do much-needed community development work attached to their initiative. We believed them, and after some standard due diligence, was excited about the relationship.

And we prepared the paperwork. We had meetings. Our lawyers look at it. We emailed the agreements after a solid verbal agreement on roles and logistical support. A commitment was made by them to sign "later" when "the time is right", and "later" eventually became eight months...despite our consistant nagging...

Its predicable. We finally got the interested investor three weeks ago. Excited about the prospect to respond to one of the communities on our list.  Finally. R35 million. Fantastic people. And the 'partner' we trusted for months, turned around and shared with us in honesty, for the first time: It surfaced that they never had the intention to develop the local communities sustainably as we proposed, but that development of poor communities was a 'convenient angle' to raise funds for their initiative. The deceitful snakes (for lack of a better word) showed their true colours two weeks ago and we immediately laid down tools and talents from our team. Using the social capital and networks of our nonprofit and our staff members, and logistical infrastructure and systemic support (as a convenient office away from home) for pure personal gain is simply not cool. Worse: It is indefensable. 

We informed the investor - who asked us how they could trust the people who we could no longer trust.  We had a good conversation.

I wonder how we could let this happen?? How could we possibly trust the one representative that we dealt with - so much. Looking into someone's eyes and saying - we trust you to honour your agreement - is just not enough these days. We were a 'convenient angle'. I should have trusted my instincts. Get the paperwork signed before hoping for promises to be kept. We should have stepped away. Opportunity lost. Time spend on a project that could have been time spend on raising funds in other ways - not relying on a 'partner' that now appears to do business without an ethical compass. How could we have been deceived for so long, so well, so cleverly?? Damn.

And the question that lingers with me... Are nonprofits and social enterprises and social innovation and social investments and responsible bottom-of-the-pyramid development and access to microfinance...all these.... are all these terms cleverly disguised capitalism and just 'covenient angles" ?? 

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