To Bless Africa

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

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Africa in the News

“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get Aids. Just kidding. I’m white!”

So tweeted the director of corporate communications for media conglomerate IAC yesterday, unleashing a storm of online protest. To be fair, the lady in question is apparently no poster child for sensitivity or good judgement in her utterances, having previously tweeted equally ridiculous and offensive missives. One hopes the backlash of this will teach her some tact – her twitter account certainly has been deleted since.

The fact remains though that the vast majority of stories being reported on out of Africa in today’s news are stories of poverty, disease, war or injustice. While Africa as a continent is certainly beset with great problems and those problems should be reported; if they become all that is reported and all that the majority of North Americans hear and associate with Africa, not only will their picture of Africa be very skewed, but they may well become too emotionally overwhelmed to actually engage in any way that is helpful – Africa then becomes either a topic to be avoided, or the butt of ridiculous jokes, as in the case of the tweet above.

The truth is that Africa is replete with stories of hope, stories of love, reconciliation, joy, ingenuity, beauty and value. Until we begin hearing and sharing those stories, we risk caricaturing and dismissing a continent of a billion people whose lives have a much greater effect on ours – even if we are oceans apart – than we may realize.

We have two choices: One is to continue to see a poor, ill, crying Africa, carrying guns, that depends on other people forever. (The other is) to promote an Africa which is confident, peaceful, independent, but cognizant of its huge problems and great values at the same time.” Zeresenay Alemseged in his TED talk: ‘The search for humanity’s roots’.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-25475862

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/p-exec-cupid-tweets-racist-joke-flight-africa-article-1.1554500

 


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Do You Know Africa?

Here’s a fun little quiz I came across recently – where you need to find 20 random African countries on a map, or 48 countries on the difficult setting. Though it leaves out some of the smaller countries like Djibouti, Somali Land, The Comoros Islands and Swaziland, it includes the tiny Cape Verde islands for some reason?
Anyways, have fun – fastest I could do was 1m07s on the easy (20 countries), and 2m45s on the hard setting (48 countries).

http://youdontknowafrica.com/

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On Taking that Next Step

Are wombs not wonderful? Strange way to start a post, sure, but think about it – they’re warm, safe, comfortable, loving enclosures where we ideally experience no want, no deprivation, no challenges, no pain. In them we are protected, cherished, and nurtured. We may only be able to grow so far in them, but while we’re inside, who needs to think about what the cold, hard outside world is like? We live in the moment, and love it.

I remember what I hope was the end of my formal education as if it were yesterday, when in fact it’s been almost 10 years. I didn’t realize until I was done how easy life was while I was in school – there was a set curriculum I had to learn and follow, I got tested in straightforward ways, and every year followed the other in linear progression. I knew exactly where I stood and what was next – the lack of need for any major decision was so warm, safe, comfortable…

By contrast, graduating from University is like running along a straight path right off a cliff and into thin air. All of a sudden there’s a wide world around you, and there are no markers, no signs saying ‘this is the best way!’, no way at all in fact. All of a sudden you realize that if you keep running you’ll end up a pancake, and you need to learn to fly, pick a direction, and try your best to avoid smashing your face into a rock without even knowing if the direction you picked was the right direction. Maybe you’ll find out… someday… down the line…

It’s so much easier to stay in the womb. No wonder babies cry so much!

I feel right now like we’re at another of those birthing moments in our lives. We’ve been puttering along nicely through these last few months – researching ways forward, finding what we think is the better way, making sure it’s ok, trying to learn more, trying to make connections, etc.; all the while comfortable and content in the safety of our ‘womb’ of learning, but not actually doing.

Increasingly though, we begin to find stretching difficult. Our movements become more constricted. We realize that if we’re going to keep growing, we need to ‘make like a baby and head out’. If we’re to keep moving forward we need to step off that cliff; and so, ever so grateful for this warm, safe time we’ve had to gestate in, we feel the time rapidly approaches to take the leap off that cliff and actually get back to doing. Time to learn to fly.

Don’t worry, I hear births are a breeze…

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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 – www.mamahope.org – 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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Get Going Already!

An encouraging study by Brookings researchers – made popular when it was tweeted by Bill Gates yesterday as these things tend to go – has looked at the number of people living in extreme poverty (defined as living on less than $1.25/day) around the world.

In exciting-good-news, that number is apparently decreasing and will continue decreasing over the next few decades, thanks largely to increased economic growth and employment opportunities in China and India. Woot!

In considerably-less-exciting-bad-news, sub-Saharan Africa overtook India as having the greatest number of people in that demographic somewhere around 2010 with over 400 Million people, which means that around 1 in 2 people in sub-Saharan Africa live on less than $1.25/day.

Which to me says that we should hurry up and get this show on the road already! Come on!!!

Check out the original study here: http://www.brookings.edu/research/interactives/2013/ending-extreme-poverty#b10g18t20w13

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Thanksgiving!

So this past weekend we celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving (or, as it is called in Canada, ‘Thanksgiving’). It was so nice to be warm and comfortable as we looked out the insulated window at the beautiful colours of fall. So nice in fact that it reminded us of all the things we missed, spending the last few Thanksgivings in Africa. Here’s a quick (though not exhaustive) list for your enjoyment:

Clean Water!
As fun as it would be to have tea or some other beverage flow freely out of your bathroom tap, alas, brown water is not nearly as tasty as it sounds. Although I do hear it’s very rich in minerals and other nutrients…

Brown Water

Nope, that’s not chocolate milk coming out the tap!

Water Pressure!
Nothing reminds you how convenient showers are than having to bathe out of buckets for a few weeks. While we’re on this point – hot water! One of the greatest innovations mankind has come up with.

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Neighbourhood kids taking a shower as the rain caused our water tank to overflow. I wished I’d thought of that!

Organized Mass Transit!
Squishing 20 people into 10-seater vans (or an entire family onto a motorcycle), livestock onto carrier roofs, and cruising along at a steady 20 km/h (~13mph) are just some of the joys of commuting in Africa, where traffic rules are really traffic suggestions. Maybe.

overload

extreme overload!

goat on bus

make sure the goats are on tight!

Supermarkets!
Between the convenience of finding everything you need under one roof, the ease of having expiry dates on things, and the facility of not knowing how much you’re being overcharged as you try to bargain things down, supermarkets might not be nearly as fun as the average Souq/Soko/Bazaar, but they sure are handy!

expiry

expiry date: today.

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Markets are a ton of fun, but not quick!

Family!
I cannot imagine a people as hospitable, friendly and generous as the average African, irrespective of country of origin. People go out of their way to make sure you’re taken care of, and really make you feel like family. That said though, holiday times are certainly among the hardest to be away from mommy!

beach1

Yup, it’s tough being away from family!

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What’s in a Week?

Came across a really fun photographic survey recently of families around the world and the groceries they consumed in an average week. Couldn’t help but be startled at the difference between the couple of places surveyed in Africa and the rest of the world. Here are a few of the pictures for some contrast:

Australia – Fire up the Barbie!

Canada – fairly accurate I’d say except our family eats a LOT more veggies thanks to the wife, and definitely less Eggo waffles

Japan – love the fish, bring on the sushi! Yum!

Germany – they like their beverages, those Germans!

Italy – a lot more bread than I would’ve guessed!

China – looks good, love Chinese food.

Mali – that’s a lot of mouths to feed!

The U.S.- is this an accurate representation?

France – seems pretty balanced to me…

The U.K.- Does that seem like a lot of processed stuff to you?

Chad – again, fairly accurate I’d say.

I thought this was especially cool because I’ve been to Chad and spent a week in conditions pretty similar to those pictured above, and other than the fact that the water-bottle pictured wouldn’t have lasted me more than a couple of hours in the 50 C (122 F) heat (I was drinking 8-10 litres a day and still having issues, but then I wasn’t as accustomed to the conditions as this family would’ve been), the rest of the menu seems pretty accurate. My gracious hosts actually slaughtered a chicken in my honour though, so I had various bits of the chicken through the week, fun times!

As I was about to post this I noticed the gallons of water behind the family, which means that little 2/3-litre bottle is probably cooking oil. THAT would be a lot more accurate!

That was me in Chad a couple of years ago – I’m the slightly lighter-brown one. I borrowed these wonderfully comfortable clothes from a friend. With water being far too precious to bathe with in the village, these clothes were my constant companion that week!

For the original article and all the pictures, check out http://realitypod.com/2013/05/a-week-of-groceries-in-different-countries-pictures/ .

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