The Intercontinental Science Foundation and the BC African Alumni Chapter were truly proud to having hosted an exceptional ‘African Nonprofit Leaders Networking Event’ themed: LEADING FROM BELOW “The Role of Volunteerism & Nonprofits in Africa”. The challenges of leadership from above have rendered relevant the need for the people of Africa to lead themselves from below through nonprofit activity and volunteerism. Framed in the context of the phrase “the new breed of African leaders,” coined by Former U.S. President Bill Clinton; the event successfully served as an opportunity for people concerned about the lack of commitment to the common good in Africa to get together and initiate a conversation about this endangered value.
Herbert Kibuuka formally opened and presented on the ‘role of nonprofits in society’ as a whole. First he commended those present and pointed out the fact that they were the vanguard of what is in a few years to become a great wave of leadership from below. He made the case that government if ever it was, has neglected its role and duty to safeguard the wellness of Africa’s citizens. Using the commonly known understanding of nonprofit organizations, he pointed out the relevance of these institutions and the volunteers who staff them and commended all those who have taken up this slack left by the governments. Mr. Kibuuka stated that after their failure of to bring about social development, governments have instead become a liability. He pointed out that to succeed, nonprofit leaders have to be passionate, they have to work hard, be disciplined and only then will they see success.
He added that theirs is not simply a litany of gives. He pointed out that volunteers get something out of their engagement as well. Also he stated that the onus is not all on them. Citing examples, he pointed out that the people of Africa are non-only onlookers but rather partners in action; all it needs to do is to mobilize and lead them.
The keynote speaker for the event was Dr. Michael Kisembo. Dr. Kisembo was a perfect fit as keynote speaker given his vast personal as well as professional experience working with and for nonprofit organizations for over a period of 16 years. “Studies show that billions of dollars being poured into Africa are actually hurting and not helping Africa”, maintained Mr. Kisembo. First he defined a nonprofit organization as “an independent voluntary association of people acting together on a continuous basis for some common purpose other than achieving government office, making money or profit or illegal activities. This makes such entity a social benefit organization focusing on its very mission of providing needed benefits to the target group for which it was formed.
He traced nonprofits back to the 17th Century (1839-anti-slavery movement) to the present day. Following the failure of the managing government after independence and in the wake of the fall of communism, free market forces spread all over the world and the phrase “structural adjustment” materialized. As globalization took the upper hand during the 20th it became evident that governments and international organizations like WTO which were increasingly operating and centered on interests capitalistic enterprises could not solve many problems within a nation especially in Africa with poor infrastructure, poor relevant education, poverty, corruption, infant or lack of democracy and what have you. In an attempt to counterbalance this trend, NGOs have developed to emphasize humanitarian issues, developmental aid and sustainable development culminating in the creation of the World Social Forum , rivaling the World Economic Forum ”, he quotes, adding, that by 2009 the number of internationally operating NGOs was estimated at 40,000.
Thus while in the west NPO’s substituted for the unfair market, in Africa they substituted for the inept governments especially the latter having been dismembered when they were forced to sell off, or more accurately, to give away almost all parastatals in the name of the markets. However, Mr. Kisembo pointed out, culturally in spirit of BUNTU (for those whose ancestors are Bantu) citizens were expected as a norm to help the neighbor in need or to volunteer to community or village common good or activity without expecting any reward. A child belonged to the whole village to nurture. Immigrants were usually supported with food till the next harvest. Religiously it was ones duty to help anyone in need without expecting any material reward from the assisted. Hence it was good to give than to get.
“It goes without saying that, whether it is cultural, religious, secular, domestic or international, NGO/NPO have and still play very significant roles to fill the gap our largely undemocratic, uncaring , insensitive and corrupt African governments can’t, but there are still a room of improvement”, he stated. Having classified NPO’s as operational, campaigning & advocacy and a combination of the two above, Mr. Kisembo cited a few key advantages of nonprofit organizations. He cited their ability to experiment freely with innovative approaches and, if necessary, to take risks; the fact that they are flexible in adapting to local situations and responding to local needs and therefore able to develop integrated projects, as well as sectorial projects; that they enjoy good rapport with people and can render micro-assistance to very poor people as they can identify those who are most in need and tailor assistance to their needs; their ability to communicate at all levels, from the neighborhood to the top levels of government and finally the fact that they are able to recruit both experts and highly motivated staff with fewer restrictions than the government.
He was critical as well and cited the following mal practices:
1. Paternalistic attitudes restrict the degree of participation in program/project design.
2. Restricted/constrained ways of approach to a problem or area.
3. Reduced/less replicability of an idea, due to non-representativeness of the project or selected area, relatively small project coverage, dependence on outside financial resources, etc.
4. “Territorial possessiveness” of an area or project reduces cooperation between agencies, seen as threatening or competitive.
5. Top-down models of development minimize the role of local knowledge and ownership to submit or conform to international norms and expectations. The international NPO want to change the world without understanding it, and that the imperial relationship continues today with the rise of mega NGOs/NPOs.
6. Dependency on external assistance decreases the pressure for local and national governments to provide for their citizens.
To counter the above, Mr. Kisembo cited, among others, the following best Practices:
1. Before you start an organization have a clear vision and a concise written charitable purpose, precisely describing the mission with a definitive long-term goals, objectives, short-term tactics and a road map how get there.
2. Make sure you file your annual report and tax returns as prescribed by law in your country of domicile within three (3) months of the end of your organization’s fiscal year.
3. Recruit local staff as many as you can to keep and maintain local identity.
4. Maintain good healthy public relations with the public to meet their goals and aim at achieving sustainability at a certain time as per your strategic plan which you must have at all cost.
Mr. Kisembo ended by restating the fact that Non-Profit activities and Volunteerism is part and partial of African culture. “It has played significant role in the past and shall continue to play that role and especially during this period of rapid growth and transformation to the western civilization based: on everybody for himself and God for us all. We need to ingrain our values to this western so called civilization. It is true that we cannot run away from the racing train from the west, but we certainly can slow it and embark on it with our values. We need to stand firm and articulate our interests and value to the driver of that bus. We should not enter it blindly otherwise we shall not know whether we have reached our bus stop to disembark and return to our lovely homes”, he stated.
A very lively discourse followed this rich presentation. Though not specifically unstated, the general feeling was that the quality of nonprofit activity has not been equal to its quantity in dollars. In agreement with Mr. Kisembo, the general call was for nonprofit leaders not graft ideas onto the people but rather that nonprofits grow from the people themselves.
Another portion of the conversation spotlighted the on the general lack of good governance from African Governments, enormously hampering nonprofit development for the African peoples; in some cases, hefty beneficiaries of billions of monies meant for aid.
Resolutions: What should be done?
Joining the Cheetah Club
It would be a mistake if we left the occasion without any resolution. In this case, we decided all of us present to join the cheetah club. Play video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnepHUYFqgg
Based on Professor Ayittey’s book “Africa Unleashed”, Cheetah’s are a new breed of Africans with a mission to reawaken African ‘can do’ spirit and belief in self. Fighting colonialism is no longer the obsession of the Cheetah’s. Leaving that to the older generation (the Hippo’s), cheetah’s value transparency, accountability, human Rights, good governance and personal responsibility in the informal and traditional sectors.
A question was asked whether Africa should increase nonprofit activity or solely go through the markets.
A survey was conducted among the event’s participants and found that more than 50% of the participants were against nonprofit aid in Africa but in favor of a spur in volunteerism on the continent.
Some members were solely for capitalism but a general consensus was that we should enhance all aspects of human activity, both private as well as public.
Since billions of dollars in aid for Africa serves as a hindering factor here; solicitous use of foreign aid was affirmed as one of the key resolutions. Other predominant key resolutions towards empowering the African people were education & agriculture – through the traditional and informal sectors.
A balanced-approached aid through nonprofits coupled with good governance and emphasis on encouraging individual volunteerism and responsibility was found to be the way forward for Africa. As rich and as fruitful the presentation and exchange sessions were; the networking aspect of the event was phenomenal.
ISF and the BC African Alumni Chapter made it a point to bring African nonprofit leaders to come together and address the common good they all have a passion for while networking amongst each other, forging long lasting efficacious relationships. Such an event, held in a corporate like environment, with light refreshments and good candor, was truly a delight and good thing to behold, and of course just the beginning of a ‘Cheetah Generation’ of Africans for Africa.
Cheetah’s maintain that Africans had a market, had democratic institutions and had communications, security and healthy systems in place. They believe that Africans should not choose to be capitalists or socialists but simply be Africans. Africans who were each other’s keeper; who never trashed so the garbage company would clean; who dredged wells without demanding compensation and left food in the garden for those less fortunate to pick without feeling the shame.
Let’s perhaps end with an illustration Mathias Ssekanjako gave us of his grandfather who used to carry a hoe on his bicycle to fill up potholes in his neighborhood. He expected no reimbursement or any form of payment. He was simply being a good citizen. He was being African. Who is a real African? Well, we know it is not only one whose legal status is African. The answer is indeed, like truth, negotiable and we do not pretend to know who an African is. What we know, we have a notion of who a true African should and are glad to work toward that ideal. We shall have many questions along the way and sometimes we shall take long without having any answers. That is okay with us for we believe as knowers, we shall never be contented with the few answers we have many of which actually become absolete as history moves along. Thus the search for the truth continues.
In that spirit, we invited our participants to come to our annual conference at Boston College on November 12 to experience yet another aspect of ISF, Inc activity as we strive to achieve our mission to produce, apply and share knowledge through insight, innovation and ingenuity.