Navshika Beeharry: Adding accountability and value to foreign volunteering efforts in Africa

Navshika Beeharry is a British-Mauritian blogger, speaker, and interculturalist.

She shares her experience of volunteering overseas and advocates for intercultural awareness to be at the heart of charity and aid efforts to improve foreign assistance in the motherland.

In this article, she also provides consultancy for sustainability advice, strategy development and/or content creation.

Shika, as she is fondly called, believes it is important for NGOs to develop empowering stories of self-managed income/resources to challenge the mindset that success derives from external donors as opposed to the people themselves.

In 2015, when she returned home from a volunteer placement in Tanzania, she founded “Becoming Africquainted” as an initiative to candidly recounting the life-changing memories she made, including some difficult observations of when Western intercultural communication goes badly wrong.

Since then, it has grown into a platform of its own that provides discussion and resources to all aspiring volunteers or expats, encouraging them to undertake their service overseas responsibly and respectfully.


Shika on Intercultural Awareness

For Shika, intercultural awareness is an unmissable step that any foreign volunteer must be willing to take to better know their own cultural limitations and how to healthily navigate new ones.

However, this must be reciprocated by host communities within Africa too, by ensuring they take responsibility for their own narrative and how they wish for it to be told and remembered long after any volunteer exchange has ended.

It will take time to help visitors to form new associations of Africa they see, but the benefits to sewing two-way intercultural connections are fruitful and increasingly necessary for the prosperity of the interconnected world we live in.

Volunteer exchanges can be measured by the quality of relationships being built – @Shika_Bee Click To Tweet



To be a successful foreign volunteer, Shika believes it begins with an understanding of yourself / skillset and a genuine desire to be of service to someone. Such a person is often thought to be self-sacrificing with care for their wider community and an unrelenting passion to contribute to a cause bigger than themselves.

However, to be able to add accountability and value to foreign volunteering efforts in Africa, one needs to;

1. Have a good knowledge of the country and organization whose aims you would like to champion.

Each summer in Africa, this ‘higher cause’ has all too often displayed itself as ‘saviourism’, ‘privilege’ and ‘Western ideas’ – to name a few.

What usually begins as a selfless summer trip quickly manifests itself into self-serving behavior when culture shock takes over, conditions become unfavorable to live in and personal expectations are not met.

These circumstances fuel a type of instinctive desire to fix things that do not exist ‘back home’.

Though the intention may come from a good place, the means by which it is executed becomes misplaced and frequently results in misunderstanding and conflict.

Why?

A lack of intercultural awareness. A large number of young people in the West – diaspora included – are conditioned into thinking that volunteering overseas is a worthy extra-curricular life experience or a means of personal development.

These reasons are problematic because they refer to an underlying tone of personal gain that volunteering is based upon.

The emphasis is rarely ever to learn about culture itself – something which really should underpin any healthy volunteer exchange.

2. Acquire traits that enable you to observe, recognize, perceive and positively respond to new and unfamiliar intercultural interactions.

Some markers of intercultural awareness within international development are:

  • Humility – being receptive to, and accepting of, new and unfamiliar situations
  • Patience – in recognizing that positive outcomes take time to reveal themselves
  • Humanity – acting humanely with a trusted concern for the community being served.

These traits are not something we can quantify or expect anyone to learn quickly in a crash-course.

But volunteer exchanges can be measured by the quality of relationships being built, along with their participation and respect for our cultures once they arrive.

One indication of this lies in how well volunteer behaviors are recognized and reciprocated by the communities which they serve.

3. Volunteers should be given guided self-reflection time.

This is to serve like one-to-one inductions in a paid workplace where their observations and experiences are discussed to foster a dialogue which enables them to explain their realities so that they can be better understood.

Doing this not only prevents them from distancing themselves from problems they see by claiming ignorance, but it also provides a space for healthy goals to be set, contributions to be assessed and accountability to take place.

This is important to help redefine the negative African post-colonial perceptions that many foreign volunteers have unconsciously grown up with.

After all, what better way to rewrite the story than if told it ourselves to those who do have a desire to listen, by virtue of visiting the continent first-hand?

A good start for non-profit-organisations is to offer their own guides into standards of behavior that outlines an interpretation of volunteer ideas and expectations during their stay.

This formalizes the process whilst mitigating the risk of volunteers unhelpfully referring back to their (often biased) perception of problems and methods of solving them.


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Erika Atienza: From solo backpacking through Africa to becoming a Digital Entrepreneur

This is not a success story of a freelance solo backpacker who became a digital entrepreneur. Not a story of someone who went from nobody to become somebody. This is a story of someone who used to live life passively, without a purpose other than to make it through the day okay, until finally realizing a dream, then realizing she can fulfill that dream, and eventually going after it. This is a story of how I finally came to understand a lesson I’ve heard many times over – That there is nothing in this world we cannot accomplish if we really put our heart’s desire into it.

And it all started in Africa.

Erika shares how she became a digital entrepreneur and founded @whileinafrica by moving from the Philippines to backpack and volunteer through Africa. Read more... Click To Tweet

First, the Travel Bug…

I had a typical life with an 8-5 job and everything about my life was “okay”. It’s not bad at all. I was fortunate but I was definitely not living life on the edge. But after being able to travel to a foreign country alone for the first time,  I had an epiphany that I wanted to see the world. Since that trip, it was just never the same for me. That night, I finally understood what passion meant. And mine was to see the world. And so after 2 yrs of over-planning and some modest savings that were definitely not enough, off I went. I left despite the doubts because if I waited for the “right time”, I was afraid it wouldn’t come.
Buying my 1st and only backpack

Why Africa?…

I was choosing between South America and Africa and somewhere along my research, I found cheaper flights to Tanzania. And that was really the main reason why Africa ended up becoming my first solo backpacking destination. Also, I thought it was exotic and I wanted to prove to myself that I can pull it off. Indeed, I was able to visit other African countries as well for the next few months.

Budget Problem. No Problem…

A few months before my flight, I looked for volunteering opportunities and ways to travel cheaply. I searched workaway for hosts but there’s really nothing in there that I found interesting. Couch surfing community in the cities I wanted to visit seemed dodgy and everywhere else, there was only voluntourism.  A little deeper into my research and I had an “AHA” moment. I learned that safari tourism is big in Tanzania. In fact, all over East and Southern Africa. I did marketing in my previous job so I’m familiar with the whole concept of “Ex-Deal”. Hence, I emailed every one of them in a personalized manner, introduced myself like a pro, and offered to help in their marketing in exchange for food and accommodation. A few days later, I received another milestone in my backpacking career, someone actually replied and took me in. And so, with my heart full, I went to Tanzania and for the next few weeks, I was staying at their office helping them out with marketing while combining it with tours here and there. It was the perfect way to get to know the culture and experience the local life, just my kind of travel! I worked with Gosheni Safaris in Tanzania and experienced the local life

From Freelancer to a business owner…

After I left, my “boss” kept emailing and texting me about the things I have started while working for him. I carried on to politely help them and after some time of consistent demands, I had another “AHA” moment. I presented the best opportunity they can ever imagine… that I work for them remotely. They were thrilled with the idea and we came up with a fair price that later on increased to a modest amount that funded most of my travels. This idea fired me up and I basically traveled for the next 2 months in Africa, either looking for volunteering opportunities or trading off my skills.   I continued to travel for a couple of years more doing the same thing until I finally decided to slow down a bit. As I had a lot of free time now that I wasn’t all over everywhere, I decided to take it up a notch and find a few more clients by emailing them and advertising myself. Eventually, in 2018, I took another major step and built my own website, made everything official, and registered my humble digital marketing service.   It’s worth mentioning that until this time, the same company in Africa where I first volunteered is still a client and they have passed on a lot of referrals to me ever since. Looking back, I think the thing that made all the difference is that I always did my best while serving my volunteering time. Even though I was not getting paid, even though I know I wasn’t going to work-volunteer for that company for long, I gave it my best shot and I always try to have fun. And it paid off in better ways I can imagine. So always, always do your best. This is how you make impressions and build connections. A lot of opportunities can open by simply putting your best foot forward at all times.
Good times and shots with friends in Nairobi, Kenya.

Here are some lessons you can learn from my experience…

1. There’s no one right way to do things

You don’t need to have a big capital to start your own business. Especially in this day and age, even a kid can become an entrepreneur, all you need is creativity and courage. In my case, the right dose of luck and creativity allowed me to build a modest lifestyle of being able to work from anywhere in the world and where I was able to combine my skills and passion. But there is no one way right way to do things. The first things to ask yourself are:
  • What am I passionate about?
  • What am I good at?
  • What are my potentials?
Then try to think if there is a way where you can combine the two. The possibilities are endless! If like me, you’re a born traveler but stuck at a job you semi-hate, set aside some time to find clients through Upwork or another online network, and save up until such time that you can quit your job and plan a life of travel around it. If you travel first and then just find anything to earn money from, not capitalizing on your skills… It will be really difficult for you to sustain it. Doing what you love will allow you to meet new friends and make your life even more colorful. There’s no such thing as bad luck, only excuses - @whileinafrica Click To Tweet

2. Don’t be greedy, but know your Value

If you follow your passion and build skill around it, income will follow naturally. When I volunteered, it didn’t matter that I was not getting paid at all. Had I been greedy and negotiated for compensation on top of the free meal and accommodation, the turn out of things may have been different. After seeing how I worked, they understood my worth and that gave me more than enough leverage to negotiate for what I thought I deserved. At the same time, they trusted me even more, which added to their confidence in trusting my business not only in terms of skills but attitude as well. If you follow your passion and build skill around it, income will follow naturally - Erika @whileinafrica Click To Tweet

3. Just go for it and the universe will conspire to help you

I first came across this statement in Paulo Coelho’s book, “The Alchemist”, years ago, and it stuck with me since. It sounds so cheesy but even after evolving as a person and having a change of perspective many times. I have always believed this because IT IS SO TRUE. If you put your energy and focus into something you are passionate about, you can indeed move mountains.

4. There will always be doubts. Welcome them with open arms

No one is born a master of anything. Sometimes we doubt ourselves and fail so we can stand up and learn new things every day. That is simply the nature of life. Without those, there is no life to live.  I still get insecure if I’m fit to deliver the service I’m selling and then I talk to potential clients who have no clue what to do with their marketing and I realize that I actually have a lot of things to share and they find it very helpful. We were born in a society where success is defined in comparison to others, an unfortunate recipe of society. But it shouldn’t be that way. Don’t let it be that way. We are successful if we achieve peace, content, and happiness in the things we love to do. Even more successful if we can feel the same joy for others too, regardless of gender, race, or religion.
Me and my husband, Martin, on a weekend trip while living in our previous home in Cyprus, with our friends from Russia, and our favorite all-purpose cloth (shuka) from Kenya
 I’m Asian and I’m married to a European, yet we put up a business for African tourism and blog about our travels because we fell in love with this continent and now consider it as our 3rd home. Who knows how long I can carry on being a digital entrepreneur, maybe in a few years time I’ll decide to become a musician, perhaps a painter, or maybe I’d prefer to settle down as a housewife, and that is okay. But for now, I’m still a backpacker, I still travel cheap, and definitely not rich (financially). But I found my purpose and I’m living my dream. And that’s more than I can ever ask for. So ladies, do yourself a favor and get out of the box and let the world see what you’re capable of. Find and live your passion and tell us your story.
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Funmilola Awosanya: Volunteering helped me become part of something big

Funmilola Awosanya has dedicated her free time to volunteering. She has over five years of experience as an insurance broker, advocate for women and girls development, and business development in the nonprofit sector. She earned a Higher National Diploma in Insurance from Lagos State Polytechnic in Nigeria.

Being the founder of an online one-stop forum, she’s trained youths on vocational skills, entrepreneurial skills, and business development, and also advocated for quality education. As the Founder of oppourtunities.com, she led entrepreneurship programs that equip young women and men on hand skills and empowered them through entrepreneurship, business, career, leadership, and advocacy.

Funmilola has volunteered as a lecturing and overseeing committee, youth advocate, an agent of change, for diverse organizations including the Young African Leadership Initiative West Africa Region, Makoko Dream Project, and Young Transformation Initiative.

Through these experiences Funmilola has developed skills in capacity building, leadership development, mentoring, community service, business development, and project planning and implementation.

In this article, she highlights how volunteering has played a big role in her career and personal growth.

When you volunteer for either small, local or international project, you change something the world. Click To Tweet

On becoming a volunteer…

I started volunteering in 2017 after joining the Yali Network Face2Face Facebook group. It all started when I began to connect with members from different parts of the world.

One day, the founder of Makoko Dream Project – Emmanuel Agunze posted a volunteering advert for people who can join him on his quest in advocating for quality education which I saw was in line with what I do. I joined his volunteering team and haven’t looked back since then.

Why volunteering is powerful…

Volunteering is a powerful tool for you to gain new skills which can be used for your academic and professional careers as it gives you the opportunity to be part of something big.

When you volunteer for either small, local or international project, you change something the world. Winston Churchill said we make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give.

Volunteering is powerful as it allows you to be part of a team who put smile and hope on others.

Most local and international opportunities like scholarship, conferences, summit, and others request for working experience in which volunteering is also accepted as a working experience so you can see how powerful volunteering is.

Most people acquire their working experience through volunteering.

 

On where and how to volunteer for a social cause…

You don’t have to be in a group before you can volunteer. Most youths are just lazy to make use of their phones to search for opportunities.

You can follow or check some certain websites to get new and current volunteering opportunities. Subscribe to their websites/ newsletters to get updates and also follow organizations on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as they post most opportunities their too.

 

On balancing volunteering with a full-time job…

Most volunteering gigs are not full time. If you have a full-time job and the passion to volunteer, all you need to do is to identify part-time volunteering programs/ project you can get involved with, which will not affect your job.

I for one, always go for volunteering programs during the weekends and holiday time.

On impacting people through volunteering

Through volunteering have been able to make an impact in the Makoko community through the Makoko Dream Project.

Volunteering for the Makoko Dream Project has given me the chance to partake and contribute to various educational projects, Christmas party project, Medical Outreach in Makoko which has impacted over 100 children and women.

I’ve been able to make an impact also while I was volunteering as a mentor for the Young African Leadership Initiative West Africa Online Cohort 5, I was able to mentor over 2 participants intensively, encourage and motivated them in completing their various community projects and program at large.

Also, I mentored over 80 participants of the Young Transformation Initiative where I was volunteered as a facilitator.

5 things I’ve gained from volunteering…

  • Becoming part of a community of young change makers
  • Having a sense of fulfillment
  • Its opened my eyes to things happening in my community which needed extra help
  • I’ve learned new skills

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Volunteering: Diversify your professional experience and drive social impact

Let's admit - w/everyday #adulting struggles, it can be difficult to consistently volunteer Click To Tweet

Community service and a spirit of volunteerism hold a place in the hearts of many millennials. We relentlessly seek ways to care for the marginalized. College provided a perfect platform for us to exercise this passion as opportunities to plug into communities and give back were ready-made; all we really needed to do was sign up and show up.

Life after university has, however, proved to be a different story as we have to seek out volunteer opportunities on our own. Let’s admit: with jam-packed schedules and the everyday adulting struggles, it can be quite difficult to find an organization to volunteer with on a consistent basis.

oprah

Enter skill-based volunteering

This is where skill-based volunteering —typically known as pro bono work— comes in. Skill-based service enables you to match your skills and interests with the needs of a non-profit. Many non-profits are often lacking the staff capacity, so they need help in areas like marketing, financial management, strategic planning, and technology. Organizations are in need of professionals to partner with them in solving complex, pressing issues —and that’s where you provide value.

While filling an essential need, volunteering gives you an invaluable opportunity to sharpen your skills and diversify your background in areas that interest you. Technology opens greater access to organizations and projects that are all over the globe.

Through skill-based volunteering, the digitally savvy woman can tap into a deeper pool of opportunities that are not readily available in her current network. You’ll build a portfolio for that side hustle you’ve been meaning to kick start and amp up the experience section of your CV. All from the comfort of your living room with a warm cup of coffee (or tea) in hand.

zendaya dusting off shoulder

Skill-based volunteering grants you an invaluable opportunity to sharpen your skills Click To Tweet

I started my skill-based volunteering journey to explore an interest in consulting non-profit organizations. I wanted to facilitate an experience that would mirror the expert-client relationship found in working with organizations to help further their mission.

After looking through LinkedIn postings and several volunteer websites, I came across Catchafire —a website that connects professionals with nonprofits. Within three months, I worked with three organization on projects that involved marketing and communications strategy. The most rewarding part being that these organizations supported issues that I cared about!

If you’re ready to launch your skill-based volunteering journey, here are 3 quick ways to get started:

  1. Sit down and draw a list of the competencies you’d like to build. A great way to do this is to review career opportunities that interest you and see what a competitive candidate background looks like. This can help you determine the kinds of projects to take on.
  2. Think of causes that you’re most passionate about. If you enjoy working with troubled teens, for example, you can focus your search on organizations that serve that demographic. This will not only allow you to engage a community you care for but also aid in addressing the issues facing it.
  3. Once you’ve narrowed your list of competencies and causes, it’s time to reach out to nonprofits. Leverage volunteer matchmaking platforms like Catchafire and Taproot, or utilize your LinkedIn profile. Catchafire connects volunteer professionals with nonprofits through 1-hour consulting phone calls and/or fully-fledged projects. My favorite aspect of Catchafire is the personal dashboard it generates with project details, experience testimonials, and your monetized impact —all great metrics to share on your CV or portfolio. Taproot has pro-bono opportunities ranging from one-on-one consultations to team-based, long-term projects. On LinkedIn you can specify in the volunteer section that you’re searching for pro-bono projects, thus making it easier for nonprofits to find you.

As you start working with nonprofit organizations, it’s important to treat these projects with the same regard and excellence as you would any other engagement. Discuss project specifics and map out a project timeline with benchmarks, deliverables and KPIs. A carefully organized experience enables you to share your skills in a meaningful way and also ensures that the nonprofits get quality service.

Organized skill-based volunteering enables you to share your skills in a meaningful way Click To Tweet

What are you waiting for?

The bottom line is that skill-based volunteering is a great way to build and develop your professional background as you provide value and drive social impact in marginalized communities.

While you diversify your CV, you’re also building a network of professionals active in the causes you’re most passionate about. Therein opening up opportunities for future ventures to implement sustainable community development programs.

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and start volunteering! To help guide you through the volunteering process, SLA has created a cheat sheet. Grab it by here —sign up and slay up!

Mutetelenu Kalama: My drive has always been the notion for change

Mutetelenu Kalama she leads africa
l have always been passionate about girls having the same opportunities as boys Click To Tweet

Zambian by birth, Mutetelenu Kakalama was born last into a family of four. Growing up a shy kid, she grew up thinking only her friends could do certain things and she always discredited herself. Little did this young lady know all she needed was a little push to come out of her shell.

Mutetelenu is currently a fourth-year student at the Zambia Catholic University studying Development Studies. She has been volunteering for the past six years and this path directed her to go with that degree. Starting out as a UNICEF Zambia Climate/HIV ambassador in 2010, the brilliant young lady fell in love with radio.

Entering the industry, Mutetelenu co-hosted a local radio show that was directly centered on advocacy for climate change and HIV and Aids. In 2011, the World Bank awarded her for the second best African photo story teller on Climate change. A year later she was given an opportunity to volunteer with grassroots soccer to fulfill her HIV advocacy mission. 

Later that year, Mutetelenu along with five of her friends co-founded Agents of Change Foundation. Their focus was and still is to empower young people with radio and leadership skills and to date they have been successful. Despite running the foundation, Mutetelenu still finds time to volunteer with the Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia and Global Platform Zambia where she seats on the Youth Board.

As if that is not enough, an initiative called Istand4her was birthed as a result of Mutetelenu’s passion for grooming and empowering the girl child and she has been giving it all her love and attention.


What was the drive for you to start doing voluntary work?

My drive has always been the notion of change. I am a thinker and so most times I always try to find solutions that I would want to see. When growing up I was always interested in media and sometimes I would pretend sitting on my bed and answering questions from an invisible interviewer.

In my last year at high school, I came across a UNICEF advertisement that was looking for children to apply. I did this and became a UNICEF child HIV/Climate ambassador. My drive for activism started from here because I was exposed to problems facing young people and how to address them. Then I decided to take the step and advocate for others who don’t have the voice to do so.

Mutetelenu Kalama's drive for activism started from a UNICEF child HIV/Climate ambassador Click To Tweet

Can you share your experience with Istandup4her mentorship?

Growing up, l have always been passionate about the need for girls to be given the same life chances and opportunities as boys. The Istandup4her mentorship program came as a fulfillment of a need l felt was there. This is an initiative that I co-started with a friend of mine Niza Phiri. It is a program that mentors girls in different spheres of life with an emphasis on education and leadership.

We use basketball rules as a tool to train girls in leadership. We also connect them to lifetime mentors who willingly give their time to girls and act as guides. Our goal is empowerment and changing the mindset of girls. We’re showing them that they have what they need to achieve what they put their heart to.

Apart from that we also hold Girls Talks on diverse issues —these talks are facilitated by girls themselves. This initiative has created a great momentum for girls. I have experienced firsthand conversations with girls and got to understand the urgent need to inspire them. I am really amazed by the progress that we have seen. Through this initiative, girls are now growing up into responsible women who are taking on roles that they never thought they would, my relationship with this puts them at a comfortable space to talk freely.

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You volunteer, you seat on the board of Global Platform and you are a Development Studies student! How do you manage to do all that at such a young age?

For me, l treat every work as part of my lifestyle. I believe in having fun while working, so this helps me to manage my time well. It also ensures that when planning for each activity, value for my time is the greatest factor. The fact that the course that I am studying compliments my volunteer work is my greatest blessing too. Sometimes it appears hard trying to manage my time with my many commitments in between school but in the end, it is determination.

Most of the time I move with books. There have been times when I have had to study for a test while on the bus and finished an assignment on the plane. There was this time I arrived back from a consignment at 1 am and went to write a test at 7 am. All in all, God just paves the way for me.

What does success look like to you?

For me, success is being able to achieve the targeted goals set for my life and ensuring that my work grows into something that will inspire others.

Success to me looks like a river that l am swimming in and I’m almost at its banks. For the journey to our success means flying on wings of giants.

Radio is a very powerful tool that you can use to disseminate information Click To Tweet

How are the youth in Zambia responding to the radio and leadership workshops you do?

The youth in Zambia are responding to radio and leadership training positively and the momentum of discussions on radio has now been growing. Most of the time our Facebook page is filled with messages from young people across the country asking how they can be part of such a great initiative.

We have facilitated the need for young people to realise that radio is a very powerful tool that you can use to disseminate information. Through this, they can use their leadership skills to fully understand the environment around them and realise their full potential of achieving whatever they set their heart to.

Now some of the young people that we have been training are taking journalism seriously. They are going to school to study it, some are been offered jobs in the radio stations and are strong activists.

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You co-founded Agents of Africa with 5 of your friends, how do you motivate and empower each other so that each person brings forth the best of their abilities to the projects.

Agents of Change Foundation has helped us to grow in many spheres of life. The fact is that we are all friends and over the years have come to know each other’s strengths and weakness. We are honest with each other to ensure that we deliver the best to the betterment of young people.

Appreciating and complimenting each other for a job well done keeps us going as it motivates us to deliver the best. And throughout we have continued to empower each other with the available opportunities.

Do you intend to take your projects international? If so how?

Yes we do intend to take these projects on an international scale because we believe that young people have similar needs.

We intend do to this with the right kind of connections and creating a good base for the projects to be relevant in those contexts.

What’s your favourite movie quote?

My favourite movie quote comes from The Lorax movie; “Only if someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better…..IT’S NOT”


If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here

Creating impact that works: Tips from my start-up experience in Ghana

Eu'Genia Shea - Impact

Naa-Sakle Akuete is the founder of Eu’Genia Shea, the first line of premium shea moisturizers dedicated to using 100% natural ingredients in partnership with female cooperatives in Ghana. She shares what she’s learned from working with rural communities for her natural products.


When my mother founded a shea butter manufacturing company in Ghana in 1999, she had never heard the term “double bottom line.” She did, however, know that if she was going to succeed in business, she wanted to do so in an ethical manner.

By partnering with pickers from female cooperatives, paying them above-market prices, and offering organic and financial training, she was able to ensure that her community thrived along with her business. Her decades of experience inspired me to start my own finished products line last year: Eu’Genia Shea.

As I pore through her life’s work, applying lessons learned and trying to avoid mistakes already made, one point shines through brightly: good intentions do not always yield good results.

Hopefully, some of these points will be helpful to others aiming to make mutually beneficial business partnerships in rural developing communities.

Build Trust

You know yourself, you understand your motives, and without a doubt, your heart is in the right place. But even if you are native to the country/region/community, how can others be assured of this goodwill if they do not know you? SNV is a Swiss nonprofit dedicated to “creating effective solutions with local impact”, in this case facilitating savings. They entered Damongo, Ghana with speeches and promises, but without any connections. The cooperatives with which we work were understandably wary.

How many times have they encountered non-profits who raised their hopes only to disappear, or worse still, people claiming to have their best interests in mind, only to cheat them? They sent the confused SNV away then SNV came to my mother to explain their mission. My mother spoke on their behalf, and now SNV is a valued contributor to these cooperatives.

Bottom line: Understand the legacy of the community and approach accordingly, whether through an intermediary or through years of proving yourself (which takes a bit longer, but Mum can confirm it works!)

Listen

There are thousands of aid organizations flooding millions of dollars into poor communities globally. Most of them have good intentions, but their money still goes to waste. For example, on one visit to our facilities in Damango, Mum occasionally saw workers without shoes. As a westerner, or a native with a westerner’s perspective, this is jarring for a number of reasons, not least of all because of the safety implications.

She spoke with the women and made a point of purchasing shoes for all of the workers on her next trip to the US to ensure that no one was left unprotected. Upon her return, some women again were not wearing shoes. When she inquired about it, she discovered two things: some husbands were absconding with their wives’ shoes and some women found it difficult to maneuver in the new shoes.

Had my mum taken the time to dig a little deeper originally, she would have found that buying local shoes closely fitting each woman would have helped solve both problems.

Encourage them to maintain assets

Now you’re partnering with a community whose needs you understand and are able to address. You’ve suggested ideas and implemented technology where appropriate; they’ve told you why half of your bright ideas aren’t quite so bright, and everything is moving along swimmingly. It’s come time to leave them for a couple weeks, months, or years…

Before you leave operations in their hands, make sure you’ve given them the tools and know-how to maintain (and how often to maintain) any machinery you’ve introduced. The once shiny, now corroded Japan Motorbike rusting by our plot is a great example of something that made life easy for a couple months before falling into disrepair.

Choose the right customers

You’re running a business not a charity. On one end, you have Bill Gates in Microsoft era and on the other, Bill Gates in the Bill & Melinda Foundation era. You don’t have to be either extreme, but what you have to do is make enough money to keep yourself afloat and to continue the work you’re doing.

If social impact causes your products to be slightly more expensive than competitors, find the customers who care. And make sure your product is worth it! At Eu’Genia Shea, not only do we pay above market wages, provide training, and give 15% of our profits back to our workers, our longevity in the industry helps ensure our products are always of the highest quality.

Our customers get expertly moisturized skin, our partners make a good living, and we get to keep on doing what we love — win/win!

Transparency

Your aim is to do great things, so be open about it. Maybe you’re not doing quite as much as you’d like yet. For example, 15% of profits covers some of the tuition costs of our worker’s children, but not all. I’d love Eu’Genia to be able to give all the children in our communities a free education. I’d love to provide all past and future workers with a pension when they retire. I’d love to offer free daycare to workers whose children are below school age.

The reality, however, is that I’m not in a position to do any of this yet. That doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try though. Along the way, I’m sure I’ll make mistakes. But my mistakes can be learning points for me and other entrepreneurs like me. Being transparent about our goals and processes not only allows others to give us valuable feedback, but also supports the growth of all enterprises looking to make an impact.

We live in a big and complicated world with many societal issues I’ve never heard of or understood. If those who are able can contribute to improve the landscape how best they know, our actions will magnify each other’s. I’m excited to be a small part of this effort.


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