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With Eye on Sustainability, US-Based Coalition of Non-Profits Tackles Poverty, Disease in Africa

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By Tawanda Kanhema

AFRICA has seen hundreds of fly-by-night non-profits come and go, often with very little progress on the ground and hardly any long-term benefits for target communities in what has come to be known as the ‘dead aid’ syndrome.

In a bid to reform the way independent non-profits function and increase the role of non-state actors in spearheading developmental programs in Africa, a consortium of mostly California-based non-governmental organisations under the banner Coalition for a Sustainable Africa (CSAFRICA),  is setting out to change this prevailing perception.

Trees on a Canvas from Chilli on Vimeo.

Organizations under the ambit of CSAFRICA will benefit from a for-profit partner, the Developing Empowerment and Economic Opportunities (DEEP), a CSAFRICA affiliate designed to serve as a bridge between grassroots sustainability initiatives and commercial markets.

Stephan McGuire,  an award-winning U.S. filmmaker and conservationist who heads DEEP, says this has been the missing link in sustainability initiatives in Africa, which often create local enterprise without cultivating or providing links to regional and global markets.

“Deep will broker and develop strategic alliances for non-profit subsidiaries in the African countries where CSAFRICA and community stakeholders are working to create a revolutionary model of sustainability in Africa,” McGuire said.

DEEP is modeled after the low profit limited liability company (L3C) form of business entity just starting in the U.S., which allows for-profit investment in socially beneficial projects.  DEEP’s Executive Director, Brad La Force, has been creating an innovative plan for DEEP’s L3C structue, which is combining the financial advantages of the low profit venture with the social advantages of non-profits, thereby making non-profits more sustainable.

CSAFRICA , also headed McGuire, has spearheaded and implemented sustainability projects in west Africa and southern Africa, including in the Ivory Coast on the west coast, and Namibia and South Africa in southern Africa.

“African communities cannot wait for foreign aid from large NGOs or from the West,” McGuire said, adding that CSAFRICA had identified the need to create self-sustainable communities to prevent relapse into dependency.

“CSAFRICA forms strategic partnerships within our own consortium, as well as with governments, for profit and other non profit organizations, to strengthen the capacities and ultimately successes of our community led initiatives,we avoid duplication and some costs associated with resources and information gathering, which can result in greater accomplishments with less donor money.”

With 23 non-profits in 19 countries, including its Los Angeles based founding members, Next Aid, EarthRights Institute, Empowerment Works, The Samburu Project and Go Campaign, CSAFRICA is charting an elaborate agenda of sustainability initiatives, targeting poverty, HIV and AIDS, lack of access to clean drinking water as well as promoting the conservation of natural resources.

CSAFRICA has been growing each year in both influence and membership. Members of the coalition are governed by a common set of principles, which allows them to operate efficiently in different parts of the continent and compare notes on the challenges they might face in implementing their programs.

“Since its formation nearly 5 years ago, CSAFRICA has aimed to become a hub for benefactors who don’t know how (or where) to most effectively donate resources,” said McGuire.

“As such, CSAFRICA’s mission has consistently been to create a model for how non-profit organizations could innovatively collaborate more efficiently.  We are in the process of solidifying this vision now.”

In Namibia, McGuire, together with Gareth Amos, the founder of a CSAFRICA member organization, Green Awareness Africa (GAWA), implemented the development of “Green Zone Schools” in 43 Namibian schools, whereby schools have officially added organic farming and tree planting to their curricula.

The first phase of the Green Zone Schools funded by US based organization, The GO Campaign, as well as through The Diamond Trade Company and the Namibia Diamond Trade Company (NDTC). The Go Campaign is also a CSAFRICA member organization.

In Ivory Coast, CSAFRICA member organization EarthRights Institute partnered with the UNEP to implement the “Billion Tree Campaign”.

“Community-based economics bring power, confidence and control directly to those that need it, without all of the corruption and waste of money.” stated McGuire.

“CSAFRICA’s unique approach generates social and ecologically sustainable projects while creating local benefits to improve infrastructure, development and management of valuable resources,”  McGuire said,

“We believe the answers for Africa live within Africans, and through our collective of NGOs working in Africa, we can assist in creating effective solutions, without all of the waste and corruption.”

Being a small country of only two million people with an expanse of land three times the size of Texas, Namibia has served a good platform for CSAFRICA’s community development and suatainability drive.

“What I learned in Namibia, I know, is possible throughout the continent of Africa,” McGuire said.

McGuire, a producer at the Tree Media Group who is based in Santa Monica, California, was Associate Producer for THE 11TH HOUR (voted Best Documentary – 2007 and awarded  a Golden Satellite Award), and also directed a Namibian documentary titled Trees on a Canvas, focusing on Namibia’s position as a role model nation in sustainability.

McGuire said that GAWA’s and CSAFRICA’s initiatives in Namibia had benefited significantly from the support of both the United States Embassy in Windhoek and the Namibian government.

Although the embassy and the government played an important role, McGuire said it was GAWA’s partnerships with the Namibian Nature Foundation,  a Namibian based film production company, as well as the nation’s many NGOs working in Namibia to implement their progressive legislature, that provided a sustainable model of workability.

“Through strategic partnerships and alliances, our collective voice becomes louder, and with greater results.  For example in Namibia, through GAWA, we are also in partnership with the U.S. embassy, five Namibian ministers including the Prime Minister’s Office and environmentally conscious African corporations that are taking the lead in environmental awareness and action,” he said.

In Cape Town, South Africa, CSAFRICA is partnering with Juanique Pretorius of Equilibrium Africa and many other grassroots organizations.

“Many organisations have tried to make a contribution, but they have been small offices, with smaller budgets and staff.  So, we felt it was important to figure out how these organizations can save money and become more effective,” McGuire said.

McGuire said CSAFRICA had created a collective philosophy that, with a harmonious voice, the coalition can better leverage its collective muscle and joint efforts for collaboration, cross pollination, and information and resource exchange.

As a result of success in partnering with other member organisations, governments and the private sector, and by establishing base in a wealthy community like Santa Monica, CA and soon in New York City and Cape Town, we aim to broaden CSAFRICA’s impact,” said McGuire.

With a growing movement throughout California, where a good number of US-based non-governmental organizations are based, CSAFRICA has been focused on utilizing the potential of maximizing shared resources and minimizing redundancy.

“Because CSAFRICA aims to be a model of philanthropy in Africa, we are greatly improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the dynamic work we are already engaged in,” McGuire said, “We are capable of channeling resources and experience more efficiently to African communities.”

CSAFRICA is a sponsor for the upcoming Global Summit, a 3-day planning symposium and has developed into a catalyst for year-round collaboration of citizens, businesses and organizations working together to co-create a sustainable future in San Francisco in November 2010.


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Joseph says:

Great to see people committing their time and resources to development.

The LC3 corporate form appears to offer an excellent opportunity for advancing social goals faster than a straightforward non-profit corporation. I like this direct-from-California-to Namibia approach.

Dead aid from large governments to somewhat large but largely corrupt governments is what we would like to avoid in Africa.

But I think there is another factor at work here, beyond by-passing leaders who are vulnerable to corruption. No doubt the smaller, more personal scale of this effort provides greater emotional rewards for the participants on the California end of the deal, and less suspicion than a similar amount of aid from the U.S. government on the part of the Namibians. I think this is part of the reason it works.

help is on the way…………..allow me……..rosemary

help is on the way………….allow me!

Kamau says:

Have heard of the Samburu Project here in Kenya. We need more organisations like that.