"Initsche" (hallo) and Bonjour out of the middle of Africa. After blogging about "high-flying" CSR topics, it's time to write about the "down-to-earth" development project I have dedicated most of my personal time and energy of 2008: the construction of two class-rooms in Niamana, Mali, West Africa.
Niamana is an ultra-authentic African village in rural Mali, about seven hard-rocking car hours away from the country's capital Bamako in the direction of Timbuktu. It is a place that - by Western measures - suffers extreme poverty of subsistence farming, without electricity, running water, cars etc. However, from a less materialistic and more romantic viewpoint it has its wonderful sides to it, as blogged here from my first visit.
The project is part of the Mali Initiative and includes the construction of two class-rooms to allow the education of up to 200 children per year. It is based on a needs assessment undertaken early this year showing that many hundreds of children of Niamana and surrounding villages have no chance to receive any proper education. Education is key for a better future including finding a job and caring about your family's health etc.
"Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world" (Nelson Mandela)
At the core of the project is the friendship established between Malian community leader Youchaou Traore and the Mali Initiative. Youchaou has been raised in Niamana and thanks to this, international visitors from Australia and Germany have had incredible authentic immersion experiences in the village. Friendships and hospitality are very important for Malians which means that we always been received much more as friends than as faceless aid-donors.
Youchaou and Niamana's mayor Karim Traore are both visionaries with aspirations. They motivate communities and give them confidence and guidance to unleash their potential for positive development. A key success factor of the Mali Initiative is to partner with exactly these kind of visionaries and leaders who translate their talk into action. This approach could be termed "aspiration-based" development. It is insofar different from needs-based or rights-based development that it's a paradigm change of seeing people with potential to develop themself seizes rather beneficiaries receiving aid. Therefore, this approach leverages opportunistic and entrepreneurial elements from Social Entrepreneurs.
"A vision is the right balance between realism and utopia. It is the just achievable"
During my stay in Niamana in Jan. 2008 (as described here) I got the vision to make Niamana's dream of two new come true with support raised in my home country Germany. I was inspired by the amazing support by Australians around Elise Klein and was sure to be able to awaken (com)passion with friends, former colleagues, businesses and organizations back home. Soon some friends raised their hand to found a charitable organization. We organized event, spread the word, got press coverage and made the target of raising the required 25000€ in time.
Currently, I am in Niamana together with two German supporters. The first concrete-brick was laid on 24th October 2008 and construction is fast under-way. 250 people and several donkey-carts helped to remove the rubble of the mud-bricks of the old, decayed rooms. Construction will be finished soon in November and then up to 200 children each year will have the chance to for a better future.
Compared to my corporate jobs at global players or my time at the UN Global Compact this might appear as a tiny grass-roots project. However, driving a project end-to-end and seeing real impact on the ground has been a great experience. I am looking forward to combine Social Entrepreneurial approaches to link Niamana with international visitors.
If you want to support this project or visit Mali email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. See photos of Niamana construction or watch the following video: