Sunday, June 5, 2011

West Africa Regional Team

Fanny Atta-Peters and Jeremiah Yongo
A few months ago, I wrote a brief political and work update from the four countries in West Africa with whom Partners Worldwide works.  One of my goals in this past year has been to build more of a team in the region, despite different languages, nations, and cultures.  In many respects, each partnership with whom we work is very unique - one of the things Partners Worldwide prides itself on is not having "cookie-cutter" partnerships, allowing a lot of freedom, flexibility, and context to enter into each partnership.  While this is necessary and prudent, it is also true that there are a number of underlying commonalities in the work that we do in these countries to fight poverty and grow the Kingdom of God through Kingdom businesses.  In West Africa, despite the many differences, there is a "West African culture" with many similarities in challenges, due to similar land, climate, and histories. It's not unusual in this work to feel alone,like you are fighting an uphill battle.  Hearing from others who are sharing the same experiences, discussing best practices, and encouraging and praying for each other as leaders is very important.

In this past year, we have grown this team spirit through monthly phone calls, a face to face visit at the Partners Worldwide conference in October, another face to face visit at the conference in Liberia in February, and one-on-one visits of the affiliate leaders to our partner country programs.  Most recently Jeremiah Yongo was able to visit both Liberia and Ghana on a learning visit, as he was not able to join us in Liberia in February.  He wrote me an email that shared some of his observations and learnings in that trip. 

A Muslim VSLA group in Madina, Greater Accra.
 I noted with great delight how well members of the Hopeline VSLAs (Village Savings and Loan Associations) work across religions and tribal lines.  This harmonius working relationship is a testimony and ministry in itself.  One of the VSLA groups is made of Muslims and Christians, and the members of that group work well together.  Muslim members of the grouup even compromised a bit in setting up their constitution, just to accommodate the Christians.  I will be sharing about this harmonious relationship as I meet with our affiliates here in Nigeria.  As you are well aware, religious and racial tensions sometimes run very high in Nigeria.
Both Hopeline (Ghana) and LEAD (Liberia) have benefited in terms of organizational capacity development from other partnerships in addition to their relationship with Partners Worldwide (e.g. USADF, Barclays Bank, etc.).
With one of Hopeline's SME clients, we debate the dilemma of poultry farming in West Africa
There are strong views in the Micro-finance world about what works and does not work.  It is gratifying to see that the right mix of training and access to capital can work.  During my trip to Ghana and Liberia, I was encouraged to be persistent, patient, and confident in our work in Nigeria, even when results do not come as soon as expected. Both Fanny (Hopeline, Ghana) and Allen (LEAD, Liberia) shared with me about the challenges they had at the initial stage as they rolled out their programmes.  
Education plays a fundamental role in development.  Due to their educational system, the workmanship of Ghanaian artisans is better than that of their Nigerian or Liberian counterparts.  (Is there any possibility of capacity building here?  For example, masonry, carpentry cross training, mentoring?)
Sustainable results speak for themselves.  In the midst of screaming adverts about 36 hour and 48 hour loans from some Ghanaian Institutions, the more tedious programs and loan requirements of Hopeline Institute continue to draw clients.  
I am very thankful for Jeremiah's observations and the opportunities that our West Africa team has had in this past year.  In July, we hope to send a staff person from Hopeline Institute to Liberia to train the LEAD staff on the VSLA methodology.  In August, I hope that Fanny, Allen, and Jeremiah will be able to attend the Partners Worldwide Conference in East Africa and I'm working now to raise enough funds to help them get there. In October, we hope to invite Tinashe Chitambira, from our partnership with Africa Works in Southern Africa to West Africa to teach us more about the models that they use in Swaziland and Mozambique to build farm co-ops for crops and poultry farmers.  To all of you who have helped make these learning trips possible, we thank you and ask that you continue to pray for these leaders as they lead these initiatives in their countries.
While we share a number of best practices, we also share the "worst practices" or things that don't work.  This picture of our intern, Brett Pfister, in Liberia is a case in point of things not to do in West Africa...don't drive a motorcycle with four passengers.  Kids, don't try this at home!