The African Visionary Fellowship: Why We Built It & Why You Should Support It

09/08/2017 04:41 pm ET

At Segal Family Foundation, we believe that local solutions are the best solutions. We believe that stellar individuals leading exemplary organizations are best placed to devise contextual and sustainable solutions to local challenges. They are not, however, the focus of many donors’ funding. We created the African Visionary Fellowship (AVF) to change this.

The Problem

There is injustice in do-gooding. Not exactly news, right? Power is held by the few, distributed in microdoses to another select few, and we hold out hope that somehow the vulnerable and marginalized will benefit from the transaction. This is the unsavory reality we deal with each day as donors and doers….but perhaps it isn’t unchangeable. Segal Family Foundation created the African Visionary Fellowship not to chip away at the flawed international development paradigm, but rather to upend it altogether.

We know the myriad challenges of supporting local solutions. Local organizations are too small. The leaders are too unfamiliar. Their systems and reporting are too unrefined. They lack tidy tax-exempt funding mechanisms. They don’t speak the language of key performance indicators or scale strategies….and they might not even speak our language at all.

All these inconvenient inadequacies amount to slow revenue growth, which is as good a proxy indicator for an organization’s ability to grow its impact as any. We analyzed the revenue growth of our 200+ NGO partners working in Sub-Saharan Africa. We cut and parsed the data by all sorts of criteria: location, sector, age, and more. The most telling was leadership composition. Organizations founded and led by expatriates grew twice as fast as those led by Africans. When we delved further into this stark difference in revenue, we came to the conclusion that the two groups of organizations—expat-led and locally-led—were not much different when it came to the thing that matters most: their ability to create positive social impact for their beneficiaries. This felt unacceptable to us.

The Solution

Beginning in 2017 with a cohort of 25 fellows from eight countries across Sub-Saharan Africa, the African Visionary Fellowship seeks to shift power and agency closer to the beneficiaries of development work. The value proposition for supporting local visionaries is clear and common sense:

Local solutions can be more sustainable: When Burundi was beset with political strife due to a problematic presidential election in 2015, international funding and aid organizations fled the country. Many vital social services, including basic health care providers, saw their budgets immediately cut by as much as 50%. It was left to intrepid local organizations like SaCoDé and FVS-AMADE to endure and continue providing valuable services while INGOs and Western funders retreated to assess their options.

Local solutions can be more impactful: There are numerous tech NGOs and social enterprises offering e-readers and education software to counterbalance the lack of resources and qualified teachers in many developing country classrooms. Unfortunately, these content and accessibility solutions are often created by and for learners in the U.S. or other developed countries. This leads to the clichéd pile of unused tablets in a corner of a dusty classroom—unsuitable for kids to learn and unusable as a means to improve education outcomes. Shule Direct in Tanzania and Women in Technology Uganda, both led by dynamic young local women visionaries, are light-years ahead of most development initiatives. They harness technology as a means to educate and prepare young East Africans for changing job markets. Their training methods, curriculum, and tech tools are created locally and serve as more effective solutions for advancing opportunities available to East African youth.

Local solutions can be more just: Juxtapose the room full of white men setting policy about women’s health in America with Kenyan partner TICAH hosting 11 African organizations with reproductive health hotlines to set protocols on controversial topics such as safe abortion. Imagine Burundians and Ugandans able to purchase beautiful locally-made Kaz’O’zah clothing instead of sifting through secondhand donations from developed countries.

Here’s where you come in.

The fellowship aims to drive more resources to local visionaries and their organizations. Their work will accelerate, and their impact will grow. The AVF offers these leaders capacity building designed for and by local visionaries themselves. Fellows receive mentorship, exposure, and the support of a community of like-minded changemakers. In addition, the fellowship equips each visionary with the ability to accept tax-exempt donations in the U.S. via fiscal sponsorship through our partner One World Children’s Fund.

Segal Family Foundation has worked alongside each fellow and has grown familiar with each of them—their communities, their work, and their impact. If you also believe that development should be led by local visionaries and power shifted into the hands of communities, consider supporting these exceptional individuals and their impactful work.

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