NEW SERIES LAUNCH!!!
I’m very excited to launch a new blog series – Fufu Sessions.
Why Fufu Sessions?
The full title is Fufu Sessions: Conversations with women who empower. The idea is to do a quarterly highlight with women whose work empowers others in its skilfulness, ethos, creativity and impact and who are also the type of women I can picture myself getting together with over a pot of some mouth-watering fufu and stew!
Fufu is a dish typical to a vast amount of African countries albeit sometimes under another name (eg. pap, nshima etc). It is empowering food. It is also the type of meal that is traditionally consumed with company for a time of enjoyable conversation.Therefore the interview style is quite casual.
My first session is with Jerryanne Heath, CEO of ConceptLink, a social impact strategy firm that helps Africa-interest organizations effect change in their communities. Since its inception in 2008, Jerryanne has helped her clients raise more than $4 million through a variety of fundraising strategies. These funds have had a wide-reaching impact in several communities in South Africa, Tanzania, Malawi, Ghana, Nigeria and the US by promoting access to clean water, educational opportunity, environmental sustainability, and scientific discovery.
Let the food be served…
Jerryanne, it requires self belief and courage to set up an organisation like ConceptLink, how did you come to be empowered to take that leap? What advice would you give readers that might be on the threshold of following their dreams, seeking the power to take that next step…?
I would say my family background and my relationship with God make me feel empowered. My parents are Jamaican; they emigrated to the Bahamas and later to the US when I was very young in pursuit of economic opportunities. Both are teachers by profession and my father is also a pastor. They set an early example to value hard work, education and my faith. This foundation has given me the courage to chart my own course in life and trust that everything work out fine, provided I stay true to my personal values.
My advice to others is that your heart and conscience will never lead you astray. Pursue your dreams, but through a process of self-inquiry, identify the true source of your motivation. Each one of us is on the planet to make a difference – if you approach your pursuits from a place of greater purpose, rather than self-interest, everything will be within your reach.
Dream big, but do not be intimidated by the size of your dreams. Just focus on putting one foot in front of the other in the right direction, even if the ultimate destination is not clear initially.
I’ve found that to be true as well, to start small… Such lessons must be especially relevant in your field considering there is an increasing mistrust of nonprofit organisations operating in Africa and yet some very important work falls under this sector. Change won’t happen overnight, but how do you envision a successful future of the nonprofit sector in Africa?
My vision for nonprofit organisations in Africa is applicable to organizations across the globe: think and operate like businesses. While the for-profit sector has its flaws, there are some valuable lessons to be learned from well-run businesses. These include:
1. Clarify who your clients are and the product or service you provide. Don’t try to be everything to everyone, which leads to mission dilution and/or creep. By having a clear mission, target population and programs, nonprofit organisations can better utilize their often limited resources and refine the services they deliver
2. Pay close attention to finances and develop several different revenue streams. Many clients come to us when they are already in a financial crisis. They ignored the writing on the wall that funding was running out or that expenses were rising too rapidly. Organizations that take a strategic approach to their financial management increase their likelihood of future sustainability
3. Invest in non-program functions such as development, financial management, and communications. Organizations often hesitate to hire the right talent in these areas for fear of increasing their overhead costs. Donors should not penalize organizations that invest wisely in key administrative positions. Any business that wants to remain relevant and cash flow positive will allocate resources to marketing, business development and to a professional bookkeeper and/or accountant. It is the organization’s responsibility to justify these investments and educate donors of their importance.
4. Evaluate your own effectiveness. Don’t wait for donors to shine a light on your deficiencies – ask yourself the tough questions and have the courage to remove or revise programs that simply aren’t working. A business would cut a product line that was ineffective or unprofitable in a heartbeat.
5. Consider partnerships and mergers where appropriate. Further to point #1, organizations that try to be everything to everyone tend to overlook opportunities to partner with others. An education program decides to start a feeding scheme, rather than partner with a local food shelter or church; a housing group begins to advocate for environmental awareness, rather than partnering or merger with an organisation that specializes in such issues.
That’s a new way of looking at the non-profit sector. I hope it will also influence the imagery towards a positive light. I noticed that image/perceptions is important to you. A major part of the ConceptLink ethos is to channel that Africa is not a *charity case*, and to challenge some of the myths about the continent and its diaspora. Yet working in your field you must also come across people and organisations who don’t actively encourage such a view. How do you approach potential clients whose organisations reinforce negative stereotypes about Africa?
ConceptLink is the manifestation of my personal passion for the African continent and desire to make a difference there. Having worked with social good organizations over the years in various positions ranging from volunteer to Executive Committee member, I noticed a recurring need to improve the effectiveness and sustainability of such organizations. Across Africa, the need is even greater. Rather than consider this need as deserving of charity, we view it as an opportunity to deliver unprecedented professionalism and rigor to Africa’s social sector.
I’ve come across a few organisations (many of them are large, multinational NGOs) that try to pull heartstrings by portraying Africans as poor and pathetic people. Generally we steer clear of such organisations, unless they are prepared for us to challenge their perspective! We were intentional about showcasing our philosophy on our website; we hope to attract like-minded organizations.
Let’s talk about you, who has inspired you in your field, what have you learnt from their work?
I am inspired by so many people, but just a couple in my field are:
Leila Janah Chirayath, Founder of Samasource - I admire her drive as a female entrepreneur to establish such a wide profile and scale in four short years. I also appreciate that in a world where more and more jobs are being outsourced to Asia simply because they can be performed more cheaply, Samasource has found a way to bring jobs to Africa and encourage companies to generate a social return.
Fred Swaniker, Founder of African Leadership Academy - I admire his ability to think big and to inspire the world with a new approach to leadership for the entire African continent. I find it refreshing that he approaches ALA as a business, not as a charity, making him a true social entrepreneur.
I’m sure some readers will find it useful to round up with some tips. What kind of skills would you encourage young Africans aspiring to be social entrepreneurs to acquire?
Business and technical skills. While passion is important, it is not enough to prepare you for the multifaceted challenges of running an organisation.
I recommend enrolling in free or low cost entrepreneurship programs, pursuing further education (such as the Social Enterprise Certificate Programme at the Gordon Institute of Business in South Africa), or recruiting Board members who can bring complimentary skills and mentoring to your team. Interning or volunteering for another organization in your field can also help you gain relevant experience.
Lastly, networking is an important skill for any budding social entrepreneur. There is a lot of truth to the saying “it’s not what you know, but who you know that matters.” Your ability to network and build relationships can help you form a Board of Directors, raise funds, and raise awareness about your cause. Keep in mind that networking is a two way street; it’s about getting to know others and forming mutually beneficial relationships. Just as you seek help from others, look for ways you can contribute to them as well – this can take the form of sharing information, volunteering to help with their project, or making a strategic introduction for their benefit.
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