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Newsletter: Into Africa

Dec 1, 2008 10:00:00 AM / by Tim McCarthy

During an immersion trip to Africa, Joe Cistone of IPM asked me to help him with the business side of the organization, the beginning of a great partnership. [more]

My wife, Alice, and our three twenty-something children spent last week bouncing through Kenya (the roads leave a little to be desired.)  We were there to witness some of the projects supported by our favorite charity, International Partners in Mission (www.ipmconnect.org).

During the trip, in which my emotions ran from despair to elation, I remembered talking with our guide, IPM CEO Joe Cistone, when he asked me to help him with the business side of the organization in 2001.

I said, "I'll help but I have two conditions:  1. you never make me sit on a board and 2. please don't make me travel to your projects".

On the plus side, we've had seven wonderful years helping Joe and his team build their organization six-fold.

On the "negative", he only kept his promise of no board meetings - last week's trip to Kenya was our third "immersion tour" in the last four years.

Joe reneged on his original promise but we decided to go because of a new promise Joe made:  that Africa would be "life altering".

It was. For those interested, I'll do a deep dive on our learning in Kenya in my "Bridging the Gap" article on the website (www.thebusinessofgood.org) in a couple weeks but for now, here's the summary:  

  1. I was stunned by the magnitude of the thirteen slums of Nairobi - we visited two: Kibera, the largest at over 1 million (and some estimates say 2 million) and Dandora, the most daunting since this slum sits on the city's landfill.  Both were mind-numbing and heart-wrenching.
  2. Despite Kenya being home to our new President's father (and still home to his grandmother), this is a fledgling democracy (started 1963) and is still pretty dysfunctional.  (An aside: Was our democracy dysfunctional at 43 years old?  Given that we had a system of slavery, women were unable to vote and there were few property rights, I'll say "yes".)

Here's a little example of Kenya's dysfunction: Our van was stopped on the way home one night by Nairobi police brandishing uzis.  They suggested we could pay our fine in cash right there for back seat-seat belt violations or be taken to jail.

Big example: Political officials live in grand compounds while over 46% of Kenya's population lives on less than $2 day.  (And I thought we had no middle class!)

Over the coming year I will write about some of the new-to-me heroes of social good that I met in Kenya.  For every groaningly depressing sight we saw, we would also see brave people: Sister Gladys Owuor, Priscilla Nangurai, Brother Francis Okaye and the women of the Dandora Women's Cooperative.

A week's worth of watching their work has taken me a week to recover from. Thank goodness I don't need to get up every day and do what they do - I couldn't. But what I do is important to them and to IPM, and so I do my business of good gladly.

Sister Gladys, Priscilla, Francis and the women of Dandora didn't ask for our sympathy or just our money. They asked instead that we hold hope for them, pray for them and continue to support them in the ways we've learned to over the last seven years. I promise, we will.

Tags: Newsletter, Social Business, Entrepreneur

Tim McCarthy

Written by Tim McCarthy

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