Apr 10th, 2013 1:00 PM UTC
By Guest Blogger
This post is by ONE Chief Executive Officer Michael Elliott and was originally published on the Skoll World Forum website.
In 2008, ONE launched its first call for applications for the newly created ONE Africa Award. The award was the brain child of ONE’s good friend and now board member, Howard G. Buffett, who charged us with recognising innovative, dynamic, African-founded organisations, groups and individuals that are engaged in life-changing, innovative efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in their local communities, regions and countries. Five years later, we have been overwhelmed with the depth of creativity, enthusiasm and innovation coming from the continent; awarding the prize becomes more difficult each year.
Through this process, certain applicants have stood out. We’re particularly interested in recognising organisations that can tie direct service delivery elements—let’s say providing pro bono legal knowledge to women fighting for their rights —to innovative advocacy efforts that will result in systemic transformation of their nation’s prospects.
ONE’s unique role is spotlighting these organisations and helping them overcome a common challenge of social entrepreneurship – bringing projects to scale. All too often, a brilliant idea or system stays local when it has potential for a much broader impact at the state, country or regional level. But that’s where an award is useful — along the way, we do identify a number of “finalist” organisations so that we can feature their stories on our websites and social media streams in words, pictures and videos. These organisations often have budgets of only tens of thousands of dollars a year so even if they’re not a winner, we can often raise their profile enough in order to sustain and develop their efforts.
For example, 2011 Finalist Sylva Food Solutions, a Zambian social enterprise, comes to mind. From just an initial review of their application, they seemed like quite a successful catering and processed foodstuff business based in Lusaka. But we quickly learned about their efforts—through very sophisticated advocacy tactics—to change how Zambians ate.
The founder, Sylvia Banda, lamented that Zambians had turned their backs to the local, indigenous foods that surrounded them in favor of Western style foods, often processed so much that these foods lacked nutritional value. What did Sylvia do? She worked to create a market for local foods by engaging the government to do media campaigns on television and radio to promote local foods—even the then-First Lady of Zambia took up the mantle.
When Sylvia realized that she didn’t have enough quality produce to meet rising demand, she went out and recruited new farmers and taught them how to raise and select great produce that she could sell. And then she also worked to create a strong brand image around Sylva Food Solutions so that it is sought out by Zambians and the country’s diaspora. In short, Sylvia and her crew over the course of a few years created an entirely integrated supply chain and market that allows Sylva Food Solutions to scale up and compete successfully.
And that’s just one example. We keep finding social enterprise and civil society organizations all over the continent that have developed smart, effective solutions to development challenges. In 2012, we had two social enterprises make it in our top five finalists. One of the organizations, Muliru Farmers Conservation Group of Kenya, commercialized a traditional medicinal plant in order to tie the conservation of Kenya’s last rainforest to the economic interests of its surrounding human communities. Muliru worked with scientists to determine the extract (camphor) and consumer product specialists to create a range of Naturub® products that are sold throughout Kenya to treat colds and aches.
Just next door in Uganda, we found SOVHEN, a social enterprise that has found a way to manufacture sanitary pads from agricultural waste of bananas in order to help Uganda’s girls stay in school. The manufacturing process employs women from the local communities while another set of women then sell those pads within the communities, creating a social marketing arm for SOVHEN’s “Bana-pads.” SOVHEN also USES student groups to change the image of girls in school by spreading messages about the benefits of girls in schools.
While ONE still campaigns and advocates for the life-saving aid that the developed world sends to many African countries, the ONE Africa Award is a constant reminder to us that Africans are working every day to develop and bend the arc of its future to one of prosperity and opportunity. We know very well that Africa’s transformation won’t come because of what’s done from the outside; its citizens must demand change for themselves, and are increasingly doing so. But we’re still proud to acknowledge and recognize local heroes such as those who compete for the ONE Africa Award each year.
Jan 27th, 2013 9:23 AM UTC
By Nealon DeVore
As many of you know, we recenlty announced the winner of the 2012 ONE Africa Award in Dar es Salaam. While that was an incredible high—to acknowledge the amazing work of not only the winner but out other four finalists—what’s been more gratifying is the work behind the scenes to tell these organizations’ stories in five easy-to-watch video vignettes. We previewed these at our awards ceremony and since then, we have been editing, perfecting and mastering these videos up to this point.
Watch the videos here:
It’s not as easy as it looks. ONE’s filmmaker for this project, Amr Singh, and I visited these five finalists back in October. We interviewed corporate chieftains, government ministers and everyday citizens who are fighting for change while we also tried to capture the essence of each organization’s work. We had to wake up early, drive long distances and take more red-eye flights than can be considered healthy. All in all, we probably recorded between ten and twenty hours of interviews and footage for each finalist. That’s a lot of video to comb through in order to produce a final video that shouldn’t be more than four minutes (and in reality, we were trying to cap them under three-and-a-half minutes as you’ll see in a few).
It’s also a challenge to actually pick out the story to tell about these finalists. How could we somehow demonstrate the incredible support and integrity that Positive-Generation has engendered amongst its peers in Cameroon? Or what about the poignant story of the rural hospital in South Africa not being able to provide the adapted wheel chairs for the patients in such a rural environment? Inevitably, some incredible aspect of one of these finalists has to be cut and left on the floor of the editing studio. So as you watch these videos, consider them as an introduction to the organizations and challenges they’re working to address. There’s so much more going on behind the scenes, and I hope these whet your appetite to learn more.
These videos will be rolled out over the next week on ONE.org. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!
Dec 13th, 2012 6:12 PM UTC
By Malaka Gharib
ONE went behind the scenes to see what a normal day at the office was like at Positive-Generation (PG), the winner of this year’s Africa Award. PG uses advocacy to pressure government leaders to protect the safety and health of HIV-positive individuals in Cameroon. Learn more about the organization here.
Dr. Elat Jean Bosco, head of Cameroon’s National AIDS Control Committee, tells us about the government’s work to control and reduce the spread of HIV, as urged on by Positive-Generation and other CSOs.
In addition to its advocacy efforts targeting the government, Positive-Generation’s members and volunteers actively engage in educating citizens about HIV, safe sex and other health concerns at local markets in Cameroon’s cities.
To make the most of its data and analysis, Positive-Generation issues weekly reports on the state of Cameroon’s health care delivery. These reports are instrumental in convincing the government to improve its health services and provide the necessary drugs and supplies at its clinics and hospitals.
Dec 13th, 2012 5:46 PM UTC
By ONE Partners
Positive-Generation Executive Director Fogue Foguito shares his powerful remarks to ONE after receiving the 2012 Africa Award on behalf of his organization. His message, which reflects on advocacy’s true role in development, is Positive-Generation’s promise to ONE and the NGO community to fight HIV/AIDS through justice and human rights.
We do not know how to express our profound gratitude at receiving this distinguished award, which is beyond our individual merits. Every man, every organization or artist, seeks recognition. We are no different.
But it was hard to believe ONE’s decision. When the news came, we started panicking, wondering how such a young organization, rich in ideas but whose work is still in progress, could have been selected. Furthermore, how could we accept such an honor when in Africa, other organizations have been silenced? How could we accept it at a time when the problems being decried by such organizations are being written off as myths? Where every victory is challenged by a new setback?
We gathered our thoughts. Since we can not only attribute this distinction only to our own merits, we thought it very appropriate to turn to those organizations that have stood by us during difficult times, throughout our short existence, and who have promoted our role as advocates and as a community-based organization. Let me, with respect assure you that we are up to the task.
Personally, the challenges we face in the field tell us how important advocacy is. But we have never placed this role above everything. On the contrary, the field challenges enable frequent meetings between men and women, between communities, and these allow us to move at the level of all, with all and for all.
In our view, advocacy is not an isolated exercise. It is a means of reaching out and mobilizing the largest number of people and sharing a common image of sufferings and joys. Advocacy enables people to participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives. It is therefore an obligation to the advocate not to function in isolation. In this context he/she is permanently in contact with people. And whoever chooses his/her destiny as an advocate or an actor of development needs to learn as fast as possible to bring together forces that share a similar vision to his/hers.
A community-based organization like ours is in permanent contact with others, and our dream is that the realities of the communities with which we work, will one day be felt by all. That is why true advocacy organisations do not take anything lightly; they are obliged to understand rather than to judge. And if they have to take sides, they take the side of a vision of society that devoid of injustice, where underdevelopment and dehumanizing actions are a thing of the past.
At the same time, an organization like ours cannot shy away from difficult tasks. Positive-Generation is at the service of those who suffer and we must not shy away from such a vocation. Throughout our existence we have received our fair share of difficulties, in serving two basic principles: truth and freedom.
Since we aim to improve the living conditions of the communities we serve, we stand against lies and any other actions that promote injustice. Not withstanding our individual weaknesses, we strive to route our actions in two difficult but crucial commitments: taking a stand against lies and half-truths; and resisting oppression.
Given our role as advocates, it would be remiss of us not to take this opportunity to launch a strong appeal to our decision makers for more investment, and more political and financial commitment to people’s health, especially in the context of HIV/AIDS. Tremendous efforts have been made in recent years, but much still remains to be done, and this is the time to multiply our efforts.
Let me not divert attention from the major challenge; the issue of permanent access to treatment remains a dream to our people in Africa. If we consider just the issue of antiretroviral therapy, it is a question of fundamental human rights.
It is an issue of social justice, civility and especially democracy. Looked at in this way, it is difficult for a State to distance itself from its obligation to protect its populations. In a nutshell, the degree of the respect of the rights of affected people is a barometer of development, and importantly, is a true indicator of the degree of humanity, solidarity, civility and democracy of a nation.
Each new generation believes they can rebuild the world. Mine knows that this is not possible. But we do believe we can protect the world from further destruction. We are in a critical moment in the global effort to fight AIDS; in a context marked by decreasing financial resources; where financial crises are used as a pretext today to justify the threat on the lives of millions of people in the world and in Africa in particular.
Faced with this situation, today, we call on African leaders to muster enough courage and the political will of the fathers of African independence, to say no to this entire dependence tendency, and to take seriously their own responsibilities.
Let us reflect a little on who we really are, our limitations, our doubts, our sorrows. We feel easier, in accepting this award, to do so as a tribute to all those who share in the same struggle, but who, rather than receiving prizes, have instead experienced misfortune and persecution.
Here, my regards go to those ordinary – in fact extraordinary – men and women, who have inspired us. I think of Joseph Pouagam, Daniel Nonze, Dr. Charles Kouanfack, Flavien Ndonko, the late Gisèle Kengne and many others. We equally think of partner organizations such as ACMS (Cameroon Social Marketing Association), RAME, Act Up Paris, AIDES, Solidarité Sida, Coalition 15%, MOCPAT, GTIA and all community base organisation in Cameroon, who have spared no effort in supporting us in this journey.
We express our sincere thanks from the bottom of our hearts, and publicly declare our gratitude and appreciation for this award.
Long live the struggle for development and human right.s Long live the promotion of health. Long live Cameroon. God Bless Africa.
Show your support for Positive-Generation by LIKING their Facebook page and leaving a comment in this article.
Dec 5th, 2012 1:00 PM UTC
By Nealon DeVore
On the day we’ve announced the winner of the 2012 ONE Africa Award, we also look at our final runner-up, Rural Health Advocacy Project (RHAP). With two-and-a-half staff members RHAP has made a name for itself in South African policy and medical circles in less than two years.
Seeking an avenue for their voices to be heard, RuDASA (Rural Doctors Association of South Africa) and other medical associations devoted to rural healthcare joined together with leading NGOs and academic institutions to create the Rural Health Advocacy Project (RHAP) in 2009. Over the years, it had become increasingly apparent to these healthcare professionals that South Africa outright ignored or would not address healthcare specifically in rural settings. So they took it upon themselves to develop an initiative that would not only create and propose innovative policies for the government to consider implementing, but also begin to address the myriad problems that these practitioners and their patients face on a daily basis.
Since then, RHAP has been at the forefront of taking the data crunched by the Wits Centre for Rural Health on health outcomes and developing policies shaped by the NGO Section27’s vaunted legal tactics to South Africa’s Ministry of Health and other government bodies.
In its relatively short existence, it has become the leading voice for rural health policy that the government seeks out and to which it pays attention. RHAP also has the support and buy-in of the disparate healthcare practitioner’s organizations, including the rural doctors association, nurses, pharmacists, physical therapists and other healthcare workers’ groups.
RHAP has pioneered an approach by which it is able to score the South African government’s proposed policies on their ability to be implemented in a rural context. RHAP has also been adept at proposing solutions to South Africa’s crisis in adequately staffing its rural hospitalities and facilities, even proposing a revision to the government’s medical service officer personnel policy, which has already been implemented in Kwazulu-Natal province after deliberately building media attention on the issue.
RHAP has also become the de facto ombudsman and quasi-inspector general for rural health workers. Working for government-managed health facilities in rural settings often means that these workers feel pressure to not speak out on problems, whether those problems be drug shortages, poor management practices or missing funds. These workers can now raise their concerns with RHAP, who in turn then takes them directly to the provincial health ministry, the media or the national health ministry in order to find solutions that benefit the patients and rural workers.
RHAP’s core innovation is its “rural-proofing” assessment to which it has subjected South African government policy to score and then recommend changes. It developed the rural-proofing assessment by consulting with the rural health workers closely and also by studying health policies and outcomes from other countries. The credibility that this “rural-proofing” gives RHAP has allowed it to also take up thorny issues with the government that are brought to it by government health workers. Due to the political pressures that district and provincial health authorities feel, they tend to ignore or do not want to act on legitimate complaints and issues that could undermine their work. By involving RHAP, health workers are able to circumvent these politics and reduce any negative repercussions they could face by speaking out.
One other innovation that became readily apparent is that RHAP is not creating its own advocacy juggernaut. RHAP has been incredibly smart in zeroing in on rural health needs, developing its credibility on those, and then piggybacking on the health advocacy work of other community organisations and institutions to infuse a rural perspective that would ordinarily be lacking. In these resource-constrained times for South African’s NGO sector, this has proven hugely beneficial and has resulted in a very lean advocacy machine.
RHAP’s efforts directly address MDGs 4 (reduce child mortality), 5 (improve maternal health) and 6 (fight HIV, malaria and other diseases). They envision a society where rural citizens are just as healthy as their fellow citizens in urban and suburban areas. We at ONE can’t wait to see that day.
Dec 5th, 2012 12:09 PM UTC
By Malaka Gharib
An interview with Fogué Foguito, Executive Director of Positive-Generation.
We are very happy to announce the winner of the fifth annual ONE Africa Award: Positive-Generation! The Cameroonian organization is on a serious mission to ensure basic human rights for people living with HIV/AIDS and communities facing AIDS.
With more than 250 applicants from across Africa and five strong finalists, it was a difficult choice – but ultimately, the ONE Africa team felt that Positive-Generation was the most life-changing, innovative organization helping to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in their country.
Positive-Generation (PG), based in Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital, holds the Cameroonian government accountable to its 15 percent commitment to health care. PG also works to fight the stigmatization of HIV-positive people, and advocates for the government to provide free treatment. PG is an advocacy movement in every sense of the word, and understands exactly what it needs to do to bring real change to the AIDS situation in Cameroon.
For that reason, ONE was excited to give PG their much-deserved $100,000 prize at the GAVI Partners Forum today in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The five-person team and their five volunteers will use the money to strengthen their ability to fight HIV/AIDS in local communities.
My colleague Ali Ba and I had a chance to talk to Fogué Foguito, Executive Director of Positive-Generation, on the phone last week. Turns out that Foguito has been a ONE member since 2005 and has been signing our petitions even before ONE Africa set up in Johannesburg. During our conversation, we discussed PG’s bold strategies to ensuring rights for HIV patients and communities facing AIDS, Foguito’s vision for PG, and the million dollar question: what PG plans to do with the money.
Tell me a little about your organization. Who are you targeting?
PG started in 1998. It was created by students who were working on AIDS alleviation, but that quickly shifted into human rights work. We quickly realized that the fight against HIV/AIDS is fundamentally about rights, health and freedom, and that’s what we began to structure our cause around.
Foguito at today’s ONE Africa Award
Why are you guys called “Positive Generation”?
We want to provide hope for this generation, that being HIV-positive isn’t a cause for desperation. Before, as an African, if you were diagnosed with HIV, you were technically dead in society’s eyes. But Positive-Generation is changing that outlook. We’re trying to have a different conversation around the disease in a hopeful, positive light – not one of despair or indignity. We want to demonstrate that politically, we will do everything to be a generation that provides and contributes to change in every sense of the word.
How are you guys trying to do that specifically?
We have a three-prong approach. First, we want to raise the conversation from a health issue to a political issue. We can’t attack the disease from just the health perspective, because the only venue where change can truly happen is within the government and political system. Empowering citizens with HIV and communities facing AIDS and making them understand their rights as human beings is a necessity for health.
Secondly, we’re working with the educational system in Cameroon. We go to the villages, schools and have conversations with people and students about disease, their bodies, treatments, and how they can prevent themselves from contracting HIV/AIDS and staying healthy.
Lastly, we focus on communication and advocacy. If we can change the way people have conversations about AIDS, we can create positive outlooks toward the disease and reduce its stigma. If someone is HIV-positive, we ask them to provide testimonials of them saying, “Yes, I have the disease, but I’m leading a healthy, dignified life.” Then, people can be more aware of the disease and argue about it more positively in the political system – not just AIDS patients, but everyone. We want this to be a citizen movement.
I read somewhere that you want your vision to be “a society where any patient has access to the treatment.” It’s a powerful statement.
Yes, the framework for the argument is around the right. Before you are infected, its your right to be protected from this disease so that you’re not stigmatized and you can receive the proper access to treatments. A country cannot be democratic if it does not guarantee access to care for people in situations of vulnerability or risk. This is why social justice and equity above are also part of our vision.
What inspired you to start this organization?
I saw that students who were HIV-positive and negative were separated at school. If you were positive, you were condemned and segregated. I had some friends at school who turned out to be HIV-positive, and didn’t feel it was right to be treated badly because of their disease. I wanted to start a program where my friends – and other HIV-positive people – could be integrated and not treated like second class citizens. My friends and I started saying that it was injustice, and that was the start.
What are you going to do with the money?
We want to use this money to help create a legal clinic that aims to support the population, particularly those at risk and vulnerable to HIV in their efforts to enforce their legal rights. To develop a regional training center to train leaders on African civil society advocacy.To create a community center for screening for HIV infection. And to strengthen our AIDS intervention efforts in communities.
What do you think people in the West should know about AIDS in Africa?
To help prevent misconceptions, I think we need to let the people on the ground tell the story. They’re in the position to talk about the disease, and they can be their own reporters. I also think that pharmaceutical countries in the West should not ban poorer countries like India from making HIV drugs, because most African countries depend on its low cost. That just shows that rich countries are thinking about their own profit rather than stopping the disease. And the West needs to ensure that their aid to the developing world is not being pocketed on the government level.
Congratulations, Positive-Generation, for winning this year’s ONE Africa Award. ONE members, share your goodwill and congratulations in a comment on PG’s Facebook page.
Dec 4th, 2012 7:08 PM UTC
By Malaka Gharib
Find out which of the five finalists will win the 2012 ONE Africa Award tomorrow at 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. EAT, right here on the ONE Africa Blog. I’ll be blogging live from the GAVI Partners Forum in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where ONE is hosting the awards ceremony.
To follow along, simply scroll through the updates in the widget below and refresh every few minutes or so. The updates will not start until 12:30 p.m. EAT. We’ll be on standby to answer any of your questions, so if you have any, please leave them in a comment below.
Dec 4th, 2012 1:15 PM UTC
By Nealon DeVore
Our next 2012 ONE Africa Award finalist is an inspiring organization from Uganda called Supporting Orphans & Vulnerable for Better Health, Education and Nutrition (SOVHEN).
As an orphan raised by his grandparents in rural Uganda, Richard Bbaale looked up to their daughter as an older sister as he learned to navigate this big wide world. When she was in her teens, he noticed that she began staying home from school for a week at a time, usually once a month or so. He even noticed that his sister used mud and leaves—to control the bleeding he’d later find out—since their grandparents couldn’t afford the expensive sanitary pads that would have helped her stay in school, prevented infections, or saved her from embarrassment. Years later, that feeling of helplessness and regret for his sister’s missed education haunted Richard.
Fast forward to Martyrs University Nkozi in the early 2000s. Richard is a student and starts a student club with his friends that focuses on supporting orphans and other vulnerable groups in rural communities with tutoring, encouragement, extra-curricular activities and more. The university students take turns to volunteer and go out to the communities in the four districts on which they have focused. They raise money at times to buy food, school supplies and maybe a football or two so the children have a distraction. The volunteers increasingly notice that young girls, once they became of age, continued to increasingly miss school until they no longer bothered to attend. With Richard advancing in his studies of science and engineering, the thought of his sister still nagged at him. While visiting a village one day, he noticed the discarded stem of a banana tree, its bananas freshly plucked from it. These stems littered the roads and paths of these rural areas. Surely there had to be a use for them.
And with that thought, Richard and his group of friends, which had formally registered as SOVHEN, set their minds to finding a solution for these girls. They soon set upon developing a sanitary pad that is affordable and created from sustainable and bio-degradable materials. The discarded banana stem, when pressed and processed, provided an absorbent fiber that when placed into sheaths of special paper and shaped, could provide the solution to help keep girls in schools. As they refined the idea and tested prototypes, SOVHEN began soliciting partnerships that could support the roll out. Now after about four years of manufacturing the sanitary pads in SOVHEN’s rural facilities, SOVHEN has developed a distribution network that employs teams of women to sell the pads. These pads are readily distributed in the four rural districts of Uganda in which SOVHEN operates through a close-knit network of women who earn money by selling the pads. SOVHEN has also created employment in these rural districts by locating the banana stem processing and manufacturing facilities there so that local women and men are paid salaries for their work. The individuals that manufacture, distribute and sell Bana-pads go through extensive business development training and coaching. SOVHEN’s Bana-pads are not the sole source of income for these people, but by participating with SOVHEN, they are learning important skills that can translate into their own enterprises.
In addition to the work surrounding the development and manufacturing of the pad, SOVHEN is still active in its communities by providing additional services to orphans and the vulnerable. With a presence in these communities’ schools, SOVHEN raises awareness of the specific challenges girls face in their educational development. SOVHEN, working with other community groups, has been responsible for changing the attitudes surrounding girls as they become of age and reducing the stigma of the menstrual cycle. SOVHEN also works hand-in-hand with Uganda’s government to ensure its national strategies for youth unemployment and gender empowerment are fully implemented. In fact, representatives from the Ministry of Gender, Labour & Social Development had nothing but praise for SOVHEN’s efforts to keep girls in school while also creating employment with innovative, sustainable solutions.
SOVHEN directly impacts MDG 3 (gender equality) while also creating employment (MDG 1) and keeping girls in school (MDG 2). We’re proud to recognize SOVHEN for their work and hope you enjoy learning their story!
Dec 3rd, 2012 6:55 PM UTC
By Nealon DeVore
Our next finalist for the 2012 ONE Africa Award is the dynamic organization Friends of the Global Fund Africa, or better known as Friends Africa. I visited Friends Africa in Lagos last month to hear their incredible story.
After serving as a technical advisor on Global Fund-financed projects in Nigeria for three years in the early 2000s, Dr. Akudo Ikemba realized that more needed to be done in order to ensure the effectiveness of Global Fund monies on the ground. She also saw an untapped need to raise awareness and support for the Global Fund amongst African citizens. When she saw some of the work being done by Friends of the Fight (USA) and Amis du Fonds Mondial and other Global Fund partners, she realized that Africa needed its own “Friends” that could bring governments, business leaders and citizens together to build support for the Global Fund and further its work by raising funds and commitments from African political and corporate leaders. At about the same time, the Global Fund invited Dr. Ikemba to discuss the formation of a partner organization for Africa and a few months later, Friends Africa officially opened its door in Lagos.
Since 2006, Friends Africa has been at the forefront of building and demonstrating African support for the Global Fund. It has raised commitments of $31 million through its Africa Champions from Health campaign, which enlists former heads of states and political leaders to call on African governments to support the the fund’s work. Through its Gift from Africa program, it has secured an additional $5 million from the private and corporate sectors for the Global Fund since 2010.
How does it do this? By strategically using former African heads of state, titans of business, and artists to engage governments and leading enterprises to obtain commitments for the Global Fund. As the developed world faces budget and fiscal crises, it is increasingly important for the developing world to not only support the work of institutions like the Global Fund, but also contribute to its functioning and financing. Friends Africa is doing just this.
Raising the funds and financing for an institution like the Global Fund, though, is just one side of the coin that is Friends Africa. In addition to its high level advocacy, Friends Africa is changing the face of the fight against HIV, malaria and tuberculosis every day. They have extensive programs that are building capacity at local, national and regional levels to engage in advocacy and direct services in their communities. Moreover, Friends Africa is also leading the charge in engaging small to medium enterprises – not just corporate giants – on the policies they have in place for their employees facing these diseases. Friends Africa is truly leading an African response to an African problem, taking the fight to the board rooms and the store rooms of African businesses. To truly turn the tide against these killer diseases, Friends Africa has gone where many have yet to tread—to the enterprising leaders and employers of a bulk of Africa’s hardworking citizens. Friends Africa is not only funding the fight, but also changing the face of these diseases to reduce stigmatization and stereotypes.
And while high-level and grassroots advocacy is a big part of Friends Africa’s work, Friends also produces reports that policy makers and citizens can use around the continent. They are impacting the debates without necessarily being in the room, and leveraging a network of consultants to provide technical assistance to governments seeking funding for reproductive health and HIV projects. As one can see, Friends Africa not only advocates at all levels, but also provides its own substantive contribution to the ongoing struggle against these diseases.
Nov 16th, 2012 6:13 PM UTC
By Nealon DeVore
Founded in 1997 and formally registered as a Community Based Organization in 1999, a group of small-scale farmers in rural Western Kenya established MFCG with the mission to protect and conserve Kakamega Forest. Kakamega Forest, covering an area of 240 km2 and containing more than a thousand unique species of flora and fauna, is Kenya’s last remaining rainforest, which was once part of the vast equatorial Congo-Guinean forest that stretched from the continent’s Atlantic coast to its Indian one. The farmers that founded MFCG saw an acute, urgent need to raise awareness in the local communities of the dire state of the forest and to support the local and national governments’ efforts to conserve the forest.
MFCG initially began by using traditional advocacy methods to reach out to their communities to educate them about the forest. It wasn’t easy at first in trying to share the message that the forest had to be protected. In particular, MFCG had to convey the intense pressure Kakamega Forest had come under over the years due to the growing and increasingly impoverished population found in western Kenya. The forest was a readily available, go-to resource for firewood, game meat, and wild fruit and vegetables. While the local population had lived off the forest and its abundance for millennia, it was now becoming obvious that the forest would perish under the relenting demand for human growth and development. MFCG’s founding farmers quickly discovered that their goal of conserving the forest seemed to contravene their fellow community members’ most basic and overwhelming instincts for survival—often without regard for the environmental cost.
At this point, it dawned on MFCG that it must tie the preservation of the forest to the economic interests of its surrounding communities. Consequently, MFCG changed its approach and began highlighting how the communities relied on the forest for their survival and that if the forest were no longer there, how would the community survive? By underscoring the impending loss of these traditional natural resources, MFCG began changing the attitudes of the forest’s human communities. This and other activities increased MFCG’s credibility and eventually led to its recognition by outside organizations.
In 2000, MFCG began partnering with organizations like ICIPE, a Kenyan scientific research institute focused on using science to discover natural resources that could be developed and commercialized to promote the conservation of endangered environmental hotspots. ICIPE was and still is particularly concerned about those areas with an abundance of biodiversity and ecologically sensitive organisms. Having heard about MFCG’s efforts to conserve Kakamega Rainforest, ICIPE wanted to know if there were any particular traditional plants that the communities around Kakamega used. ICIPE and MFCG eventually settled upon the wild ocimum kilimandscharicum plant, which had been traditionally used to treat insect bites, muscle aches, colds and nasal congestion. ICIPE soon determined the active compound in the plant and began testing different products in which it could be commercialized. In the meantime, MFCG had to domesticate the plant so it could encourage farmers to grow the plant in order to provide enough of it to ICIPE as it began zeroing in on the best applications for its essential oils and extracts.
Fast forward a few years and MFCG now has 460 farmers growing ocimum, which provides an additional income to the farmer and creates employment at local processing and collection centers. The ocimum is distilled in Kakamega to its essential oils and crystals, which are then transported to Nairobi to be manufactured into the Naturub® brand of balms and ointments that are sold in stores and pharmacies throughout Kenya. Naturub® products can be most likened to Vick’s Vapor Rub® in the United States and elsewhere. Ocimum contains natural camphor, a compound that when inhaled helps clear nasal congestion and colds. It also can reduce inflammation and aches related to insect bites and muscle soreness. Moreover, MFCG, ICIPE and their commercial partners are exploring additional products to be produced from ocimum and other traditional plants from Kakamega.
Before MFCG had begun its work with the ocimum plant, 40% of the households surrounding Kakamega Forest had no sustainable source of income. Those households now participating in MFCG’s activities have a regular income, which puts their children in schools and provides food and shelter amongst other life necessities. MFCG can directly ties its activities and efforts to all of the world’s Millennium Development Goals. In particular, we at ONE acknowledge that MFCG is particularly effective at MDG 7 (ensuring environmental sustainability) while the income MFCG’s members earn enable them to eradicate extreme poverty (MDG 1), educate their children (MDG 2) and seek any necessary health treatments (MDGs 4, 5 & 6).
We’re proud to have MFCG as a finalist for this year’s ONE Africa Award!
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