"Africa's time is coming soon."

When one works for a start-up such as SHE, it is easy to believe that you are the only one facing both the highs and lows of building a business. Therefore, it is essential to build relationships with individuals and organizations working in your sector, in order to expand your knowledge and ignite a new way of thinking and approaching your business problems.

As someone new to the international development and social enterprise sector, I was excited to attend the annual event organized by the Segal Family Foundation. The Segal Family Foundation’s mission is to invest in practical solutions that improve life in Sub-Saharan Africa. Its one-day conference provides workshops and speaker panels designed to inform the foundation's partners of emerging issues and opportunities in the international development community. The conference also encourages cross-partner collaboration since many of us work with the same communities or countries.

The energy in the room was palpable - while there was excitement about the event’s keynote speaker, the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee, partner organizations – over 50 in attendance – were equally eager to take the time and space to gather and network with our peers.

The most energizing panel of the day was the “Africa for Africans” panel. The panel featured remarkable African leaders, including Leymah Gbowee, and each of them offered insight into the unique challenges and opportunities of generating social and economic development in your own community. Dikembe Mutumbo started the Dikembe Mutumbo Foundation in his native country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and faced intimidation and discontent early on from his childhood village when he decided to build the foundation’s hospital in the capital city of Kinshasa. 

The other panelists agreed and said that the toughest part of their job is staying committed to your true mission, especially when the need is greater than what your organization can provide. Leymah Gbowee shared the daily internal struggle she faces when she is approached by individuals and communities to provide funding or assistance that is outside the scope of her foundation. However, instead of deviating from her mission, she makes it her priority to identify partner organizations that are already doing good work but lack the name recognition.

Despite those initial setbacks, one of the strongest advantages of being African for those leaders is the recognition that cultivating relationships with people is the essential first step. Most of the panelists cited that many of the reasons expatriates fail to gain traction is that they do not prioritize understanding both the culture and the cross-cultural partnering. 
The panelists challenged all of us, whether we are native Africans or expatriates living and working in Africa, that we must always keep our ears close to the ground and work in partnership with the communities, businesses and governments. Leymah Gbowee reminded us to "Keep doing what your doing. Africa's time is coming soon." 

SHE believes in investing in the people and their ideas and jump-starting businesses is a sustainable model that turns the model of international charity on its head. Our work is constantly influenced by the farmers, health and hygiene educators, business owners, government officials, and the girls and women we collaborate with as we transition from small-scale production to our pilot industrial-scale production. SHE will leap forward to becoming a global enterprise as long as we continue to co-design our programs with our local communities.

Connie Lewin
SHE Global Fellow

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