My former colleague at RnR Group, Bertolt Daems, has been elected as 2012 worldwide President of the Junior Chamber International (JCI). This organization represents 200.000 people, aged 18-40, in 5.000 communities and over 100 countries in the world.
The mission of the Junior Chamber International is: “To provide development opportunities that empower young people to create positive change”. JCI propagates active citizenship and contribution to local development initiatives. JCI has officially partnered with the UN since 1954; in 2003, JCI committed to advancing the UN Millennium Development Goals. Specific topics that JCI has embraced are corporate social responsibility; global economic progress; youth capacity building; child health and malaria. The 2012 program of action can be found here.
Bertolt introduced me with members of JCI Ghana which resulted in a close connection with 2011 EVP – Sem Buamey; 2011 Director of Business – Senator Patrick Mang; and 2011 Local President of Dansoman – Peter Paul Hammond.
Prior to our departure to the Northern region Mr Yakubu and I had a meeting with Mr. Buamey and Mr Mang at the Ghana Free Zones Board Office. IT director of Ghana Free Zones Board, Mr. Frederick Kono Larbi, also was present in his sole as Assistant Executive Director of PAMEPI.
We had a very inspiring conversation that ended with a strongly expressed commitment to collaborate. This resulted, amongst others, in a significant role for JCI Ghana at a press conference of the PAMEPI “School for All” project, planned to be held later that week in Accra (see my next post).
Mr. Yakubu and I travelled to Tamale in the Northern region of Ghana for the launch of the “School for All” project. I will write separately about this project and the launch. During our stay in the Northern region we had the opportunity to visit two other PAMEPI projects. We also held a preparatory meeting for the press conference in Accra with His Excellency Alhaji Aliu Mahama; former Vice President of the Republic of Ghana (2000-2008).
The Gbewaa Daughters Association in rural area near Tamale is a group of women who support the orphanage and the children who are living there. These women have joined together after returning from their sacred journey to Mekka. These women all work as sales people at markets and in terms of life conditions they live at the bottom of the pyramid. For six days in a week they travel across the region from market to market to sell their goods, which they carry on their heads. The seventh day they gather to discuss which member of the group has to contribute what amount of money for the collective support of the orphans.
The group is fully self-sufficient and self-organizing, the meetings are held with a tribal order where the elders voice the decisions made by the group. Though, as in many, countries, the position of women is not always equal and their voices often not heard. Especially for a group like the Gbewaa Daughters Association it can be very difficult to voice their point of view with government and NGO representatives. To support the women in voicing their views PAMEPI has offered a male spokesman who attends at meetings with other representatives. The role of the spokesman is like that of an interpreter. There is no involvement in the internal affairs by the group other than participation in their meetings as a member of the group. Not as an elder. This is significant.
With great appreciation for their work and deep admiration of the strength of the women from Gbewaa Daughters Association I listened to their story. I also felt humble for what I as a Westerner could learn from these women. I also greatly value the way PAMEPI has offered support and the way the spokesman acts with respect and dignity for the women and for me as an external representative.
Westerners in general learn to gain in order to share. Africans in general learn to share in order to gain. The women from the Gbewaa Daughters Association hardly have any income themselves. Some weeks a woman has not earned enough for her own living. Still she participates and contributes what she can. The group also takes care for the individual members. How that is done is something I would like to learn more of during my next visit.
What I do see, reflecting more deeply on this visit, is a social welfare system that works in an environment where life conditions are of scarcity, poverty, low education and poor health. IT WORKS! In my belief it works because the system is built from the bottom of the pyramid up, starting on grass root level. The initiative was taken by, in this case, woman who joined together for a common cause within their own community. They took ownership of the issue they wanted to address – here: improving life conditions of orphans in the community – and they created a governing system using their own traditional forms for communion and decision making. The initiative for action within the community came from within by people who started to act first, taking small steps at a time providing tangible results on grass root level.
PAMEPI provided the Gbewaa Daughters Association with support on request. The role of spokesman and criteria for the role where a result of deepening the issues to be addressed. Together with the elders of the group, they made an inquiry on how the group could be supported most effectively regarding its tradition, purpose and current practice. There also the needs and requirements where addressed concerning the value that support from PAMEPI should create for the group and the community.
Another project where PAMEPI has a supportive role is the Dipaliya Women Group in a small village outside Tamale. The name, in Western terms, doesn’t really represent what it is. The Dipaliya Women Group is a company that produces and internationally exports shay butter, rice and other products. The butter is used in almost every cosmetic product one can buy in the store. A Westerner might call the company Dipaliya international.
The Dipaliya Women Group is a community of, primarily, women from many different villages in the area. They have created a facility to improve life conditions in the area by providing labor and income. A company has been set up that provides work for women, food for the area, and economic growth for the region. Most women work as farmer on the land or in the process of harvesting and production before sales. However, sales and export are to be managed as well. This is also where PAMEPI provides support.
I arrived at Dipaliya Women Group just after a meeting they had with one of the sub groups. I was shown what the women were growing and how the harvest was being produced to product for international export. In conversation with the group they shared how decisions were made in the group. The financial management and export management is supported by PAMEPI. Omar Mohammed , who runs a computer company as owner/director, provides in an accounting role for the Dipaliya Women Group. He supports in financial management and financial accounting. Omar and his wonderful wife, Mama, also where my hosts during my stay in Tamale. I had the great pleasure to be part of their family during my whole visit in Northern Ghana.
Reflecting on my impressions from Dipaliya Women Group, I can see a pattern in how PAMEPI works and how aligned it is with principles for community development I believe in and I want to learn from. Again, the community has initiated action from within first; the focus is on working with respect for present common values towards what is needed for the community as a whole; the community is actively involved and supported to grow into in key roles in decision making and executive business management. Strategic business management, mostly, already is in place through local group decision making processes. This is something I would like to learn more of from the Dipaliya Women Group during my next visit.
The intermediate rolesthat PAMEPI provides in for both, the Dipaliya Women Group, as the Gbewaa Daughters Association, are well adjusted to local traditions and governing systems. The roles seem to be temporarily, or could become temporal when aligned with a hands on development program for other people within the community to grow into these roles. This is something where Leap into Life could provide in.
The people from PAMEPI who work in the communities, most often, are members of that community themselves too. They provide in roles as volunteers from experience in positions they have professionally. In Ghana I have met many people who provide in voluntary work for their community besides a full time job; from business director to ‘bottom of the pyramid’ market worker. With a population of around 20% to 25% of people that do voluntary work the Netherlands has one of the highest percentage of volunteers in Western countries. From the people that I have met, I start to believe that this percentage must be much higher in Ghana.
What is not mentioned in the Dutch story is that many people in the Netherlands and, most likely, in Western Europe have voluntary jobs instead of a professional job; not besides a professional job. From that total group of volunteers a large percentage of voluntary work in the Netherlands is done by elderly people who have retired. They still have plenty of energy, knowledge and experience to be of value and to contribute in their community. A large percentage of voluntary work also is done by young people who are applying for jobs or in between jobs and meanwhile working on the ‘gaps in their CV’ with something they find worthy and useful to do. This also brings a very positive impulse of young people who are actively engaged for their community. In other European countries one can see similar patterns. And naturally, there is a large group of people in the Netherlands who do voluntary work besides their job. But still, as a community we could learn many things about ourselves in dialogue with Africans.
Maybe Westerners could learn from Africans how to provide in better work life balance; how to a develop a company policy that aligns healthy life conditions for employees with economic growth for the community through success of the company ; how – as a company or as a government – to grow career life paths that are valuable for companies, communities, and people. How to develop a communal (governmental) social system for more equal sharing of economic growth, …
I do not believe that a ‘copy-paste’ principle would work here, but I believe the West does have some questions that are quite similar to those I’ve heard and seen in Africa. And they seem to become very existential in the West. After decades of economic growth Westerners are not quite used to have their life conditions threatened so directly as under current circumstances. For most Africans this has been day to day reality for many decades. In a few days visiting Ghana I have seen people becoming successful in difficult life conditions and local companies growing internationally.
Ghana is one of the top 10 fastest growing National economies in the world. A growing number of Western companies is trying to do business in Ghana. This brings a huge opportunity for Western companies to apply and to integrate sustainable and ethical commerce with professional and leadership development for Western employees. West and South can learn from each other by exchange and exploration. An aligning question could be; “how do I run my business more successfully?” or “How do I become more effective as a professional in my job?” of “How do we materialize the values of our community in our government/company policy?”
Possibly large, international NGO’s could also learn from local initiatives and local NGO’s. How have we applied developmental aid in Africa? How effective have we been so far in resolving the largest issues as stated in the UN Millennium Development Goals? Most important question to me would be: “How are we going to become more effective resolving the Millennium Development Goals with less finance and resources?” There are, in my belief, no answers here either. But we can learn by collaborating and reflecting on that collaboration using different perspectives, experiences and life conditions. This is something Leap into Life could provide in.
Another thing that I was noticing in Ghana was that many projects like the Dipaliya Women Group, and the Gbewaa Daughters Association are run by women and supported by men. With its activities PAMEPI indirectly supports MDG3, Gender Equality and MDG5, Maternal Health. Hopefully in the near future I can align my role as ambassador of PAMEPI with another role I hold as representative of the Dutch liberal party (D66) concerning the position of women in Dutch society.
But all in good time, step by step is what I learn on grass root level in Africa…