As NGOs in Africa continue to adapt and evolve their approach, they are preparing local communities to become participants in Africa’s incredible growth story rather than bystanders reliant on handouts.
It is well known that Africa is a continent of countless resources, vibrant cultures and also the world’s oldest populated area. All of this diversity is embodied in the myriad of languages found across Africa, with Arabic spoken by 170 million people on the continent, followed by English (130 million), Swahili (100 million), French (115 million), Berber (50 million), Hausa (50 million), Portuguese (20 million) and Spanish (10 million). In fact, over 25 percent of all languages in the world are spoken only in Africa, with over 2,000 recognized languages on this continent.
Such vibrant demographic diversity, combined with the emergence of some dynamic economies fueled by both innovation and stabilized political institutions, has forced NGOs active across the continent to rethink their role. Designing an impactful program is not so much about simply giving funding or aid as it is about providing capacity building measures and knowledge transfer to empower locals with the tools to address modern challenges. For example, as Africa evolves and becomes a more significant player in the global economy, it will become particularly necessary to address looming skill gaps and measures to support SMEs.
It is worth commending the work of several African NGOs that have successfully demonstrated this new model. One such organization is EarthEnable in Rwanda, which aims to promote health, cost effective living and job creation for Rwanda’s marginalized communities. In an effort to eradicate diarrhea, one of the leading causes of childhood death in Rwanda, EarthEnable builds safe, earthen floors for Rwandans living on dirt floors. Such healthy floors have been shown to reduce the incidence of childhood diarrhea by 49% and parasitic infections by 78%. An EarthEnable floor, in addition to being hygienic, is 75% cheaper than a concrete floor, making it more accessible to even the poorest of Rwandans.
To date, this upcoming NGO has helped 146 households in the course of a few short months, and directly impacted 800 people. However, what makes EarthEnable a role model NGO despite being a small initiative, is its philosophy. As Ms. Gayatri Datar, Co-Founder and Managing Director, EarthEnable, explains, “the key reason for our success is that we have been obsessive about listening to what people want, nimble in changing our business model, and continuously improving our product. The idea was developed through a class called Design for Extreme Affordability at the Stanford design school, where we were taught human-centered design techniques to understand what products and services our customers really want. We believe that every person deserves to have a clean and waterproof surface on which to sleep, eat, and raise their children, and we won’t stop working towards this mission.” With most of these families living below the poverty line, EarthEnable is investing in training and providing local masons with the necessary expertise, business skills, and professional tools to build earthen floors for more Rwandans. So far it has 55 full- employees, who are all Rwandan citizens, now qualified to train other Rwandans.
While it is evident that many challenges remain throughout Africa, from equal economic opportunity to gender equality, the prospects are improving...