Africa is On the Up

By Rob & Nikki Wilson, who chose to put aside the ‘rat race’ after university and set up a social venture, READ International, to provide high quality pre-loved books to schools in Tanzania and Uganda. Rob also founded NoPC, an IT social enterprise, providing affordable, low power and low maintenance computer technology to schools across the developing world. Nikki currently works in Fundraising Strategy at Cancer Research UK.

How often do you read an inspiring story about Africa? Not often enough in our opinion. That is why we have made it our personal mission to uncover Africa’s most exceptional changemakers and tell their stories. From May to September, we are travelling over land from Cape Town to Cairo. As we pass through the nine countries on our route, we are writing articles about incredible individuals who are using entrepreneurial solutions to drive social and environmental change.

From a Zen Buddhist who is training rats to sniff out landmines, to an ex-playboy millionaire who is using his fortune to tackle multinational mining firms, the people we are profiling are not your archetypal charity workers. We are specifically seeking out people who many would term ‘social entrepreneurs’. This handy bit of jargon sums up a lot in two words! Essentially it is a way of describing people who are shedding fresh light on social and environmental issues. Ranging from social businesses, to registered charities to mass social movements – the means that social entrepreneurs use to achieve their goals can be multi-faceted and diverse.

What makes them unique, however, is that they have created innovative solutions at a grass roots level. From the bottom up they are driving real and lasting change which larger players like governments or international charities, often fail to achieve.

Thanks to networks like Ashoka, we have managed to identify an incredible suite of social entrepreneurs right across the continent. And to our delight, getting them to share their stories has been a total pleasure. With open arms we have been welcomed in to spend a day or two with each individual, giving us plenty of time to unpick what makes them tick and their projects fly. Reliably thought provoking and always deeply inspiring, we are yet to visit someone whose work did not leave us moved. And in reading our articles, we hope our followers will be left feeling the same.

No matter what flicks your switch when it comes to a inspiring story, On the Up has something for everyone.

Here is a taster of the kinds of people and projects being featured:

South Africa – Charles Maisel

As controversial as he is kind hearted, this is one man whose view point shakes up charity thinking. Founder of many social start-ups including the award winning employment agency, Men on the Side of the Road, Charles takes a founders fee from his portfolio of projects and earns himself a tidy wage in the process!

Zimbabwe – Betty Makoni

Betty’s incredible organisation, Girl Child Network, has empowered hundred of thousands of girls across Zimbabwe to stand up for their rights and speak out against the injustice of abuse. But Betty has given up more than most to achieve her vision and has been forced to live in exile by the Mugabe regime.

Zambia – Simon & Jane Berry

After years of development, Simon and Jane have developed an aid container which fits neatly into the excess space in Coca Cola crates. In a world first, they are about to kick off a trial to deliver essential medical aid to remote areas of Zambia using the Coca Cola distribution network.

Tanzania – Bart Weetjens

At the bottom of the Uluguru mountains in Tanzania, Bart Weetjens’ organisation, APOPO, is training African Giant Pouched Rats how to sniff out landmines. This story is guaranteed to make you think differently about the powers of our furry friends!

Rwanda – Mary Kayitesi Blewitt

Without Mary, organisations set up to support the survivors of the Rwandan genocide would not be where they are today. Her efforts to build the capacity of numerous Rwandan NGO’s has helped thousands of widows and orphans to move on from the past and build a brighter future.

Uganda – Alexander Maclean

African prisons are not pretty places. But at age 18, Alexander set about bringing hope and dignity to the inmates at Ugandan Prisons. His organisation, African Prisons Project, is dedicated to providing healthcare, education and justice to society’s most condemned.

Kenya – Nick Moon & Martin Fisher

A new spin on micro-finance, Nick Moon and Martin Fisher founded KickStart to develop and promote technologies that can be used by dynamic entrepreneurs to establish and run profitable small scale enterprises.

Sudan – Emmanuel Jal

A former child soldier, Emmanuel has transformed his life and is now a world renowned rap star. Using music as his medium, he is inspiring the Sudanese youth to overcome destructive divides and unite for a better future.

We want all of these initiatives to achieve three things:

1.Encourage wider thinking about the role of social entrepreneurs in delivering social and environmental change.

2.Prompt people to consider their own career choices and look at their own role in social and environmental change.

3.Fire people up about Africa and help them to see that, despite its challenges, Africa is on the up!

Once back in the UK, we are going to compile the best stories from our journey into a book. Itself a social enterprise, a percentage of the funds from sales will be donated back to the people and projects featured.

We are also going to running a series of talks and we hope to complete an art exhibition.

If you are interested in the book, the talks or the exhibition, keep an eye on our website for more information. In the meantime, the best thing to do is to ‘like’ our page on facebook and join our growing number of followers!

Before we close, we would really like to thank the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust for making On the Up a reality. It is thanks to their fellowship award that we have been able to carry out this incredible project. We would like to encourage everyone reading this article to check out their great work and if you are looking for funds for an inspirational journey, this might just be the place to start.