Washington — Women, youth and the disabled in 18 African nations are living better lives and realizing their dreams of economic self-sufficiency, while also strengthening their countries’ economies, with the help of the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF).
USADF President Lloyd Pierson told America.gov recently that the ideas for the foundation’s small and medium-size enterprise development projects come directly from the Africans themselves.
“We don’t go in and say, ‘Here is what you should be doing.’ We want those ideas to come from the local community — for Africans to say, ‘Here is what we want to do.’ Suggestions,” he said, “could come from an entrepreneur within that community” or from a group. It is grassroots, rural-focused development at the community level, he said.
USADF has local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working as business development officers to help it carry out its development programs, Pierson noted.
“They search out for opportunities and are constantly seeking ways to build up from the grassroots level to spur economic growth and development,” he explained.
Pierson — a lifelong development specialist who formerly was the assistant administrator for African affairs at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and chief of operations for the Peace Corps — cautioned that USADF projects tend to be somewhat small and focused, with the largest project usually not exceeding a total one-time grant cost of $250,000.
“What makes that funding so important,” he said, “is that USADF seeks buy-in and participatory support from the local host government. Whatever that amount of USADF money is, we want to double it with leveraged funds,” some of which come from the host country, to form a partnership to spur economic and enterprise development. This gives the local government a stake in the success of the programs, he added.
“We try to leverage United States taxpayer funds that are the core revenue of this agency — appropriated dollars. … We don’t always get the matching funds, but we at least look for the host country to provide some funds, so that the goal is to double every dollar that we get.”
USADF’s budget for fiscal 2008 is $30 million.
“It is important to get the money, but also important to get the commitment on the part of that country to recognize and be supportive of the kinds of populations we are serving,” he said.
By statute, Pierson said, USADF programs are to be run by Africans, and any entities in which USADF invests must be 100 percent African-owned. “So we are not sending large numbers of expatriate consultants out to implement our programs. We look for Africans to build that capability internally,” he said.
One such successful project Pierson cited is the Gahaya Links project in Rwanda, which, with USADF help, is now exporting sisal baskets to the United States for sale at the major U.S. retailer Macy’s.
The project has grown from employing 27 women each day to employing more than 3,500 — and their wages have likewise grown from $1 a day to $14 a week, he said.
Gahaya Links, which connects artisans and 40 cooperatives with a profitable export market, is bettering the lives of the Rwandan women and their families, he said.
Over the past 23 years, USADF has funded 1,800 projects, representing in excess of $150 million in support of African entrepreneurs and local African communities. Other small and medium-size projects it has funded recently in Rwanda include a project to export specialty coffee grown by small farmers, a dairy production project, and the introduction of pomegranate as a cash crop for small farmers.
“What has happened there has also happened in other such projects throughout USADF countries: jobs have been created,” Pierson said. Gahaya, with its job creation and income improvements for rural women, represents the type of project that USADF seeks to fund across USADF countries, he added. USADF has funded almost 1,200 small and medium-size development projects.
“Economic development is very important,” he said, “but … it is not just the creation of jobs, it is what kind of employment conditions exist. We are like the union for the employees” in helping to improve overall living and working conditions.
USADF investment has led to health care and better education, he said, and the foundation particularly targets underserved populations such as women, youth and the disabled.
USADF has operated several projects to help the disabled — one of which was run by Godisa Technologies in Botswana. Godisa Technologies applied for USADF support to design solar rechargers for batteries and produce several models of better-quality hearing aids. USADF completed its funding for the project in 2006.
The effectiveness of the Godisa hearing aids has been proven in a seven-country study. Similar hearing aids in Europe cost four times as much. The solar recharger won first place for international product design from the Design Institute of South Africa and was exhibited in 2007 at the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York.
The company hired people with hearing disabilities to assemble the hearing aids. Most of Godisa’s sales were to the U.S. and European NGOs that distribute the products to low-income people in more than 30 countries.
Godisa also helped NGOs in developing countries (including Brazil, Jordan and the Philippines) begin production of the hearing aids and chargers. After Godisa received the USADF grant, its sales grew by $335,000 and it was able to obtain $322,000 in other financing.
The U.S. African Development Foundation is presently working in Benin, Botswana, Burundi, Cape Verde, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
By Charles W. Core