Choosing a project to help

How do I choose a project To support?

This was a significant question for Jackie and me back in 1995 when we decided we would do something to help others in this world. 

Early in the process, we looked at the possibility of running AIDS orphanages in Africa. We contacted a good friend who worked at the World Bank and she indicated that her office was running personal projects for AIDS orphans.

We took a look at their vision and accounts and thought it was a positive direction to head in. 

Then, in 2008, I participated in a motorbike race through South Africa. We ventured for several days through a beautiful region called the Transkei. It was incredibly poor and on one particular day I was moved by the story of a village we were in that had lost more than 100 young children due to dysentery in the previous few months.

That was when we both realized that we could continue to plan to help orphans in homes, but there was a significant chance they would die from water borne disease or dirty water.

On your personal journey, you have to be able to engage with a problem and corresponding solution to passionately devote time and resources to solving the problems you take to heart. Whether at home or abroad there are no shortage of issues to dig into. 

It is definitely worth taking a short vacation to take a look at a group that are doing work in that specific area so you can research the problem, but also one of the solution providers that you may be able to get behind. 

Several years ago, the UN created the Millennium Development Goals. The graphic above shows you all the areas that are important to eventually solving poverty around the world. 

Having gone through the process of identifying a problem and subsequently starting a charity I would absolutely recommend the following process:

  • Identify an area that you can get passionate about and where your skills may add some value.
  • Do some research and reach out to people and organizations working in that specific area.
  • Talk to friends and contacts to see if there is common engagement in the problem. This will help you understand the challenges with creating awareness for the issues
  • Invest in visiting an organization or two that work on that issue 
  • Once you have found the issue, take time to evaluate how best you can add value to the cause. Perhaps the option of working in the sector with an NGO or simply assisting in fundraising might appeal to you. At the end of the day you may decide to start your own charity or non-profit so that you can control the result of your hard work and efforts. 
  • After your decision you will likely not get much time to sit back and smell the roses, but you will know that you are one of very few people in the world who have tacitly decided to make a positive difference. That will help you sleep well at night.

From humble beginnings

By Jackie Jennings-Bates

On our travels, we have been most impressed by the people we meet helping in their local communities.

Obviously, the most effective form of any development is a sustainable approach. On our first trip to Kenya, which I described in an earlier column, we were hosted by Daniel. His early educational years had been at the school we were visiting and where we were installing a well.

There was not even a building there then, but now it was quite a substantial boarding school and we saw evidence of a high standard of learning.

We drove by a preschool and stopped to hear beautiful singing of the ABC song. Daniel had gone on to take his undergraduate studies in Nairobi and a Master’s degree in Canterbury in England.

This is an impressive achievement and the determination to make that happen must have been very strong. Even more impressive perhaps is the willingness to return home to bring back his acquired skills and knowledge to help this impoverished region.

He must have been offered lucrative and appealing offers in the big cities he had encountered. Yet, who could be better suited to benefit his homeland.

As brief visitors we were so grateful to be hosted by this delightful gentleman. He could translate many of the
50 tribal languages and dialects. 

In terms of navigating, he knew exactly which rock marked a turn off the road in the middle of nowhere. He arranged our remote camp and provided all the supplies. Without him we would have been helpless really.

More important though, he has the cultural sensitivity to  know what needs to be done and how to get it done to benefit the community. We saw examples of abandoned wells built in the wrong place by distant city politicians, motivated by self interest.

We saw disused wells provided by foreign development agencies that used unsustainable technology such as diesel motors in a region where diesel supply is not at all reliable.

We also knew that once Daniel had helped decide which was the “right well, for the right people at the right time” he could negotiate with the local elders, who respected him, to help organize and participate in the construction process and establish a commitment from the community to administer and maintain the infrastructure once installed. 

I think having the opportunity to meet and work with people like Daniel has been one of the greatest gifts of the work we have done.

If only you could all meet him some of the stereotypes of Africa might be torn down.

From water to fire

By Jackie Jennings-Bates

We made it safely home from Kenya and after tackling water, we tackled fire.

Our friends in Guatemala were developing a program of installing “safe stoves." Cooking in developing countries can be challenging and in Guatemala open fires are common under an awning attached to the house because it is often raining.

This unhealthy combination leads to smoke inhalation and burns, especially among small children.

Our friends had found an innovative stove system that involved a small fire box built inside building blocks on a simple concrete base. They were easy to install, burned much less fuel and the smoke could be extracted through a chimney. Plus there were no open flames, so burns were minimized. 

We decided to support them and after a call out to our friends and associates, we assembled a small team of intrepid adventurers. Our commitment to raise money for the stoves was to participate in an Ultra marathon.

Fortunately, the distance could be divided into 4 x 25 kilometre relays and we formed two teams and my husband signed up for the full 100 kilometres.

None of us were runners, and we only had one summer to get ready. It was a lesson in perseverance and forming friendships through struggle.

We really got to know each other as we trained together, forming lasting friendships. It was hot of course in the Okanagan, so we thought we would be well prepared for Central America, but we largely ignored the fact the race was run overnight — who has time to train at 2 a.m.?

We flew to Guatemala and excitedly prepared for the big day. Fortunately, one of the directors was an experienced ultra runner, so we had a wonderful coach, and a great support truck full of enthusiastic folks and lots of high-energy snacks.

I don’t think any of us got any sleep the night before with mangoes falling off onto the tin roofs, local dogs barking and the day’s tortilla preparation that always starts about 4 a.m.

On race day another challenge emerged. The race was supposed to start in Guatemala City, but at the last minute, it was moved to Antigua. I can’t remember why.

This was along a quieter road, which was an advantage, but it was a huge change in the descent altitude. The first 25 km was now a steep, downhill run. This may sound pleasant, but it takes a toll.

It was really an honour to represent Canada. Everyone else was a lot more local and they were pleased to see us join them. They treated us like royalty, they might have thought we were good runners, so they soon found out that was a misconception.

My husband, Mark, who was hoping to run the full distance was really impacted by the new route. He thought it might help to switch shoes and got blisters.

My friend and I ran the second leg and it is one of the most memorable nights of my life. She is competitive (I am not) and she set of at an alarming pace. I tried to tell her we would never keep it up (except I couldn’t really talk). However, we did keep it up.

We just flew along on a cloud of adrenaline. It was quite surreal to run along a highway in a foreign land, in the heat, in the middle of the night. All the unfamiliar smells and noises seemed accentuated.

With the end of our leg in sight, my friend took off in a sprint.  I had nothing left, so I finished a minute behind her, but it was still way beyond my wildest expectations. I am grateful to her for pushing me to my limit, but now that I have done it, I don’t feel compelled to do it again.

Our other team members had their own adventures. My son and his friend got lost (with the support truck too), so did quite a few extra kilometres, but they also did really well.

The last team had been up all night by now, so they were really tired, but we all joined them for the last part of the leg along the Coast. As the sun came up and it started to get increasingly hot, we all dragged ourselves across the finish line just before the cut-off time.

The local runners were so gracious even though I think they thought we were quite a motley crew and a little crazy.

After a few days rest, we were recovered enough to install some stoves. It all came into perspective as the recipient families welcomed us into their homes, made lime juice fresh from the trees and were so delighted with their new modern appliance.

If I have a message here it is to encourage you to take on a challenge of your own. You will create your own memorable adventure and be able tell your tale. I look forward to hearing it.

Business can fight poverty

Often, we only look at governments and individuals as donors to humanitarian causes.

Occasionally, businesses will also contribute to their favourite cause. But what if a business throughout its normal course of commercial activity could, in fact, assist in reducing poverty.

It is a trend that has been emerging for several years and identifies that the words “profit” and “poverty reduction” can be included in the same sentence. 

Africa is one of the continents where you see massaged business plans that allow businesses to profit while working to reduce poverty. 

Cellphone sharing was one tangible program to effect change in certain parts of Africa.

On many levels, the cellphone can be a tool to assist locals in many aspects of their life from fraud protected money transfers, using cell phones to identify new grazing areas for cattle and sheep farmers. 

The challenge became one of assisting the population to get access to a cellphone. Obviously in the poorer areas, a cellphone is cost prohibitive.

Cellphone companies began offering shared cellphone opportunities to residents to reduce the cost of ownership.

In this situation, farming productivity could increase, community safety increased and less banking fraud was committed.

Of course, in the process a company made money. 

Many businesses are initiated with a philanthropic value at their core and a certain type of business, a Certified B Corporation, allows you to demonstrate the philosophy by putting emphasis on charity as well as the bottom line. 

Hopefully, the trend continues and the associated tax benefits might entice more unproductive offshore money to be repatriated and deployed in to philanthropic sectors. 

To learn more take a look at the following links:



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About the Author

Mark has been an entrepreneur for more than 40 years. His experience spans many commercial sectors and aspects of business.

He was one of the youngest people to be appointed as a Fellow of the prestigious Institute of Sales and Marketing Management before he left the U.K. in 1988.

His column focuses on ways we can improve on success in our lives. Whether it is business, relationships, or health, Mark has a well-rounded perspective on how to stay focused for growth and development.

His influences come from the various travels he undertakes as an adventurer, philanthropist and keynote speaker. More information can be found on Mark at his website www.markjenningsbates.com

He is a Venture Partner with www.DutchOracle.com a global Alternative Investment company.

Mark Jennings-Bates:
[email protected]

Photo credit: www.SteveAustin.ca 

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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