TED Conversations

Edwin Kiama

Social Entrepreneur, Social Media Activist on Governance, Equity, Twenty Thirty Ventures Ltd.

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NGO and Civil Society Organisations Funding for Africa - Could visionary innovators be funded directly?

Billions of dollars have been spent to try and alleviate poverty in Africa over the last 40 years yet Africans are more destitute than ever. The various sources of funding for programmes and projects in Africa have strict criteria for identifying recipients including brilliant concept papers yet this money has made little impact on the target communities. The only people who have benefited are the local and international staff of the organisations.

How can we get the people and foundations who contribute funds to these organisations re-evaluating and refocussing their contributions to actually make a real difference to the lives of millions of Africans as the case should be? How do we help connect out of the box African visionaries to the funding organisations sidestepping the NGOs and CSOs that always act as middlemen stifling brilliant solutions to the challenges Africans face every day?


Closing Statement from Edwin Kiama


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    Oct 21 2011: Hi Edwin,
    Being in this field, I find this an interesting question.

    But why do you think there's that much of a difference between a private innovator and an NGO when it comes to attracting funding?

    An NGO that wants to get a project financed, will have to go through a very competitive series of selection rounds. So the funding agencies are screening for the best only; projects with vision, innovation and transformative power. Only a handful get selected (the ratio in the latest projects I won was 98% of applicants gets rejected).

    The same process is true for private investments in private "innovators". If you have a brilliant idea, and you can really demonstrate it's innovative and transformative, you just contact investors, make your pitch, and the money will follow.

    When it comes to beneficiaries and profitability, both types of using other people's cash boil down to the same thing: an NGO only gets its next slice of money if it has used the previous one well and when it has reached stated objectives (e.g. the project has benefited a 1000 people). A private entrepreneur does the same thing, translated into profit.

    I don't see too many differences.

    The main difference between NGOs and private entrepreneurs is that NGOs are not looking for a profit, but instead they want to reach difficult places, populations or problems. Private entrepreneurs don't really have the promotion of the social good as their baseline (even though the results of their actions can be socially interesting). That's why, in order to "develop" a country in a way so that even the poorest benefit, funds prefer to work with non-profits and with civil society.

    But anyhow, there are millions of investors and hundreds of internet platforms where an African innovator can pitch his idea. If the innovation/business plan is any good, I'm sure he will attract investment.
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      Oct 24 2011: Thanks Laurens for the reply!

      I agree with the ideals behind the work NGOs are meant to do and the contrasts with business. Note in my explanation I do mention 'brilliant concept papers'. I however see very little impact where I am, in Kenya. An example is a slum in Nairobi known as Kibera. There are a 10s maybe hundreds of NGOs that have been active in that slum for the last 30 years to try and raise the residents from abject poverty. They are still trying to date, millions of dollars later!

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