The Blog

Africa Rising from the Ground Up

When I started thinking about this blog, I had quite decided to write about charitable giving. Why we all need to do more and give more to support those less fortunate than ourselves because if we don't who else will?

When I started thinking about this blog, I had quite decided to write about charitable giving. Why we all need to do more and give more to support those less fortunate than ourselves because if we don't who else will?

How raising money for the benefit of others has had to become more than just rattling a tin and running a half marathon dressed in a onesie because mega pounds, and well as mega pennies, are needed if we are going to do more than scratch the surface of today's problems.

How governments around the world are so strapped for cash, transforming people's lives with one-on-one support is simply not an option; no one government can employ enough staff to make change happen on the scale required.

Instead, the world is dependent on individuals, charities and major philanthropists picking up the torch. Thousands of them every day are identifying the need, creating projects to combat the problem and fundraising for money to see it through. We have to ask for money because so many people need help, but we have to ask responsibly and be transparent in all our dealings.

But US President Barack Obama has gone to Kenya, in part to attend the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi, and I am struck by the media coverage of Africa thriving. Stories of young Africans devising clever TV shows and make-up ranges. Companies helping farmers bring their goods to market, selling bicycles, water filters and a host of other products to improve and enhance lives.

But the fact is, as in other developing countries, only a handful of people can avail themselves of these goods. Nearly 50% of Africans are living on less than $1.25 (80p) a day. Over 220 million are officially malnourished - struggling to grow enough or earn enough money to eat more than one basic meal a day. Mothers are routinely deciding which child they can feed, fathers working miles away from home because they can't make a living near their loved ones. Frail and elderly grandparents struggling to bring up their children's children because HIV/AIDs and civil wars have wiped out a generation.

At the charity I head up, Send a Cow, our teams in Africa are seeing this version of Africa every single day. Yes, we know in the cities some people are experiencing a better life. People have televisions, access to the internet, can buy new clothes and even eat out in restaurants. They have grafted hard and nobody, least of all me, would begrudge them. But on the edge of those cities are people eking out an existence - living in shanty towns and taking low paid work so they can try to send some money home.

The successful, emerging middle classes are a handful in comparison with the size of the continent's one billion plus population - a population set to double to over 2.4 billion by 2050. And for every enterprising African individual, there is a huge corporation eyeing up Africa's resources and extracting the highest value - be it goods or labour. After all that population growth could mean a labour force of one billion by 2040 - surpassing both China and India.

What has been reassuring about the media coverage of the young entrepreneurs is how many of them see developing a business as a way of giving something back. A way of producing job opportunities and inspiring Africans to see that there is more to life than an endless cycle of poverty. But let's be honest - the majority of Africans are light years away from living the kind of comfortable lives people reading this would recognise.

For one woman Send a Cow worked with in Uganda, her enterprise was visible in the gold coloured jug she had bought just because she liked it. Her first purchase not made out of need. But she lives in a remote northern village, far away from goods and services. So while there may be more opportunities in larger cities going forward, isn't it better that she builds a better life in the community she knows and loves? Can she replicate that as part of a labour-force on the edge of a big town? Should she be forced to become someone else to help drive a continent's economic boom? Thoughts of Britain's Industrial Revolution come to mind. Some people getting very rich while others struggle to survive.

Undoubtedly some Africans will make that choice in years to come and some of them will be successful entrepreneurs. But many more will live their lives in remote villages - far from health care, sanitation and safe water. Helping them to enterprise their lives has to be a priority too if Africa is to truly thrive. Entrepreneurship from the ground up.