Monday, December 10, 2007

African aid: coordinating with locals

From Wharton Business school blog: Stating the obvious...

Donors "pour money into countries that don't have the infrastructure to support everything the initiative plans to do," said Brian Anderson, who raises funds for a program in his native South Africa called MaAfrika Tikkun, which seeks to help children in AIDS-ravaged families. "What is critical is to create structure, to create systems, to create ecosystems."

The panel was moderated by Emma Osong, a Maryland-based former engineer for the Federal Aviation Administration who now works as a consultant and actively promotes African development. She said she believes partnerships involving new-style NGOs are critical to Africa's future. "Investment opportunities remain on the continent," she noted, "but many are still cautious about investing."

The tenor of the discussion matched themes sounded by many who attended the Forum -- that the long-troubled continent is now in a new period of economic revival with gross national product on the rise and the world's fastest growth in cellular telephones. At the same time, huge problems persist, from AIDS to abject poverty to corrupt governments that interfere with aid efforts.

It's this vast downside of the African story that has lured new players to the region, such as the Gates Foundation, which has spent a major part of its funds in Africa, or the Ibrahim Foundation, which seeks to support and reward good government. Increasingly, the panelists noted, this new breed is finding the gaps between inadequate government programs and slow-moving, poorly targeted, traditional aid programs.

Indeed, many of the African programs that the panelists are involved with have an economic development component, some directly and some more indirectly. An example of the latter would be the MaAfrika Tikkun program, established in the 1990s as the rate of AIDS infection in South Africa was soaring. MaAfrika Tikkun takes in hundreds of children whose parents have died or been rendered helpless by AIDS, and offers them schooling and nutrition while also seeking to empower the surrounding community. According to Anderson, the program helps economic development in several ways, both by training children from the poorest families for a future in the South African workforce, and by sometimes making it possible for an infected parent to work as well.

"We're focusing on children from infancy to age 20, when they can get jobs," Anderson said. "It's a very exciting opportunity because we are terrified that a whole generation is going to be lost. We have had moderate success." The MaAfrika Tikkun effort is backed personally by South African leader Nelson Mandela as well as the government.

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