Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Signing Off

This is a personal post from the two most recent "Social Media Ninjas", Dexter and Jonathan. We haven't done one of these in a while, and today it is a bit bittersweet. We have been working with EPN for the past year and a half as the resident bloggers and social media experts, with a little tech savvy to boot. But with new work and personal responsibilities for both of us, we must unfortunately announce that Dexter and I are signing off with EPN.

It has truly been a great run and we definitely enjoyed it.

We were happy and proud to develop the new EPN website and share it with the world.

We loved the opportunity to meet and talk to magnificent human beings in Dov Pasternak, Lilly Oyare, and Father Godfrey during the EPN Heroes series.

We enjoyed meeting and introducing two new board members in Peter Wentworth and Kaveh Naficy, and sharing numerous updates from campaigns, trips, and articles.

We are deeply thankful to John, Judy, and Helen for the opportunity to partner with them over the past 2 years to help Eliminate Poverty NOW! It has been a great journey, and it will continue to be a journey beyond our direct work with EPN.  We truly appreciate the chance to work with the team towards such an important mission.

And last, but not least, thank you all, the readers of EPN Live, for your continual support. You have made our work worthwhile, and the readership means a ton. Please continue to share and comment on our posts! Our dear new friend, Jen, will be taking over as the new "Social Media Ninja", and has a bunch of great ideas and a beautiful writing voice! We will continue to support her and share her posts as well.

So thank you all for the time. It's really been a blast, and we look forward to the time when our paths will cross again. All the best, and please continue your support as we strive to Eliminate Poverty NOW!

Friday, December 18, 2015

EPN Heroes Father Godfrey: What's Next for Songhai?

This is the last post in our EPN heroes series. We've been highlighting Father Godfrey Nzamujo , the founder and director of the Songhai Centre. He and his army of "barefoot engineers" are using sustainable agriculture to create pathways towards prosperity for some of Africa's most disenfranchised. 

In our earlier posts on Father Godfrey we've shared how he has uprooted the logic of poverty at work in Africa and managed to turn 2.4 acres of barren land into one of Africa's premiere research and technical school networks.

What Father Godfrey has accomplished is remarkable. Today there are thirteen Songhai Centres in four African nations. He has educated thousands, helped to provide communities with nutritious food, and impacted countless lives. What more could Father Godfrey possibly accomplish? We are glad you asked!

Father Godfrey is a world renowned agriculturist, and his work has caught the attention of some of the world's most important influencers. Starting next year, graduates of the Songhai Centre will be given opportunities to pursue degrees at any French University they qualify for, on full scholarship. There is only one condition: every scholarship recipient must agree to return to the Songhai Centre, and join the teaching or research staff.

Why all the sudden attention? Father Godfrey and his staff may be on the brink of something remarkable. They are on the verge of innovating self-sustaining agricultural ecologies. That's a mouthful! Here's a simple way to think about it.  Imagine a farm where absolutely nothing gets wasted, that requires only minimal human involvement, and never uses agricultural techniques harmful to the environment. That's what Father Godfrey, with the help of his faculty and students, is creating.

They have closely studied how organic energy is used and transferred between bioforms. What they have in mind combines agriculture, livestock, and seasonal weather patterns into a closed, self-contained system. This system is driven by the natural and mutually beneficial relationships between plants, animals, and the earth. This could be a game-changer not only for Songhai but also for the world! As mankind becomes more mindful of the dangers associated with climate change and genetically modified foods, these sorts of innovations will be essential to our lives.

What Father Godfrey has accomplished through the Songhai Centre is amazing. What's more amazing is he's not done yet. Everyday he wakes up motivated to "help people who thought themselves beyond help and prove that every person has something to give society." The future looks bright for Songhai. Father Godfrey, his staff, and students are pushing the boundaries of agricultural practice. The world's next major agricultural development may well be the byproduct of their heroic work.

Are you inspired by Father Godfrey's continuing work? What did you think about the next steps for the Songhai Centre? Comment and share your thoughts and questions below!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Mission Accomplished on Giving Tuesday!!

You did it!  We wanted to send 2 more remarkable students from the slums of Nairobi, Kenya to secondary school. And thanks to you that's exactly what we'll do. Our goal was $8,000, but you sent in donations and pledges of over $10,000! Added to the money raised earlier in the year, we now have funding for 10 full scholarships. And with the match from Eliminate Poverty NOW we have an excellent start on funding more scholarships next year.

On behalf of the 26 students currently on scholarship and our 10 new recipients, our sincere thanks.  Your caring and generosity changes their lives and provides them the opportunity for a bright future.  Well done!!

Monday, December 14, 2015

What A Year It Has Been!

As 2015 comes to a close, we’d like to thank you for your generous support of EPN and your enthusiastic engagement with us online. With your help, our work is making a difference for the extreme poor in Africa on so many fronts. Here are some highlights from this year:

Farmers of the Future:

After 4 years of testing we are nearing completion of the pilot phase in four villages and preparing to launch the optimized model in a fifth.   Over 70 women like Hamsa Kindo participate in the program along with hundreds of primary school students who learn that farming can be a good business.  Our videos of local Nigerien successes in agriculture are a huge hit and plans are under way to share them broadly around the country.

Little Rock Scholars Program:

In 2015, the number of students on EPN-funded scholarship expanded to 26.  The extra tutoring and mentoring program introduced last year is paying big dividends.  Eighty-five percent of our scholars are in the top half of their class; 25% are in the top 5% and one is in the top 1% of her class.  Not bad for a bunch of kids from the slums!!  And capped by a successful Giving Tuesday campaign, we will be sending another 10 students to secondary school in 2016.

Little Rock After School Tutoring:

This is our sixth year of funding after school tutoring at the Little Rock Inclusive Early Childhood Development Centre.  Currently, over 100 primary school students take advantage of the program.  We foster a love of learning and reinforce that education is the surest path out of the slums.  As students prepare for the national entrance exam to secondary school, tutors work with them intensively to maximize their odds of qualifying for an EPN scholarship.   This year’s 8th grade cohort increased by 50%.

Songhai Women’s Capital Fund:

The Songhai Women’s Capital Fund provides low interest loans to Songhai graduates to start their own agricultural ventures.  To date we have awarded 15 loans with 10 more to be extended in Q4 2015.  Several women are struggling to make their new ventures a success.  While it is unrealistic to expect a 100% success rate with startups, we are increasing emphasis on technical support and mentoring in these first critical years to maximize commercial success for these women pioneers.

Lead Farmers Program:

We completed Year 2 of a 3-year test to provide affordable technical support to rural farmers in Africa.  The test is being conducted with 5,000 farmers in Myange, Rwanda.  Farmers learn best agricultural practices and ways to maximum farm revenue.  Valuable learnings are being implemented to improve program effectiveness and farmers are seeing meaningful improvements in crop yields and income.

Thinking of donating still this year? There's still time - take a look at our Annual Appeal. At Eliminate Poverty NOW we are proud of how hard your contribution dollars work. With your support we can touch even more lives in 2016.

Have a wonderful holiday season - see you next year!

Monday, November 23, 2015

EPN Heroes: The Humble Beginnings of the Songhai Centre

 In our last post, we discussed how Father Godfrey Nzamujo is reversing the logic of poverty at work in Africa by tapping into what he describes as "5 Core Capitals." In this piece, we'll take a closer look at how those "5 Core Capitals" came to fruition in the form of the Songhai Centre.  

After visiting one of the thirteen Songhai Centre technical schools, one might assume that such an expansive and innovative program had massive amounts of initial funding, and a great platform to start from.  Well the surprising truth is that Father Godfrey turned 2.4 acres of infertile land into one of Africa's most impactful agricultural education centers with barely any resources at all.  

The program started in the mid-1980's. West and Central Africa had just experienced the worst famine in recent memory. When Father Godfrey returned to his home country of Nigeria to pitch his idea for an agricultural training and research facility, government officials scoffed at him. "They seemed far more concerned with securing foreign aid and lobbying for charity,"  said Father Godfrey, "than in doing the hard work of empowering people in poverty to be productive." 

Undeterred, he traveled to the neighboring country of Benin to try his luck. The national officials there were more impressed with the potential benefits of hosting Father Godfrey's revolutionary Songhai Centre.  Nonetheless, they too seemed more interested in securing international aid than in financing grassroots efforts.    

They gave Father Godfrey one hectare of land (roughly 2.4 acres) to begin the first Songhai Centre. The land was thought to be infertile and worthless. He was not granted any staff so he recruited local workers. With a makeshift team of seven high school dropouts, and much of his own savings, Father Godfrey converted a desolate strip of wasteland into a thriving, self-sustaining agricultural system. People from all over Africa took notice.  

Word reached Europe that an African scientist and his small team were transforming the way agriculture was done in West Africa. France sent a small delegation to provide Father Godfrey with additional expertise and funding. Unfortunately, they also brought a competing vision of what current and future Songhai Centres should be. 

The European scientists assumed their job was to take over day-to-day operations of the Centre. They envisioned a research facility primarily operated by scientists, not local farmers. Against the wishes of the Benin government, Father Godfrey respectfully dismissed them.  To him the Songhai Centre had to be a place where local people learned skills to transform the lives of their families and communities. And the Songhai Centre has thrived. 

Now people from all over the globe come to learn from Father Godfrey and his team of locally trained agriculturalists. And when foreign countries help fund his programs it's because he has proven time and again that his intuitive understanding of African agriculture and the economy are second to none. Father Godfrey's heroic determination and unmatched expertise are transforming thousands of lives and proving his favorite saying:  "Agriculture can be a weapon of mass construction."  

Friday, October 23, 2015

EPN Heroes: The Five Core Capitals

In our last post we introduced Father Godfrey Nzamujo, the founder and director of the Songhai Center. He and his team of educators have trained thousands to use agriculture as a vehicle out of poverty. 

After returning home to West Africa during the famine of the 1980's Father Godfrey encountered a "logic of poverty." He noticed two underlying premises driving the way his countrymen thought about stemming economic deprivation: 1) a dependence on foreign aid, and 2) the need for large amounts of capital to create economic production.

Although foreign aid can be a wonderful tool to address the immediate needs of people, it rarely, if ever, addresses the root causes of poverty. For example, Tom's, the popular shoe brand, promises to donate a pair of shoes in Africa for every pair purchased here in the States. This means that many people who need shoes receive a free pair. Great!

Unfortunately, "shoelessness" is only symptomatic of the real problem -- poverty. Giving away free shoes won't create economic opportunity for those who need jobs that pay livable wages. Worse yet, when a village's market becomes saturated with free shoes, the local skilled craftsmen who make and sell shoes can't compete. With this logic at work, the impoverished stay dependent on foreign aid and never become self-reliant.

Great at solving "shoelessness", not so great at eliminating poverty.

Another tenant in the logic of poverty is that massive amounts of money are needed to create economic opportunity for those who have none. If this is true, countries struggling to provide basic services will never have the stockpiles of cash necessary to combat the root causes of poverty. Father Godfrey however, is proving that remarkable economic opportunity can in fact be created without a large infusion of money.

Father Godfrey preaches that there are five "core capitals" at work, in sequence, to create wealth: 1) human 2) environmental 3) technological 4) social and 5) financial. By properly investing in people, using the right technologies to leverage environmental resources, and selling society on their benefit's, significant financial gains can be made to benefit all. Let's take a closer look.

"To cultivate human capital, " says Father Godfrey, "you must recognize the productive and creative potential of all individuals, regardless of their socio-economic status. Once you recognize this fact, you can develop their latent productive potential through education and vocational training."

With a team of highly trained individuals, you can cultivate environmental capital, especially in the form of agriculture. By using the right technological capital, which in this context includes machinery, tools, and specialized techniques, you can ensure the relationship with the environment is productive and non-destructive.

The Songhai Centre makes terrific use of renewable energy, like solar power.

When you produce valuable goods with previously untapped human potential and with non-destructive methods, agencies, institutions and the public start to demand that these principles be adopted as the norm. This creates social capital.  Financial capital is the offshoot of an economic system that maximizes human and environmental potential, not the impetus that makes it possible.

Need more proof? Father Godfrey started the first Songhai Centre in Benin with a team of high school dropouts on a 2.4 acre strip of infertile land. Today there are 13 Songhai Centres in 4 African nations. Each are "doing more with less" by rethinking how to address poverty and making tremendous use of capital sources that traditionally go overlooked and under-appreciated.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

EPN Heroes: Father Godfrey Nzamujo

Father Godfrey Nzamujo

Next in our EPN Heroes series we are featuring Father Godfrey Nzamujo. Father Godfrey is the founder and director of the Songhai Centre, one of Africa's premier technical schools.  He firmly believes that "agriculture can be a weapon of mass construction." 

We see many common themes among our EPN heroes. They see opportunities to make their world a better place and share a passion to make it happen.  Godfrey Nzamujo, known simply as Father Godfrey by his peers, is innovating new ways of wealth creation for Africa's most impoverished and underserved. His contribution to agriculture research, science, and the eradication of poverty aren't just inspiring, there heroic.

Father GODFREY NZAMUJO, is a true renaissance man.  Born in Kano, Nigeria in 1950, he has a B.A. in Modern Philosophy and Mathematics, an M.A. in Theology and a PH.D. in Economic Philosophy. As if that weren't enough, he has an M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles and a PH.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the University of California at Irvine.  We're still trying to figure out how many languages he speaks.

The Songhai Centre, Benin

While working as a professor in California in 1984, west and central Africa experienced one of the worst famines in recorded history. Everyday, on every news network, he watched his countrymen literally starve to death. Equally distressing was the foreign response to the crisis. Nation after nation poured into Africa, handing out food and clothes, flooding the economy with aid, but not opportunity. 

"It's good to provide the hungry with food," he said, "but it's far better to provide them with opportunities for self-sustainability. The key to ending poverty is to make the impoverished productive." He committed right then to go back home and reverse the "logic of poverty" at work in Africa. 

When he arrived back home in Nigeria, Father Godfrey met with local government officials to pitch an idea to transform the fight against poverty. He envisioned a place where people would be trained to use technologically advanced, eco-friendly agriculture to launch their own businesses and feed their communities. With visions of petro-dollars dancing in their heads, the Nigerian officials thought agriculture seemed pretty mundane.  They turned him down.  But Father Godfrey was undeterred.  

He traveled to the neighboring country of Benin. After meeting with national officials there, he was given one hectare of land (roughly 2.4 acres) to begin work on the first Songhai Centre. With a staff of seven local high school dropouts, he converted a section of once infertile land into an agricultural oasis. People from all over Benin started flocking to the Songhai Centre to learn agriculture and entrepreneurism from Father Godfrey. 
What once was a wasteland is now a lush field of nutritious greens!

Twenty-five years later there are 13 Songhai Centres in four African nations, each of them equipping agricultural entrepreneurs with the tools and training necessary for economic self-determination. Additionally, the groundbreaking research being done in these facilities is helping the world better understand how farmers can have a symbiotic relationship with mother earth. Father Godfrey's impact on the lives of his pupils, colleagues, and countrymen is immeasurable. His commitment to excellence and service is utterly awe-inspiring, and of course, heroic!  

In our next post we will take a look how Father Godfrey five fold approach towards creating wealth in some of Africa's most economically depressed areas.