Promoting Sustainable Change in Africa (Part 1 of 3)

When celebrities like Christy Turlington and Chris Rock are featured in ads shot by Annie Leibovitz wearing Gap’s Project RED t-shirts, consumers are invited to make a win-win decision: join the cutting-edge and improve life for millions living in Africa. If you happen to look good in red, what’s not to love?

How money raised from such campaigns is spent, and the impact those funds achieve (or fail to achieve), isn’t part of most people’s purchasing process. Fortunately, a growing cadre of donors is focused squarely on strategies that address the seemingly intractable social ills of this vast continent.

Shared by many is the growing recognition that true change in Africa can’t be imposed by outsiders, no matter how good their intentions. Instead, it must be embraced and advanced by Africans themselves, using tools ranging from community-driven public health initiatives to microfinance to global corporate partnerships for sustainable development.

Here’s a three-part look at how some of these efforts are playing out:

Sometimes Common Sense Makes the Most Sense

HIV/AIDS is one area in which the technological advances of Western medicine would seem ideally suited to supersede African approaches. And yet, according to Edward Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Program at Harvard, “Evidence is mounting that the Western biomedical model of AIDS prevention—condoms, antibiotics for sexually transmitted infections, and testing people for HIV infection—has been largely ineffective in Africa.” This, despite the fact that billions of dollars have been spent on it.

While the Western model does not appear to be working, in Uganda infections have decreased by two-thirds between 1992-2004 at a cost of $0.23 per person, per year. Their approach, which emphasizes reduction in the number of sexual partners, is based on what Green calls, “…common sense, sound public health principles and cultural/religious compatibility.”

Echoing the imperative for building on local expertise is John Diamonte, president of the Bristol Myers-Squibb Foundation, which has invested $150 million to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa. “You can’t effect change by yourself and you may not even know what the actual needs and obstacles are until you are on the ground. This means creating locally-based capabilities and developing on-the-ground insights -- either through local staff and partnerships or the use of advisory committees who have real power to make decisions and to help implement them.”

Tomorrow: Putting Eggs in an African “Edupreneur’s” Basket

Susan Herr

Posted at 7:22 AM, Jan 24, 2008 in Global Philanthropy | Philanthropic Strategy | Permalink | Comment