In part two of this two-part series, Simone shares her experience in Kinshasa, building on the partnership component of a feasibility study for Village Enterprise and examining a potential expansion to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
One hazy, muggy week in late August, Liz Corbishley, Director of Village Enterprise’s Accelerator, and I arrived in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). A few months before, our colleagues Peter Dema and Violah Kishoin had ventured into Maniema Province in Eastern DRC to conduct the first part of a feasibility study funded by the Arcus Foundation to examine how our model might provide sustainable livelihoods to help combat the illegal bushmeat trade around the Lomami Park. The purpose of our trip to the capital city was to assess the partnership landscape and to identify potential partners that might have the capacity and interest to operate a program in the TL2 region.
The DRC is often depicted as a country with ongoing conflict and rampant political violence. This stereotype understandably raises concerns about working in the DRC. Instead, what we found was vibrancy: a unique, dynamic culture, and a nation waiting to rebuild itself, if given the chance. Leading up to the trip we were filled with excitement, curiosity, and determination. Our goal was to meet with as many potential partners as possible in one short week. To identify which organizations we would meet with, we assessed alignment with our mission and values, proven capacity, experience with microenterprise development, an interest in the Village Enterprise model, and most importantly, existing presence in the TL2 region or a desire to scale there. This is new and exciting territory for the Village Enterprise Accelerator. Our scaling strategy is twofold. While our core program team oversees organic growth in Uganda and Kenya, the Accelerator seeks opportunities to scale through strategic partners who can implement our model with training and technical assistance.
My favorite ‘hat’ to wear in my job as Strategic Partnerships Manager is ambassador for Village Enterprise. I often become rhapsodic sharing our work and impact with a new audience. During the week, we met with a plethora of partners in a diverse range of settings: from USAID who focused on data and evidence, to conservation savants who stood in front of maps comparing bushmeat supply chains. We presented in a board-room full of Congolese staff, communicating through diagrams, Liz’s choppy French, and hand gestures. Some partners offered numerical insight into their conservation projections for the year. Others offered simple encouragement to continue delving deeper into this persistent problem.
Creating more impact together
Many conservation organizations struggle to deliver livelihood development interventions because their expertise and resources are conservation driven. For them, the benefits of our model were an easy sell. Organizations were eager to learn from our best practices, innovative approaches, and rigorous evaluation of impact in order to examine how collaboration could improve livelihoods and simultaneously contribute to their conservation efforts. We asked ourselves: how can we leverage partnerships that combine our experiences and expertise to create more impact, together?
What do you dream of for your country?
There is a frequent perception that the entire DRC is overcrowded, matted with soot, and filled with a host of problems that have plagued the country for decades. We did observe that working in the DRC’s development and humanitarian sector is extremely challenging, and security is a major constraint. As a result, many projects are temporal and the partnership landscape can be fragile. We met both development and humanitarian workers that were living under incredibly difficult conditions, doing work that most people turn away from. On the very last day of the trip, we met with a consultant named Paulson Kasereka. Paulson has co-authored a number of papers on the bushmeat trade in the DRC. As our lively discussion came to an end, Liz proposed one final question, “What are your dreams for your country?”
Paulson was quiet for a moment and then responded with palpable conviction. “I dream that my country will become a leader in progress for Africa,” he began. “My hope is that one day, DRC will pull other countries up with it.”
During our week in Kinshasa, Liz and I were able to see the DRC through the eyes of the fervent partners and dedicated Congolese citizens with whom we met. What we saw is that the DRC is indeed ripe with opportunity. The entrepreneurial spirit is unmistakable. And there is a desperate need to help some of the poorest people in the world. From my perspective, it is the consistent, untiring nature of the people we met that sets this country apart. What drives those us who work for Village Enterprise, and what drives our mission, is the desire to lift as many people out of extreme poverty as possible. We hope that by working with committed and inspirational partners like the ones we met, that we are able to pursue this, even in a complex, thorny place like the DRC.
We are still in the process of synthesizing the data and processing the information that came out of the trip. We will be reporting back in the next few months with results about how our program could be adapted to help eliminate extreme poverty and promote conservation symbiotically. The feasibility discussed has been made possible by the Arcus Foundation in an effort to better protect the DRC’s endangered bonobos (see below).