Any good financial investment will pay off dividends and increase the overall worth of the investor. Put another way, you want the small stone skipped on the pond to make very big ripples. You want the seed planted and watered to bear nourishing fruit. And if you are planning for the future, you want to know that the people you love coming after you are well taken care of and can succeed in the world. All of those things have been true for me – and so very much more – with my involvement in Asante Africa Foundation. I did not start out thinking of this as an investment at all. There was simply a colleague at work who was on the Board and came back from a trip to Kenya and Tanzania with photos and stories of children who had so much potential and so little support, and she vouched first hand for how a little could go a very long way. So I agreed to sponsor a student. For a year. For their school fees. And then heard about siblings, a boy and a girl who were twins and orphans, who were both eager students. I knew they were the ones for me. Not one, but two – a package deal. An orphan myself, linked in life to my sister who was so close in age people thought we were twins, I felt a certain kinship to these two who also needed to depend on each other, their church and the generosity of extended family and teachers as my sister and I had.
Lucian and Luciana were also about the same age as my daughter and I wanted the three of them to know each other, even if at first it was just a simple form of “pen pals” and eventually morphed to regular face book and emails between all of us. As one year led to another, and another, I saw how the small stone of my financial support was casting a wider and wider arc in their lives as they developed and flourished. Not only did they do well in school and continue to earn scholarships, they also became leaders in the Asante Africa Foundation community as a result of being able to participate in its first Leadership Incubator. The Leadership Incubator brought Lucian and Luciana together with other students from Kenya and Tanzania where they learned to map their dreams and develop the skills to make those dreams a reality. The seeds that had been planted were watered and the students grew as true leaders –acquiring skills not just for their own personal benefit – but to “pay it forward” to others so those branches spread to reach even more people. For example, Luciana, along with two other girls who went to the first Leadership Academy, took the initiative to start a project during their school breaks to take what they had learned to others in their home communities. They developed a proposal to Asante Africa Foundation asking for some dedicated funds to do this, and how could I, of course, say no?
So I became an early funder of the Leadership Academy, then a funder of their “pay it forward” initiatives, while continuing to sponsor the twins for their regular education. I kept saying yes to financial support because I was impressed with how the Asante Africa scholars ran with what they learned. Luciana and two others who had been at the Leadership Academy created their own girls leadership club at their public school, growing it to over 50 members in under a year. Then each of THOSE 50 girls mapped their dreams, developed skills, and planned how they could “pay it forward” over school breaks to even more people in their communities. And that is just one example. I know other students who attended the Leadership Academy spearheaded a myriad of initiatives after they returned “home.” The ripple effect widens as the program grows. Students who participated in the Leadership Incubator one year advanced to become team leaders the next year, then helped lead portions of the program in the third year. Today there are graduates of the program in University and starting their careers, who are carrying on the leadership to their campuses and communities, “paying it forward” into an ever broader set of ripples touching more and more as this vision spreads. With increased focus on entrepreneurship, many of them will go on to start their own companies. Last summer my daughter and I finally had the chance to meet Lucian and Luciana. They had all grown from young teenagers to young adults, in college or college bound. It was one of the most powerful aspects of our visit to Tanzania. Why? It was not what I imagine is a typical “American donor meets students they sponsor,” but rather it felt like our family had broadened and grown. We came together with the priest who had taken them in as little children, the teacher who had provided their “second home” when not at school, and Asante Africa Foundation’s local staff who supported their journey, in one child-centered web of success and friendship.
Like any “proud parent,” I filmed some of the exuberance and confidence that was uncontainable when Luciana brought us to visit the Girls Club at her school. I could see the concrete outcomes of those relatively small “investments” I had made that had grown dividends not only with these girls, but also for the impact on a few people I met as well as hundreds of people I will never meet. Those kids, supported so well by Asante Africa Foundation, are amazing. Their communities, their countries and the companies who want to grow there all need these kids and many more – educated producers, consumers and citizens with the skills to lead in their careers and in life. Their dreams are big. Their potential is huge. I feel that my small investment of financial support will help those I love, such as Lucian and Luciana, succeed in the future after I am long gone. As Asante Africa Foundation grows the Leadership and Entrepreneurship Incubator, so will many more with equal potential, who deserve the same chances. It is an investment beyond words.
Marie Monrad is Vice President for Strategy & Policy at Kaiser Permanente’s national headquarters in Oakland, CA. She has a masters degree from Harvard University and sits on the Board of Directors of BrasArte, a cultural exchange program with Brazil. She has been a valued supporter of Asante Africa Foundation since 2008.