Children’s fund scouts for partners in Ghana
By Orla Ryan, Financial Times
December 13, 2012
Rain hammers on the tin roof of a ramshackle school as volunteers read books to the children inside. Outside, a van is plying the streets, its loudspeaker announcing that the mobile library has arrived in Duayeden, a poor village in eastern Ghana.
With fond memories of the childhood days he spent in the library and eager to help poorly educated children gain access to books, Hayford Siaw set up Street Library Ghana (SLG) from his own savings last year. “I am really shocked when a 14-year-old is not able to read,” the 28-year-old social entrepreneur says. “The education system in Ghana is in the intensive care unit.”
As children rifle through boxes containing donated books such as Fox in Socks and Maisy goes to Hospital, Mr Siaw outlines his ambition to take SLG beyond the seven communities in which it now operates. By 2017, he hopes to be active nationwide and have a website from which people can download ebooks to smartphones.
But on this day his more immediate concern is whether he can impress the visiting scout from the Global Fund for Children and convince it to help fund his expansion. The fund, which is the Financial Times’ partner in this year’s Seasonal Appeal, backs grassroots projects that work with vulnerable children. It invests small bundles of cash – the average annual grant is $12,000 – and management expertise in local organisations for periods of five to seven years.
The goal is to have a transformative effect on groups operating beneath the radar of international donors.
Typically the groups’ first big donor, the GFC increases their exposure and helps them gain other funding, making them sustainable for the future. Since 1997, it has given grants worth $26m to 500 partners in 78 countries.
As old partners graduate, new ones come on board – but first the GFC has to find them.
Its eight programme officers travel the world assessing grassroots partners with budgets of less than $200,000. Of the 2,500 inquiries or referrals it receives every year, up to 200 receive a site visit and of those between 50 and 60 are taken on. With greater resources, GFC says, it would take on more than 80 every year.
Finding the right groups involves a lot of legwork, says Maya Ajmera, founder of GFC. “You have to sleep at a lot of [motels] before you find the next Babe Ruth,” she jokes.
In the day and a half before arriving in Duayeden, programme officer Stephanie de Wolfe has visited a project run by sex workers in an Accra slum, a youth education programme, a project for juvenile offenders and one for victims of sexual violence. To see Street Library Ghana in action she has driven a few hours from the capital.
In all of the cases she is looking for groups that are at the right stage for GFC investment to make a catalytic difference. They must be locally rooted rather than directed by an overseas partner. And they must have a clear vision and plenty of energy. “If I can’t see them act independently in a self-directed way, I don’t know why I would jump to support them. The organisation should be able to stand on its own two feet,” she says.
The nature of the groups the GFC seeks out means that on this trip Ms de Wolfe is dealing with many strong personalities eager that she understands what they want to do.
Susan Sabaa, whose organisation CRRecent helps juvenile offenders reintegrate into society, is happy to meet the GFC representative and open to accepting donor funds. But she is determined to run her own show. “If [a donor] takes you off course, then no. We are not driven by donors.”
The dance between donors and recipients can be fraught.
Desperate for funding, Adwoa Bame can’t remember the last time anyone at Wise, which provides counselling to victims of sexual abuse, received a salary. Its funding has fallen after it received a qualified audit from UNHCR and other donors pulled out of Ghana.
“If we were Sudan or Afghanistan, then we would be getting more funding. They think Ghana is OK, there are a lot of elections and there is peace,” she says in frustration.
Asked about sustainability, she scoffs. “When can someone just give me the cliché that these people want to hear?”
Back in Duayeden, Ms de Wolfe sees Street Library Ghana as a contender for funding when GFC next discusses potential partners early in 2013. The programme team makes its recommendations for board approval in May and October.
But she still has questions about the library project. Mr Siaw is “charismatic and a visionary”, she says. But she adds: “I don’t doubt the problem of illiteracy. Is a mobile library the best place to put your energy or is it the greater problem of education?”
There are signs that Mr Siaw is finding his own funding. Already, he has secured funding from mobile phone company Tigo and Reach for Change, a Swedish charity.
And his charity is growing rapidly. More than 1,000 children are enrolled in programmes across the seven communities he operates in. But he is convinced he needs help from GFC. “Literacy should be the right of the child. The most important place after school is the library,” he says. In the long term, he wants communities to own and run the libraries. And for that, he says, GFC support is needed.
Read more about GFC on FT.com
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2012.