Social Change in Sub-Saharan Africa
GAVIN: Good morning, everyone. I hope things are off to a stimulating start and I’m so pleased to see all of you. Thank you for joining us here at the Council today.
My name is Michelle Gavin. I’m a senior fellow for Africa here, and I’ve got the privilege of moderating a really fabulous panel on social change in Africa. So a great big topic where we’ve got folks with a lot of on-the-ground experience who can bring their perspectives and observations to the conversation.
So joining me today we have C.D. Glin, who is the president and CEO of the U.S. Africa Development Foundation, a kind of extraordinary organization that does a lot of work at the grassroots and community-led level on development challenges.
We have Jen Spies, who’s the product manager for Next Billion Users, Google’s wi-fi connectivity and access initiative in emerging markets. She’s got experience with Facebook at Africa as well.
And we’re also joined by Father Andrew Small, who’s the president and CEO of MISSIO Invest and also the national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States.
So thank you all for joining us. People have come from far and wide.
So I was thinking about this topic and I’m really looking forward to this conversation because I tend to look at dynamics on the African continent through a political lens. You know, whenever we talk about Africa we always have to start by stipulating that there’s never one African story. A continent of over a billion people, over fifty countries—there are always a lot of different African stories.
But when I look at sort of big themes and mega trends, I tend to think about change through the prism of changing ideas of political legitimacy on the continent as liberation movements, look to find new grounding for garnering support, changing governing philosophies—nowhere is this more evident than in Ethiopia right now, where there’s a real up-for-grabs feeling about what’s the fundamental national idea in governing philosophy—and changes in ideas about the nature of leadership and power.
And I work on these issues. But if you take it a level deeper, what’s driving all of these changes are a set of big-picture dynamics that affect not just the political sphere, but the whole continent, and here some of the most powerful ones are demographic change.
So Africa is the youngest part of the world, will be for a very long time, going forward. By 2050, one in four people on Earth will be African. By 2034, Africa will have a labor force larger than China’s or India’s. So you have tremendous youth populations with a lot of aspirations because of another element, which is access to technology.
So they’re seeing the same kind of possibilities, material and otherwise, for a standard of living that kids here in New York City are seeing, and the kind of demand and expectation relative to what some societies are able to provide by way of economic opportunities, creating some interesting tensions. So we’ve got a lot of young people.
Africa’s also the most rapidly urbanizing part of the world, so people coming into cities and getting exposure, in some cases, to more diversity—diversity of faith, diversity of educational background than they may have had before. You see a lot of migration internally and externally, an increase in financial inclusion as mobile banking especially has provided new opportunities. You see women playing more and more prominent roles in their societies, both in the private sector and the public sector, and, overall, a region that’s becoming more and more integrated into the global economy.
So those are some really big drivers of change, and what I felt we might do just to start off is ask our panelists, you know, which of these drivers they’ve seen affecting their work. So why don’t we start with you, C.D.?
GLIN: Great. Thank you, Michelle, and thank you all for being here this morning. It’s a great opportunity.
So I lead the U.S. African Development Foundation. We’re sort of the U.S. government’s best kept secret that’s not supposed to be a secret. We’re an independent agency established twenty years after USAID to really look at an African-led African-driven model of development where we invest directly into African grassroots cooperatives, community organizations, and African entrepreneurs to really stimulate community-driven development and local economic development in hard-to-reach remote places.
So we operate in twenty countries throughout the continent. We’re in the Horn of Africa. We’re in the Sahel. We’re in the Great Lakes regions and that’s sort of Niger and Mali and South Sudan and Somalia, DRC, and Burundi and really challenging places, but to really stimulate local economic development in those places by investing directly into Africans and their ideas for transformation.
So when we look at social changes across the continent, we look at them through a prism of policy and governance and leadership, and we look through a prism of development and how do we look at these social challenges and opportunities from a development standpoint, and where demand driven and demand response and social—we’re not in Washington, D.C., coming up with solutions for grassroots communities in Africa. We’re really going to those places. And we have teams of people on the ground who have this local insight and local sensing capability to really find, fund, and support, again, community-driven solutions.
So issues around food security are really, really important to us but also to the communities that we serve. And so when you think about a continent where 70 percent of 1.2 billion people—70 percent earn their livelihoods somewhere along the agricultural value chain, from production to harvest to processing to distribution. But Africa, the continent, has a food import bill of $35 billion.
So food insecurity is running rampant. They’re spending money, real money, billions of dollars, to bring in food. And so if we can have these communities, really invest in them to increase their production, to increase their market access, to really look at Africans being producers and consumers of goods and services, especially along the agricultural value chain, it’s a real opportunity. So investing in agriculture and especially cooperatives and community-driven agriculture.
We also look at the issues and challenges around energy access. So this is a really, really important issue because Africans pay a lot for energy but they don’t have consistent access to power of any kind. They’re paying for batteries. They’re paying for candles. They’re paying for kerosene. They’re paying for diesel. So they’re spending money on energy.
But out of that 1.2 billion people, six hundred million never have consistent access to power. And so a real focus around rural transformation and African transformation from an energy access lens is really important from a social change dynamic and a rural energy access. And so these are renewable solutions—sun, wind, water, bio—real solutions where we’re seeing African innovation actually reach back to the U.S. and to Silicon Valley because these are African entrepreneurs who are facing the challenges of energy poverty who are coming up with innovative solutions and we are investing in them—grant financing, seed capital, and local technical assistance—to help them create these enterprises—these energy-efficient energy-access enterprises, and some of the models that they’re coming up with are being copied and looked up on in the United States. So Africans are teaching the world a lot about renewable energy and off-grid energy access.
GAVIN: That’s a great point. Can I just flag that?
GAVIN: Because for a long time when we talked about best practices there was this kind of unfortunate and ill-founded idea that they flowed one way across the Atlantic, and this is something exciting about connectivity and integration into the global economies that we’re seeing it much more of an exchange, right, of innovative ideas and practices starting.
GLIN: It is. That was great, and it’s transforming the continent and it’s transforming also investment opportunities for U.S. companies looking to learn and to—and to invest. But I think you landed, Michelle, when you mentioned the demographic changes and the demographic shift in Africa, and that is really paramount to all of these issues is young people.
I mean, there’s three numbers that just are striking. One is fifteen. The youngest country in the world is Niger. The average age is fifteen. The average age across the African continent—it’s debatable—eighteen or nineteen. The average age in America, thirty-eight. But then there’s another stat that says 60 percent of Africans—1.2 billion people—are under the age of twenty-five. Forty percent are under the age of fifteen.
This is the future workforce of the world in the African continent. So we need to invest. We need to look at African social challenges as real economic opportunities and a lot of that comes with job creation and employment and entrepreneurship. And so our focus around agriculture is very clear, as I laid out in food security. Our focus on energy access is really, really paramount to a lot of our investments. But investing in young people and helping them get placed into jobs and really create jobs.
So entrepreneurship—again, it’s not a silver bullet; it’s like silver buckshot. We need to be having a lot of different opportunities out there for these young people. But this youth demographic that is an opportunity that are looking and hungry for real transformational change, that are taking on technology like nowhere else in the world.
This is really something that we need to look at as a social challenge but, really, an economic opportunity. And so our investment in entrepreneurship and African enterprise development with young people is really critical, and inclusive in that is an investment in women, and so we just know that the drivers of real change in African communities are women. When women have opportunities to increase their incomes, they actually pay for health care. They actually pay for education. And so it’s not only that they’re becoming more economically viable, but they’re also transforming other social issues that we, at the U.S. African Development Foundation, may not focus on, which are mainly health and education.
But if we help a woman become economically empowered or a young person economically empowered, their having financial tools increase incomes, revenues, to pay for other social challenges such as health care and education.
GAVIN: Fantastic. A lot to dig into there.
How about you, Jen?
SPIES: I think one of the big transformative shifts that I’ve certainly seen in my career at Google and Facebook and then working in startups in Nairobi and Johannesburg is the shift to mobile. So there are about five billion people on the internet globally today. There’s about four billion mobile phones. That number is expected to only increase in the next coming years. And if you think about the potential of a mobile phone, you know, there’s more access to information and computing power today in your pocket than NASA had when it sent man to the moon, which is incredible if you think about the potential that has to open up financial inclusion for communities that have traditionally been shut out, like minorities and women—if you think about the potential for access to information, for community organizing, for really being able to sort of tap into the global knowledge economy and grow a business.
So I think there’s a lot of potential in terms of the growth of mobile and it’s actually really changed the way that a lot of big technology companies in the private sector have built and developed for these markets.
So if you look around Silicon Valley, a lot of the big companies now actually pivoted maybe around five or six years ago where a lot of the products they had built were built in this environment for the PC and the desktop computer, and they looked at their numbers around 2010, and realized the number of people accessing our products is really increasing on a mobile device.
And right now internally we don’t have teams that are building for mobile apps. We’re not structured to think about the mobile phone as a priority compared to our desktop team. So they actually pivoted their whole businesses internally and started building these teams just for mobile devices and that has really been the story of Silicon Valley over the past ten years. The companies that have sort of won Silicon Valley are the companies that have built mobile first.
And if you sort of compare that with what’s going on in what we’re calling Next Billion User markets and emerging markets and, certainly, the African continent, people coming online today often have never accessed the desktop computer. You know, the word mobile first is meaningless because their first access to the internet and computing was the mobile device—on their phone.
So it’s a real interesting paradigm when you think about the businesses getting built today in Africa. A lot of them have been built mobile first and that’s sort of part of their secret sauce and their success in the paradigm of computing for—if you think about companies like Go-Jek, this ride sharing company in Southeast Asia, or Jumia, sort of the Amazon of East Africa and West Africa. These companies, you know, weren’t built for desktop computers and then transitioned onto mobile. They were built for an environment where you may not have great Google Maps data and penetration across every city. People may be on phones where the connection isn’t great and the wi-fi is coming in and out or data is really expensive so you can’t stream video.
And so all of these constraints look really different in the Next Billion User economies and markets, and because of that there’s a lot of innovation going on that is actually, in many ways ahead of the U.S. in terms of leading the way for mobile development of businesses and of technology products.
Now, Father Small, I’m so glad you are here because I want to hear about your observations on kind of how these trends might impact or affect your work but, particularly, because you can bring this lens of how the faith community intersects with all of these dynamics, some incredibly exciting and some, you know, sometimes a bit alarming and I think will come back to tech and sort of the two sides of the coin there.
SMALL: Right. Thank you very much, Michelle.
I was just remembering this morning the first time I met the pope, and by that we now know the pope of the blob, President Haass, when he gathered us all as new members I was in the room in 2011, he said we’ve got some members of the faith community here and I want to encourage the role that you have in our mission at CFR as leveraging your networks. This was in the context better understanding of foreign policy, but the role of faith communities and generally sort of the foreign policy environment and foreign policy debate.
So I sort of took it seriously, at least from that pope—when I heard about this new pope we’ve got, Francis, he’s all out there and we can get to him in a minute. But how do we in faith communities leverage our networks in a way that’s contributing to these new developments, particularly since they’ve been opened up by tech and what you might consider the democratization of financial cooperation.
We don’t generally want to leave all our financial decisions to governments, as Richard was saying this morning, nor do we really think that big actors like international NGOs are also the only silver bullet or the solution that we have. People have wanted to use their own personal sense of solidarity, which, as Richard was saying, there’s religion qua religion. There’s religious-based principles, which we can bring that to the table.
But there’s also religious networks or religious communities that have a value add in this context, certainly in a global environment, that we might have maybe taken for granted somewhat and it’s nice for us as religiously motivated folks to talk about what’s happening in the world. But how do we talk about it within the context of the value add that our own communities bring to those problems?
So that’s what we tried to do with this new initiative called MISSIO Invest, to look at, how do we in the Catholic community connect folks either digitally or through existing networks of solidarity a way that releases some of the natural value addition that religious communities can bring to problem solving?
So reaching out from the traditional community that we had, this grant-making community, we give about $40 million away to pretty much every country in Africa—small amounts. But how might we bring that community to a new level of sort of mature financial relationship, and how do we look at not just our brothers and sisters in my context in Catholic communities across Africa but how do I connect them effectively with my community here so that the change is not just looking at what’s happening half a world away; we are looking at what changes we can bring to ourselves and what changes we can bring to our own communities.
So we mobilized following the call of the other pope, Francis, in 2013, who invited us to look seriously in his talk to the FAO at agricultural development, particularly, agricultural entrepreneurship. Well, we figured that we’re not sure but the Catholic Church might be one of the largest single landowners across the continent.
So we looked at our community. We asked them to map that land, to do their own back-of-the-envelope research, and we found that there was massive swaths of land, a lot of it underutilized but in ownership of the current Catholic community’s religious women or diocese or seminaries. How can we mobilize that and give them the necessary resources so that they can sustainably develop that in a way that responds to the urban-rural challenge; try and encourage folks to stay on the land and give them respectable incomes rather than fleeing to the cities.
How can we do that in a way that respects the new workforce that we just heard about, particularly young people, and then how can we do that particularly amongst those seventy-five thousand religious sisters across Africa? They’re community leaders. They come from the community, oftentimes above average education, sort of leadership skills. You know, how can we empower them so that they have the resources they need in a way that’s respecting a more mutual relationship?
I’m not criticizing the age relationship, which is something we all very much been part of as part of our religious traditions. Global financial solidarity is very important, but how do we bring that to a new level of maturity so that we can actually see each other as partners, not as givers and recipients?
So as you’re talking about the two-way tech, how does that then change the way we see ourselves in the West as partners with Africa for the future. And it’s very hard, I find, certainly, in our Catholic community in the U.S. and Western Europe—I’m from the U.K. originally—to get people to understand and see their brothers and sisters in Africa in a different way.
It’s a very difficult—those of us who travel see it and we know the potential. But to generally get that down to our communities so that there can be a genuine sense of mutuality is not easy. So this social impact investing, for those of you who know that world, it’s been a very useful and nonformal way of building those type of connections. And I could talk more about it, but it’s very exciting for us anyway.
GAVIN: It’s such an interesting set of ideas and what I took from what you just had to say, Father, was this important idea about credibility, and what is credible today and what is the currency of credibility on the continent for different communities.
And so here I think it’s maybe important to go back to this idea of access to technology, more ways to connect not just financially but socially, and I wonder, for the whole panel, what you think about sort of the dark side of that that we’ve seen globally, where a community can be otherized much more quickly and effectively when people have access to social media than was possible before.
It doesn’t mean that the technology is evil. Obviously not. It’s something people use. It’s a tool. But in your work, have you had an experience engaging with marginalized communities, right, and seen both the positives and the negatives of this new connectivity that sometimes, rather than bringing us closer together, puts up barriers?
Does anyone have an experience on that? Because there is still a lot of conflict on the continent. Some of it does take on, if you think about Central African Republic, for example, a religious overtone. And while that’s certainly not the only kind of otherizing that happens, I’d be interested to know how you think about kind of marginalization and social inclusion.
SPIES: I don’t have a direct example from any products that I’ve worked on. But I do know Facebook, for example, is incredibly serious about taking community standards and community inclusion and focusing on it as an area. They’re hiring a lot. They’re thinking deeply about it. So I think there is a recognition in these companies that it’s a real challenge and something that needs more thinking and more building for.
I actually have seen some examples of the positive version of this, which is times where technology has helped marginalized groups. One example that we have looked at with some of the financial inclusion tools that we’ve built are ways for people to send remittances.
So there’s a lot of movement to urban areas from rural areas. People still have families in rural areas and, because of that, people are frequently sending money that they make back to family in more rural areas.
Most of these people are unbanked, and so the dynamic that occurs is often these transfers happen in cash, and if you are a woman or anyone just traveling with a large amount of cash you are likely to get robbed or swindled or even the people taking cash and transferring it for you are often charging exorbitantly large fees.
So this is all a problem that if you think about even the potential of crypto currencies or digital currencies where you might not be part of the traditional banking system but you have access to send remittances, if you are unbanked can have a real impact on people’s lives, both from the fees that they’re paying or their potential to be hurt as a marginalized group. So even just that, I think, is a very real example of a time where we’ve seen technology really support these sort of marginalized groups.
Another area we’re focused on a lot is just increasing gender equality on the internet. So not just gender but I think localization of languages is another area here. The internet is 50 percent English. So we think a lot at Google about how do you make an internet that is in localized language.
A lot of people also actually prefer to interact with a computer using voice and so things like if you have an Alexa or a Google home it might seem like the future in your house but it’s actually a very natural experience both for young people in America and for people who didn’t grow up with sort of a keyboard mentality and it feels very natural to talk to a machine in that way.
I think that increasing gender equality through specific products that make people feel safe and prevent some of the things that can happen in an unbanked society in these markets are all areas of focus of these large companies.
GLIN: Yeah. I think just the question around social change and social inclusion that technology is the key driver across the continent and across issues, but also because of the access to information that is sort of the biggest shift and the biggest change. Whether you’re in a rural community of Turkana in northern Kenya or you’re in northern Nigeria and in Kano, just the realities around having access to information and, really, it’s giving power to the people in a way that wasn’t there before.
You know, I have experiences where in Somalia al-Shabaab recruits young people to joint al-Shabaab, the terrorist group. Recruits young people with two promises—the promises of $50 a month and a cell phone. So for $50 a month and a cell phone, they recruit young people to put on a suicide vest and carry an M-16 and go into a mall in Kenya or what have you all over the continent.
And so we, in our program in Somalia, working with young people, seeing their thirst for employment or their thirst for an opportunity or giving them sort of hope, if you will, and economic opportunity, have seen a job training job placement program that has taught them about entrepreneurship, vocational training skills where, on average, they’re earning $300 a month.
And so this is a real competition for opportunity, in places that are fragile states, that are really where people are looking for any kind of opportunity. And when we think about, as you mentioned, the demographic challenges about unemployment, some of those young people can’t afford to be unemployed. They have to find a way to have some income for themselves or their families.
And so this is a challenge, but this access to information is something that I think that’s driving a lot of focus on going local and community and—but it’s on both sides. We, as people who are trying to do good and look at economic opportunity, are using that information to spread good news or to bring people together, but also other people are able to use, as you were alluding to, Michelle, to use that same access to information or access to communication for nefarious opportunities as well.
So there is a battle of ideas, a battle of connectivity. But I think if we can do more to show how at a grassroots or community level where empowerment with women, with young people, really leads to opportunity and economic opportunity, that is sort of transformational change to take this technology opportunity and turn it into a digitization that really creates more inclusive environment and inclusive society for all throughout the continent.
I’m going to open it up to the group in just a moment. I have one last bite at the apple, which is just to pull a little more on this thread about demographics because it is so powerful and to ask about children’s issues because in a place where such a large portion of the population is fifteen or under, children’s issues, which, let’s be honest, often get kind of relegated to some sort of marginal place—they’re soft—these are national issues, and children on the continent are, in many cases, exposed to tremendous amounts of insecurity—physical insecurity, economic insecurity—and it goes beyond what we kind of think of as the bread and butter of schools or school lunch programs.
Father, I wonder if we could ask how your work and your conceptualization of what do we bring to the table and building opportunity, in your experience, how is it touching children?
SMALL: The numbers are not clear for us but, certainly, in terms of primary education from the Catholic Church’s perspective is a significant footprint formally and informally. I was just in Tanzania, and after the expropriation of the schools many years ago the government came back and said, well, you seem to do a good job; could you go open some more schools again. So they’re once again opening the schools. And then you sort of put alongside that the sort of massive infrastructure in sort of dispensaries and group homes for children who don’t have a stable background. I suppose giving them the stability they need is what kind of we’re trying to do in a new way. I don’t think the aid matrix gets us there sufficiently.
SMALL: Looking at sort of these local community leaders of a religious denomination, sure. But that’s what they are. They’re social service providers that come from the community. They’re staying in the community. I think they’ve been sort of outside of the formal planning sector, the sort of parastatal entity, whether we like it or not. But bringing some kind of financial empowerment to those communities I think is what our folks want.
I was just going to say on the tech piece, I think we’ve seen a democratization of personal relationships. We developed a sort of crowdfunding website a few years ago called missio.org, and it’s an unfiltered peer-to-peer network. You certainly don’t have to be Catholic but it’s, generally, a fundraising piece.
But I think folks—as the trust and the credibility in institutions have crumbled, and not just in governments but also in sort of large aid agencies, which are not—not that they’re not doing the right thing, it’s just that people feel the need to have a more direct connection—technology is giving them at least the impression that they’re having a direct connection. I think if you’re doing that within a community that has a shared value system it’s sort of digitizing something that’s—not that it’s not real—that the other communities aren’t real.
I don’t want to be criticizing the internet as all these sort of fake friends and fake communities like it doesn’t mean anything. I think it does. I think that the difference between virtual and real has been breaking down now. It’s where people meet. People aren’t going to churches on Sunday but they still have a religious sense. The second largest religious group in the United States are ex-Catholics—(laughter)—in case we forget.
But you get them to talk about what’s important to them, what do they want to see happening, what their values are. Yes, they struggle with organized expressions of their faith, but underneath it all that desire to build that community and how technology is helping them do that is very powerful. I know it’s not getting specifically to your children question. But I think that ability through technology that’s aided by an existing set of values that faith communities exhibit comes together in a very nice way if it’s done in a sort of a lightly moderated way.
Folks don’t want to be filtered. They’re very suspicious of anything that’s filtered, unless they don’t know they’re being filtered, which is what we’ve seen recently. But I think our faith community can provide some of those sort of signs and symbols that give people a security to build that type of solidarity and, as I say, that’s kind of what the young people are looking for themselves.
GAVIN: I think that’s so powerful, because a space, virtual or otherwise, to talk about what you value and the kind of society you wish to create is going to be a conversation about children and how we treat them.
GLIN: Right, and I wanted to jump in there because it’s a great question and it’s an answer that I think we all need to crowd source and really come up with. If you look at the challenges that young people and children face and juxtapose that to an issue that you mentioned for in your list—migration—so twenty-five million Africans forced or otherwise internally displaced or refugees on the continent, they’re not coming as full-fledged adults. They’re coming as families and they’re going to a country and in a refugee camp, and this isn’t short-term stay. The average life in a refugee camp is twenty years.
So young people, children, growing up in an internally-displaced state now more than ever because of conflict. I was just in Mozambique following the cyclone. Devastation upon devastation for Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe, and some of those people, they don’t restore their livelihoods for decades.
So I think that question—I don’t have the answer but I think it’s a really profound question, Michelle, around our focus, whether as a faith community or NGO community or development community to look at young people and children in these environments that are saying create a safe space for them. Create stability for them.
Well, there’s a lot of influx that’s happening, period, and I think there’s a lot of work that we can do as a development community, as a faith community, as the NGO community, that look at these social issues and sort of say in the advent of the realities that people are facing—again, migration and the challenges on the continent—how do we make sure that we are having a focus and a foothold and on the future of those young people who are impacted.
GAVIN: Right, and hearing their voices in a sincere way.
SPIES: Yeah, and just the last thing I’ll add is I don’t think, you know, technology is a silver bullet to these intractable issues. These are complicated thorny issues that need involvement from communities and government. But, to your point, it really does democratize the barriers to entry for creating solutions.
So on the topic of children, if you think about the health care space and education, we’ve seen some really interesting startups in Africa that are just lowering the barriers to entry for providing solutions. So you can think about how expensive it would be to have doctors in rural communities, in every rural community, who can diagnose potentially complicated cases related to cancer or specific other rare diseases.
Similarly, if you look at maternal health, outcomes go up a lot if you have regular screenings throughout your pregnancy. A lot of these things can be digitized. You still need to bring in hardware and tech to have screenings. But I know there are teams at Google working on using artificial intelligence to be able to at least read these x-rays and be able to say something looks off, have a doctor look at this and confirm.
But a lot of that human input that would be really difficult to scale across a big country and small communities actually has this potentially to be digitized in a much more cost effective way. So I think when you think about the implication for that sort of technology on health care and education, it is exciting and there is sort of a way to bring better outcomes for children using technology.
Well, let’s open it up. If I could just ask, wait for the mic. State your name and affiliation, and while you all have amazing experiences and expertise, if we could focus on a question rather than making speeches ourselves that would be great.
All right. Let’s start here.
BUTALIA: Tarunjit Butalia with Religions for Peace USA.
Last week in the U.S. we had a hearing on slavery and reparations. My question is how is historical slavery still viewed in sub-Saharan Africa, and what about reparations? How is that viewed in that part of the world?
GAVIN: Fascinating question. Anyone want to tackle it?
BUTALIA: Some say we don’t talk about it in this country and it’s time we did.
SMALL: I’m going to come at it in maybe not a direct way. But just for my amusement, I was thinking about it recently in terms of religious principles of the sharing of common resources, or limited resources and where those resources have accumulated.
I mean, this is kind of a big part of why the needle’s not moved a whole lot in the seventy-five years he talked about scandalously. And, again, I’m not trying to dodge the question. But when I look about sort of my religious faith tradition, when I look about where all the money is, despite the so-called generosity of the Catholic community, et cetera, it’s very difficult to find concrete amounts on this. But, certainly, you look at the Methodist Board of Pensions or the trustees of the Church of England or people talk about the Vatican Bank but there’s not actually that much money there, unfortunately.
But, in faith communities in Western Europe and, certainly, those who are expatriate missionaries from sub-Saharan Africa, my point to them, and it’s not a very popular one, is as they left—as the Irish missionaries and the Belgians and the Germans left, they took the resources with them.
I was just in an avocado farm in northern Tanzania and there’s a sign of the Irish missionaries from a hundred years ago. The Italian missionaries in Kenya—a lovely coffee farm that provides coffee for Italy and Starbucks. But the human capital, the intellectual capital, and the financial capital has not been honored as the foreign missionaries left and got old. I know this is something maybe just a few people will be interested in, but \how do we do something in justice about that?
That’s not just about giving what we have left over, which tends to be sort of more of a simplistic view of charity. How do we own the future together? And I think we only do that by forcing ourselves into mutually respectful interdependent financial relationships and that hasn’t happened over the past seventy-five years, despite the wonderful efforts that we’ve made.
Look at the Calvert Foundation, where you can buy a thousand-dollar bond in—you know, in a well project in India or, you know, you look at the larger social impact pieces. Those resources are not being used not where they could be used but where they ought to be used—where those people have a right to call on those resources.
And I think unless we as a religious community are able to provide not just the moral heft, the principles that guide that, but also to put, quote/unquote, “our money where our mouth is,” then I worry about the durability of significant change, not because folks won’t have the financial resources, but I won’t be dependent or interdependent on my brother and sister in another part of the world for their well-being. Unless our well beings are intertwined more and more, I don’t think we’ll be able to move the needle and that’s not a complete answer to your question but I struggle with that ownership of existing resources and where they’ve all migrated to.
GLIN: My take would be to some extent the slavery and reparations conversation in the U.S. related to the transatlantic slave trade very different than the ongoing realities of slavery, indentured servitude, trafficking in human persons happening right now in the African continent today.
We have a program in Mauritania, which has a history of slavery, and where we’re working with women who were former slaves in homes of very high net worth affluent individuals and sort of helping them reconstitute their livelihoods by looking at jobs training and skills development \after growing up in this form of enslavement.
So, it’s an important conversation globally. I think it cuts across a number of issues. But in the African context on the African continent today, it’s an ongoing challenge right now.
GAVIN: That’s a great point.
OK. All men? Do we have ladies with questions? There’s one back here. Yes.
GAJAWEERA: Thank you. My name is Nalika Gajaweera. I am an anthropologist at the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at University of Southern California.
My question is for the whole panel, anyone who wants to respond to this. As we have a panel today as well in the lunch discussion, climate change is one of the most pressing problems that is—humans are facing and the effects are going to be felt the most, as we already know, in the Global South and in the African continent.
So considering this and looking forward and that we may have actually passed our tipping point and that those effects are felt in Africa, how do you see faith communities, who are often at the forefront, at the front of responding to disasters and humanitarian disasters—how do you see the faith community responding to this and in what ways can entrepreneurs, technologists see that play out?
GAVIN: Great question, and I’m going to turn it to you. But I will just frame this up by saying Afrobarometer, which, if you’re not familiar with it, is a fabulous organization that does polling around the continent. Really a great source of data. It has a lot of indicators that while people are clearly feeling the effects of climate change, very few actually are aware of climate science.
So there’s a real disconnect between what people are experiencing every day, and while there’s access—more access to information than there has been, it has not penetrated, which I think is a huge problem because there are people who need to be a part of this global conversation and we’ve got a disconnect here.
But let me turn it to you to talk about what can be done.
SPIES: One thing that popped into my mind as you were asking your question is just experience from a startup that I worked with called Ushahidi if you think about technology’s role in disaster response and what role technology can play. This was a startup in Nairobi that was founded in 2008 during election violence.
So it was happening in Kenya and it was a chaotic time. There were road blockades and people wanted a way to see on a map of the city where it was safe to drive, where violence was happening, and even just through text message updates really rapidly communicate sort of the state of the ground that was happening on a mapping platform.
So that’s how the company was founded and they really quickly realized that this capability is helpful in, disaster relief. The U.N. uses them. The Red Cross uses them, and it’s a really interesting example of really democratizing people’s ability to quickly share information onto sort of this crowd source platform that can then be used by relief organizations to disseminate information.
So I think tactically, technology does have a role to play. I’m sure there are other examples as well.
GLIN: Go ahead, Father.
SMALL: I was just going to say anybody heard of Hello Tractor? The Uber for tractors. What we found interesting is the need for financial intermediation in Africa is a major problem.
You’ve got these micro loans, one-acre farms, small farmers, and then you’ve got the private equity folks doing the large deals, even though they’re actually not doing the large deals. But they’re closing the deals by not doing them. What about those five- to ten- to fifty-hectare acre small businesses, or pre-commercial pieces.
How can you aggregate them in a way that moves the needle and we’ve sort of been able to do that, and building relationships with folks like Hello Tractor means that you don’t have to buy a tractor for every one of the lovely sisters who twist your arm and tell you that they absolutely need to have a tractor, because they’re very insistent.
It also means that when you’re doing a loan of that size, you know, from $50,000 up to half a million dollars for some of them, I mean, these are real entrepreneurs and they’re kind of off the radar. They’re not seen as part of that formal sort of economic activity, largely, because they can’t access capital locally. So you’ve got this audience. You can aggregate it. You can replicate these deals both within countries and across countries.
The management structure is the same. We call them nuntrepreneurs. A nun is a nun is a nun, they belong to a similar structure. They’ve generally been marginalized within the Catholic community in terms of access to capital and that sort of stuff. But then they’re the ones purchasing their services according to their needs, right. They’re not waiting for what the ministry has decided needs to be done in this part of the country.
So they’ve got an awful lot of sort of autonomy and power and control and, it’s not foisted upon them but looking at increased use of solar, increased use of drip irrigation, this is not an encouraging conversation when we talk about water, and we don’t have a plan. I think that’s the problem. We’re trying to shift our conversation as what we’ve now discovered to be very large landowners across many countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
I don’t want to demonize anybody but China does have a plan, very clearly. If it’s going to do industrialization then it needs to do its agriculture and get its water from somewhere else. And we have a prayer in our tradition that we ask forgiveness for what we’ve done and what we’ve failed to do if we don’t do something. Now, they might not be perfect and when I go see the farmers the sister says, well, that’s all forest but we can get rid of that forest if we need to. No, Sister, you don’t understand. No, please don’t knock down the forest.
So it’s never going to be perfect. But unless we put our best effort and provide the resources that we can get to a level of scale where we’re looking at moving the needle, then—you know, then the future is not bright, certainly not for the most vulnerable communities.
GLIN: I think a focus on adaptation, it’s a great question around what can we do, what can the faith community do, what can the development community do. The realities around this is that Africans, as I said before, earn—most earn their livelihoods from the land, from nature, and in that only 4 percent of African agriculture is actually under irrigation.
So that means 96 percent of everything that’s grown in Africa is grown with the hope and a prayer that it’s going to rain. You don’t know when it’s going to rain anymore. You don’t know how much. You don’t know how little. So it’s either too much or it’s not enough, and it’s not happening at the time that it used to.
So information and predictive analytics and ICT solutions that at least are giving Africans the opportunity to have access to information. We wake up in the morning here and we look at our phones and we want to know how to dress based upon what’s the weather going to be today. These are people who are earning their livelihoods by needing to know some level of prediction or some level of information around what the weather patterns are, when it’s likely.
And so I think one of the things is investing in technologies, investing in solutions that help provide information, but also that help provide some level of adaptation. Because we can’t control the weather, so how do people survive, adapt, and thrive in the face of these climatic shocks? Because the shocks are coming more and more and more often, but they need adaptive tools and management. And some of this is technology related to drought-resistant seeds. Some of this is related to access to mechanization and machinery and tractors. But the reality is that big infrastructure to say it’s raining. It rained too much. No one’s capturing that water. So now when the drought season comes, we don’t have water. So there are big dams that are being developed in ways to capture the rain when it does fall and ways to have rain—or water when it is drought season.
SPIES: And I think the last implication of having this economy that is really rooted in agriculture in this increasingly uncertain world that is, you know, going to feel the effects of climate change is that it becomes even more critical to diversify your economy away from agriculture and into the sort of service economy that we know in the U.S., and the model I think about that—for that is really what happened in Southeast Asia in the ’80s and ’90s.
And so if you think about the economic development path of a lot of these countries really focusing on market-creating innovations, moving people into different sectors of the economy and trying to sort of de-risk your dependence on agriculture is really critical, in my mind.
SMALL: One of the things that Pope Francis did in his Laudato Si’ was make an understanding of integral ecology sort of part of the common lexicon, this common home. But then he changed the program for formation for seminarians and he said every seminarian has to have a formation background in integral ecology. He inserted that into the requirement and he also said that they all should have some training in management.
So I was in one of our large seminaries just outside Dar es Salaam last week and they thought I was going to come and talk to them about being priests and ministers and celebrating the sacraments, and I got talking to them about this MISSIO Invest because most of them will be in rural areas. They’ll be surrounded—a lot of their parishioners, these young guys, will be farmers. And they just came alive talking about sustainable agricultural practices that hadn’t been part of their curriculum or their perspective.
Pope Francis is great and all that, but just bringing together the reality without local knowledge. Are we putting that type of awareness and providing the resources through our networks for the next generation of local leaders? And I think a lot can be done if we are.
GAVIN: A great point.
The gentleman right there. Yes.
KANSARA: Thank you. I’m Jay Kansara from the Hindu American Foundation.
A couple months ago in Washington, D.C., Felix Tshisekedi, who’s the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, actually spoke at CFR and I attended that talk, and he was very critical of particularly one religious community that may be represented on the panel today and he said that they interfered in the elections, and there is this sense that there is a predatory agenda of certain organizations in Africa.
How can we mitigate that reputation and work towards inclusive development without imposing certain ideas on communities and populations?
GAVIN: So throw that to the panel as well. One thing I would say is that it’s often kind of an eye of the beholder issue, right, because if being honest about what your electoral observers saw on Election Day is interference, I think it gets back at actually the issue of credibility—what institutions have credibility—and perhaps gets to this issue of what really is truth, which is kind of a current issue not just for our society in the U.S. but elsewhere, and who’s the referee and who gets to decide.
These issues are very live on the continent as well. So I think that, in that particular example, there’s a good reason why President Tshisekedi would be taken aback because it’s not just the Catholic Church. There’s a lot of data that suggests he did not get the most votes.
But there is a broader question, because, for example, the Catholic Church, may have one reputation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Quite a different one in Rwanda, where their history is probably not the proudest. So it’s a mixed bag and I think there’s a question when to use one’s voice and credibility is a really interesting and challenging one.
SMALL: Absolutely. If I could add something to it, I would. I’m not trying to dodge the question but also I’m not trying to be a spokesman for things that I am not very close to. I think I agree with the point.
GLIN: I think, in general, having an approach that really is a development approach or an approach to communities that really is inclusive. Our focus is around underserved. So we build up these underserved population and people, whether they’re smallholder farmers or women and girls, or pastoralists or refugees. So, where there’s a strong need that everyone agrees with for example the
GLIN: President of Burundi. We agreed on the need for grassroots economic development. We agreed that we need to be doing more in Burundi for local community development and so finding ways—if you’re going to bring about change, you have to find ways to engage. And so inclusive and occlusive approach, an approach that really is about what we call co-creation or participatory where we’re really coming—not coming with top-down solutions but bottom-up driven and really looking at some level of inclusivity works.
And then lastly, just the local ownership—that we are there to maybe provide a helping hand, not a handout, but the local ownership. It’s their issue, where people there who are trying to do what we can to support but they’re going to have to crawl, walk, or run, and that running will be without, you know, sort of the support that we may provide.
GAVIN: Right. That’s a great point for big institutions of any flavor, who’s making these tough, tough decisions on when to use voice, when to engage and when, perhaps, not to.
Is that Mark Lagon? Mark Lagon, distinguished public servant and my first international relations professor. Please.
LAGON: I’m Mark Lagon. I’m with Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.
Added to this mix of issues that you’re looking at—social change, economic development, gender equality, and technology—I just want to reintroduce the question of HIV/AIDS. There’s been huge progress since a point in 2005 when about 2 million people were dying a year of HIV/AIDS to now, under 1 million and a large bulk of them in sub-Saharan Africa. How does this fit into the mix?
There are a lot of issues about the vulnerability of young women epidemiologically to HIV/AIDS, a big growing youth bulge exposed to it and, in some ways, if we stand pat or shrink back from it we will fail to finish the job. How does this fit into the mix of some of the issues that you’re raising?
GAVIN: Such a great question. Who wants to start?
GLIN: We don’t have a strong answer because I don’t think any of us work specifically on the issue. What I would say is that what I’ve seen now more than ever is sort of the issue around detection, around that it is a matter of continually—I was talking to someone recently about this in South Africa—around, you know, you sensitize young people around the issues around abstinence, behavior change, and condom use.
But the reality is, you get tested one time, it’s there, and then if you don’t ever go back to get tested that’s part of the issue. And so that it’s a continuous monitoring and evaluation of your own behaviors. But that with these young people it’s really a matter of not taking our foot off the gas of awareness and greater awareness that while we made real tremendous progress in the global community that it still needs funding. And so that’s a big issue that we know in the halls of Washington that we still need the financial support, but as we are making progress that we don’t sort of backpedal, if you will, still continually being aware that it’s a behavior change—that you literally are going to be susceptible for long periods of time and young people need to really be at the forefront of making sure that they are getting checked and making sure they know their status.
GAVIN: Mmm hmm. Yeah, the very fact that I think is indicative of the challenge, because there’s been, certainly, not 100 percent success but so much success getting treatment to people who need it we often move the conversation on, and it’s such a difficult policy challenge, because that investment has to be sustained. You don’t put people on antiretroviral and then pull the plug two years later when you pivot priorities.
But for the U.S. government, as you know better than I, in many ways this is our commitment—so laudable and so important and lifesaving—it has eaten a lot of our foreign assistance budget, and to continue a coalition that understands the moral responsibility of having started down that road recognizes all the new challenges springing up and comes forward. It requires continually bringing it to the forefront. So I’m so glad you raised it.
In the back there, the gentleman.
ELSANOUSI: Mohamed Elsanousi with the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers.
I wanted really to focus this discussion and bring it to Nigeria. There are a number of countries mentioned here where we work on—Nigeria, CAR, Somalia, and others—but Nigeria, for me, is a very critical country. If things went wrong in Nigeria, then you have a problem in the entire continent that’s Africa.
So the situation in Nigeria today as we are talking here as religious actors and faith-based organizations is something that is of concern to me. The Global Trends Report that was issued almost three years ago indicated that by 2050 the population of Nigeria will double, and what that means is going to be fight in resources between the three hundred and sixty (million) or four hundred million people that will be living in Nigeria by 2050.
So, currently, the reality in Nigeria is that there is a huge mistrust between faith communities and the current government. There is problem in the northeast of Nigeria. There is a tribal problem. There is a religious problem. There is trust missing between communities—Christian, Muslims—and the narrative in the northeast of Nigeria, the Christian would say that the government of Buhari is silent for what the Muslim are doing in northern Nigeria. We’ll hear the same narrative also in the south of the country where the majority are Christian as well.
So I think we need to prioritize Nigeria in this discussion so that we are able to come up with the specific solutions or practical solutions that will help to reduce the tension in Nigeria so that we have a stable Africa so that you can do your social impact investment and any other role that you do.
Thank you so much.
GAVIN: Excellent. Great. Nigeria-specific insights and also, broadly, the importance of kind of interfaith work to reduce communal tensions—importance of security issues, more broadly.
SPIES: Just one thing I’ll add is I think in a world where resources are scarce and you’re very dependent on things out of your control like the weather, that is a scenario where some of these tribal conflicts—conflicts about resources—tend to be aggravated, and it is really a zero-sum game. And the way I would think about it as the tide rises sort of all boats are lifted with it and it really becomes critical to invest in economic development and make sure you’re building a prosperous society.
One book that I would recommend that’s come out recently on this topic is Clayton Christensen’s The Prosperity Paradox where he looks at economic development in the U.S. and tries to sort of draw out lessons around the world and in emerging markets on this topic, and one thing he finds is that in the past two hundred years the U.S. economy has had what he calls market-creating innovations.
So think about the invention of the sewing machine or the car, where these markets didn’t exist before and they sort of lifted a whole segment of the population out of these sort of jobs that potentially were more agricultural-based beforehand, by creating these new industries and sectors of the economy.
So he really talks about the path for Africa and some of these specific emerging markets as rooted in the need to have market-creating innovations that drive the economy forward because, I think his view is that foreign aid is only effective up and to a point, and it’s really critical to grow the economy from there.
GLIN: I couldn’t agree more that Nigeria is sort of the bellwether for a lot of challenges facing the continent, and at the U.S. African Development Foundation we definitely prioritize Nigeria and have our program spread—programming spread throughout the country in those three areas that we focus on. So focus in the north around agriculture, food security, agribusiness, and this is in Kaduna and Kano and Kebbi, Bauchi in the north, where people are really looking at economic opportunity.
The phrase “a hungry man is an angry man” comes from something. When people are poor and vulnerable and hungry, they don’t really make good decisions. When youth are restive, they don’t really make good decisions. So really driving forward some level of local economic development and economic growth that’s shared across communities, really creating prosperity, is a focus.
Nigeria also has a population where more than half, obviously, don’t have access to energy and so energy poverty is a real issue in Nigeria. But that entrepreneurial zeal that comes from Nigerians, if you tap into it and you really invest in them and ideas, we’re really seeing positive work there. And then the epicenter of urbanization and the youth bulge is also happening in Nigeria. Lagos is by far and going to continue to be by far one of the biggest cities in the world and the biggest city in Africa, and so we have a strong focus around youth employment and entrepreneurship.
In partnership with the government, the Lagos state government has prioritized youth employment and youth entrepreneurship, and so we’re going hand in hand with them to really support this community of young people in an urban setting that they need opportunity and they need to be placed in jobs but they also need to create jobs. So I couldn’t agree more that Nigeria shouldn’t be left out of any conversation if you’re talking about African development across any of the issues.
GAVIN: Any thoughts on kind of the interfaith work that could be done in Nigeria or anywhere?
SMALL: This is CFR. So just because you start your response with “I don’t know” doesn’t mean you then don’t go speak for another five minutes with all due respect. As a member I’m saying that. Imagine that. So I don’t know. I’m not going to speak for five minutes.
You all know Archbishop Kaigama, who is the archbishop of Jos now, is the Catholic leader in the country. Just from our experience, I was always taken by his sensitivity around his availing of a lot of these impact funds to develop in, certainly, when he was in Jos, and sort of he was a great advisor on this delicate balance between wanting people to take hold of their own future but knowing that that by itself, you know, that success was itself a threat.
You know, the worst thing that could happen to us is that we’re successful. But at the same time, interpersonal relationships, dialogue, understanding, in a certain sense, can’t be theoretically prior to the development that needs to go on.
I just think it needs people of good will and this is where it does come down to the actual folks on the ground. We had a couple of our initial project leaders—one of them was killed in an attack, unfortunately, and he said to us, “My life is in danger.” You know, so to see that personally up front—Father George, my colleague Joelle is here. She was quite close to him. She does a lot of the project management.
So, again, I don’t know. McKinsey said that they couldn’t find a hundred farms in Nigeria of more than fifty hectares. In our first round of project leaders, fifteen priests and nuns went on this agripreneurship program. Half of them had projects over fifty acres. So there’s an invisibility going on, which is very difficult to get to, and I’ll just sort of just say that as—the proximity to people is, ultimately, where we need to do the work and I think faith communities precariously are present there more than anyone else.
GAVIN: There’s no better note to end on than the importance of contact and really understanding a community, and the power of human agency. So I don’t know that we solved any problems but we definitely got a sense of the stakes and the possibilities in such an important and fascinating region of the world.
Please join me in thanking our panelists. (Applause.) Thank you so much.