Eco Africa Social Ventures - Re-born December 2012
Yes I know, its been a long time.... and yet we made it through. How? I don't know, but we did. What happened? It's quite a story.
In 2010 we were rudely interrupted by the US recession that had started in 2008 and finally brought us to crisis proportions.
In that year things had started looking pretty bleak for Eco Africa Social Ventures in New York, and thus for our artisans in Zimbabwe.
Many US based non profits were falling by the wayside. Thousands gave up, and I must admit it crossed my mind too.
We did not have sufficient money coming in even to keep our core infrastructure operating in Chitungwiza, the vast overcrowded township near Harare where were are based. Rents for our workshops were not being paid. Our much reduced staff were battling to cope on the reduced income.
How could we keep our doors open under these conditions? Our friends and supporters had been doing their best to help but they too were having to cut back, and sales of our artisan products were almost down to zero. Even Helping Hands For Africa, the New Jersey based social enterprise run by Isaac Goldwasser, which had been consistently ordering products to market in the USA and had seen us through various crisies in the past, had to stop ordering. What to do - should we give up?
Then I looked backwards and guess what I saw? I saw seven years of building something really amazing in Zimbabwe. We had had fantastic support from our donors who had helped build our workshops, buy equipment, organize health counseling, day care and education for the children, and supply food when it became scarce. And huge efforts made too by our small army of volunteers in New York. It was worth fighting for.
But in order to survive, we had to look at re-inventing what we had. So I put on my Social Entrepreneur's hat and started to plan.
First we had to cut our expenses and go back to basics - to where we started in fact. And that meant - SALES, SALES and more SALES, of our artisans' beautiful products, the marketing of which had recently been losing focus in favour of fundraising. It's not easy doing both without a substantial team.
New York is an expensive city in which to be based, we all know that. I looked around and asked myself, when it came to sales and marketing in this technologically connected world, what did we do in NY that couldn't be done from Cape Town?
Fortunately I had always kept a base in Cape Town, and my family had all returned there. So I said goodbye to my beloved NY and prepared to leave, not knowing how our organization in Zimbabwe would survive without funding from Eco Africa Social Ventures.
THEN IT HAPPENED. THE FIRST MIRACLE.
Just before I left New York, on a cold snowy morning, a call came in from California. Amazingly, and so timely, a person wanted to donate funds monthly to the Non Profit.
I explained our new circumstances to this wonderful person, (Gloria is her name), and she said she would pitch in enough every month to keep our doors open in Zimbabwe. And true to her word, she did.
Wow! A whole new world opened up for us again. I set off for Cape Town knowing that while I built up sales in Southern Africa, our core group and infrastructure would be safe and ready to leap into action again when we had new orders to fulfill.
But what would become of Eco Africa Social Ventures, the non profit that had been raising funds to build a craft center of their own, food packages, health counseling, and other basic human needs for the artisans? Now that I would no longer be in New York who would organize events and generate appeals. What hope did it have of surviving?
Meanwhile, Gloria, our wonderful new benefactor, paid a visit with me to our workshops in Zim and saw what her financial gifts were achieving in keeping the lights on at our Chitungwiza work shops. What she saw left her fully motivated to continue.
In Cape Town I set about marketing Eco Africa Papercraft
, our new Job Creation Initiative. Soon we started building up a group of Gift Retailers in the Tourism sector who became customers. I anticipated that as the products were colorful and contemporary - with an African flavor, they would be popular with visitors to Africa. And they were!
The small remaining team in Zimbabwe spent their time making components for future production, while we used up our existing start-up inventory, (which Trust had exported to Cape Town) to fulfill orders.
Trust is our long term Director of Operations, and he kept the show on the road and well organized under extremely difficult circumstances. Even with the income from Gloria, there was catching up to do with moneys still owed.
Sadly the non profit languished in New York, not dead but on life support.
THEN CAME THE SECOND MIRACLE!
Another call came through, this time from New York. It was from a young man called Mufaro Dube who started volunteering two years back. He had been recruited several years previously by Morgan Stanley the huge investment banking firm in New York, and he had come up the hard way, from the impoverished townships of Zimbabwe, through to a US college education.
During the following two years Mufaro worked tirelessly on behalf of Eco Africa, such as researching potential customers, helping define our policies and spreading the word in many
directions. He also got us a grant from Morgan Stanley. I was impressed with his tenacity. Then out of the blue, his phone call.
He knew I had left New York and wanted to know what was happening with the non profit. I told him. Later came more calls. He wanted to take on the job of continuing Eco Africa Social Ventures and breathing new life into it. He loved his home country and EASV, now leaderless in New York, would be the perfect mature vehicle through which he could play a role to improve the lives of his fellow Zimbabweans who were still struggling under horrible circumstances.
Since then Mufaro has recruited a team of bright young professionals, many fully and technologically enabled, who volunteered to help rebuild our Non Profit.
The first thing that was needed was a brand new website
from which to launch the new initiative.
So under his leadership and with the team of dedicated volunteers, (with me in the role of advisor), we are ready to launch a new website. It's amazing! PLEASE CHECK IT OUT.
We are so proud.
Meanwhile sales at Eco Africa Papercraft
in Cape Town are growing in leaps and bounds. We have international orders coming in from the USA and Australia and also the tourism industry including a tour operator who is purchasing the products as gifts for their Safari clients. We are once again producing custom products that I am designing especially. The team in Zimbabwe is again growing and producing.
Now Eco Africa Social Ventures is ready to go out into the world again. We do hope you will join our efforts to continue making it work as a dynamic organization with a worthwhile mission.
HELP US MAKE A DIFFERENCE BY MAKING A DONATION
THESE HOLIDAYS. Our artisans would welcome any amount you could give.
THANK YOU to our loyal supporters, to our customers and others new to Eco Africa who are interested in what we are doing to make a difference in the lives of women, families and talented artists and craftspeople in Zimbabwe.