Heidi G. Frontani, Ph.D.
I am building a searchable database of hundreds of profiles of African leaders that:
- Educates about the excellent initiatives that Africans are taking to make their communities, countries, and the world a better place. The aim is to serve as a counter and a corrective to the overly negative coverage of the continent that dominates the mass media.
- Represents a range of leaders from those that are emerging (Global Youth Ambassadors, Mandela Washington Fellows, etc.) to those that are established (Presidents, Nobel Peace Prize winners, etc.).
- Serves as an inspiration to others to make the most of their own lives and to aim to leave a positive legacy.
I also occasionally post reviews of books that share a similar aim of highlighting what is working well in Africa. I welcome guest bloggers interested in contributing to the project.
The original tag line for this blog was “Successful Aid to Africa” and I included some stories about what outsiders were doing to develop Africa. Over the first year of my blog’s existence, I moved away from outsiders’ aid to a focus on ‘development from within,’ which is almost entirely carried out by inspiring Africans.
BELOW is the original ‘long version’ description of my blog. It still stands as my inspiration for creating this site.
Is aid to Africa generally helpful or harmful?
Experts have hotly debated the answer to this question for years. Some, like Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs, believe that Africa is not receiving enough aid and that an increase in aid would decrease poverty. Others, like NYU Professor William Easterly, believe that aid has the potential to be helpful, but that much of the aid to Africa to date has not been because the outsiders doing the giving often did not understand the realities of living in abject poverty and did not seek to learn from the poor before giving to them. Still others, like Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo, believe that the approximately one trillion dollars in aid to Africa over the past half century has been harmful because it has not reached the communities intended, but supported corrupt leaders that have become dependent on the aid givers’ funds).
My take and my background
I believe that aid can be effective, but nonetheless come closest to agreeing with Easterly, that, unfortunately, most aid has not benefited Africa or Africans, but could if undertaken in a more deliberate, thoughtful manner. My position on aid comes from my experience with it. My first full-time job was teaching secondary school in rural, western Kenya for 18 months through a program called WorldTeach that placed recent college graduates in small community schools in need of teachers. Although WorldTeach was founded by a brilliant Harvard University graduate who went on to become the youngest Marketing Professor at MIT, local chiefs who felt disrespected for not having been adequately consulted about volunteer placements led a successful effort to expel WorldTeach from Kenya within a few years of the program’s arrival.
My WorldTeach experience taught me that my education did not guarantee that I had the ability to initiate an effective development program. I completed a Ph.D. program in Geography with an Africa focus (including nearly a year back in Kenya as a Fulbright Scholar) and taught college students in the USA for a decade before feeling sufficiently confident to initiate a development project, the construction of a health center, in Kpoeta, Ghana, in 2007. The health center earned me recognition by the community of 10,000 that, by 2009, was brought year round access to health care. By 2011, the health center also had caught the attention of the Government of Ghana, which now supplies the facility not only with the salaries for its staff but basic medical supplies.
In 2012 I learned about aid to Africa that began long before the post-World War II era of Overseas Development Assistance, namely the US-based Rockefeller Foundation’s (RF’s) and UK-based Wellcome Trust’s (WT’s) giving. I was impressed with how many of these charitable foundations’ early projects (1910s) would be viewed by present-day development experts as exceptional based on the documents arising from major recent international conferences on effective aid (Rome in 2003, Paris in 2005, Accra in 2008 and Busan in 2011). I am now writing a book on the effective early 20th century health sector aid of the RF and WT to several countries in Africa that were then British colonies.
My blog and my approach
Each post will offer at least one example of exceptional aid to Africa that resulted in excellent outcomes. I will explain why each case presented was successful drawing largely on the literature on international development assistance (Sachs, Easterly, Moyo and others), but also the literature on personal success. The self-help or personal success literature has its origins in the teachings off Andrew Carnegie, a contemporary of Rockefeller and Wellcome who influenced others to give. Each post will include links that provide further information on the person or organization featured. My intent is to:
- Combat the negative, biased representations of Africa that dominate the mass media
- Offer examples of aid that might inspire or serve as models to others
- Challenge the popular perception that a kind heart and good intentions suffice when it comes to giving
- Demonstrate that Africans are frequently the leaders of or active partners in the most exceptional aid to Africa
Most of the examples that I will present will point to the value of a research-based approach to giving; this is a method that is relatively common among charitable foundations, but less likely to be used by other types of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or government aid agencies. Many of the examples also point to the value of intentionally striving for excellence when undertaking any endeavor, including giving.
Join the journey
I begin my ‘storytelling’ on aid to Africa with the founder of Ashesi University in Ghana, Mr. Patrick Awuah, who I had the good fortune of meeting when he visited my campus, Elon University, in February.