A journey to discover the people who change our world.

Friday, July 27, 2007

In the headlines...

You may remember the post about Rotemi Adebari, one the social entrepreneurs I interviewed, being elected as the first Black Irish Mayor. I spotted this interesting photo opportunity at an event in Cork yesterday.

The event in question was a seminar organised by Suas, Connect World and Concern on how Africa is represented in the Media. Speaking at the event was, among others, Aoife Kavanagh, an RTE presenter with a keen interest in changing the perceptions of Africa in the Irish media.

In summary- things have to change. Agreed!

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New Trade Linkages- From Uganda to Ireland

This small, crazy world of connections…

Back last year, when I was in Uganda, I tried to track down a fair trade coffee entrepreneur called Andrew Rugasira- but to no avail. Andrew had been recommended for an interview on a few different occasions, as a man with a broad vision and the determination to develop Uganda’s coffee supply market in an ethical and sustainable way. He is founder and CEO of Rwenzori Coffee (now Good African Coffee), but his packed and busy lifestyle meant that he was hard to find!

But two days ago, in a hotel conference room, in Cork, his name came up again. I was photographing a seminar with an organisation called Traidlinks, a new Irish NGO which connects businesses in Ireland to businesses in the developing world. Andrew, it seems, has been busy building links with Irish coffee businesses to learn and expand his own market.

(Paddy Maguinness- Concern, The Ambassador of Lesotho to Ireland, and Tony Barry from Barry's tea, speaking at the Traidlinks event)

Good African Coffee and Traidlinks have a lot in common. Both are of the opinion that foreign aid is not enough to make development work, but that trade is the key factor in generating employment and building communities. Good African Coffee respond to this by splitting profits 50:50 with their produces, and Traidlinks respond by getting interested business people in Ireland to share their knowledge, link with businesses in the developing world and create market space in Ireland for African products.

Traidlinks have helped Bewley’s coffee (one of the longest established coffee importers in Ireland), to link with Andrew. A team from Good African Coffee have come to Ireland to learn about Bewley’s chain of coffee shop; everything from roasting the bean to working behind the counter in the cafes. It is a fantastic example of the power of the private sector to accelerate development.

In another effort, Traidlinks, together with Barry’s Tea, Bewley’s, Jacob Fruitfields and a number of other companies in Ireland have teamed up to develop the Heart of Africa products; coffee, tea, dried fruits and nuts, importing products, redistributing the profits back to the producers and trying to get more African products on Irish shelves. Heart of Africa products are currently available in the leading supermarkets…(I particularly recommend the dried mango (yum) and I am drinking their coffee as I speak!)

This is a new form of collaboration in Ireland- as the corporate sector forges links with the development sector. It is early days yet as Heart of Africa breaks new ground, as the development sector opens up to new ways of thinking, and as local African entrepreneurs find different ways to enter the highly competitive European market.

I’ll be watching the space… and I may get to interview Andrew yet!

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A poet of conscience

Cecil Rajendra was in Dublin town over the last few days, as part of series of events organised by Suas and Concern to promote cultural diversity (Building Unity through Diversity)

Who? Yes, Cecil Rajehndra. He is a Malaysian lawyer, human rights activist, political critic, environmentalist, founder of Malaysian’s Free Legal Aid, poet .., and has been nominated, twice, for the Nobel Prize for Literature. His poems have a cutting edge to them, prizing open minds and calling people to account for the world’s injustices. They happen to be very beautiful too. Below is a poem Cecil wrote specially for the event.


Each one different
yet akin ….
under our tent
of skin
our bones are white
our blood is red
& when dead
all flesh, as a poet
once said,
is food for the maggot.

Race, opinion, religion ….
more than brushstrokes
a galactic canvas.
rather than celebrate
diverse variegations
(as one often rejoices
in the colours of Spring
Sunset, Flowers, the Rainbow)
choose to exterminate
up each other over
less than
minor shades of difference.

Cecil Rajendra
July 2007

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Monday, July 16, 2007

A windmill to blow your mind...

I came across this fantastic story of a young high school student in Malawi who invented a windmill- and just seems to have the most positive and powerful attitude to learning. I just have to share;


Riding high ... William Kamkwamba atop his windmill, which uses a bicycle to increase efficiency


An article posted on his blog;

William Kamkwamba, a 19-year-old high school student, first saw the internet at a TEDGlobal conference last month in Arusha, Tanzania. He was invited to the event - which aims to promote an exchange of ideas in the fields of technology, entertainment and design - after Malawi's Daily Times newspaper covered his efforts to generate electricity for his parents' farm by building a windmill of his own design.

The windmill is remarkable because Kamkwamba left school at 14 as his family was unable to pay the school fees. Armed only with his intelligence, a book on electricity, some plastic piping and found objects, Kamkwamba built his first windmill, which generated enough power to run a light in his room.

His second, larger windmill uses a bicycle to increase efficiency and was able to generate power for his parents' house and charge car batteries or mobile phones for people in his village.

As news of Kamkwamba's achievements spread, he was invited to the second biannual TEDGlobal conference, where his three-minute presentation about the windmill won him a standing ovation from delegates.

While at the conference, the young Malawian saw the internet for the first time and within hours began Google-searching for "windmill" and "solar energy" and was amazed with how many hits were returned for each search.

Kamkwamba was particularly impressed with the speed at which he could achieve things using the internet. "I was very excited when I saw the internet for the first time," he said. "The internet makes transfer of information very instant."

Back in Malawi, Kamkwamba applied his new knowledge about wind-powered electricity to a redesign of his second windmill, a process he detailed on the blog William Kamkwamba's Malawi Windmill (williamkamkwamba.typepad.com/williamkamkwamba), which offers step-by-step blog photos of the construction process.

The blog has since attracted global interest, with a Google search for Kamkwamba's name already generating more than 20,000 results, just a few weeks after his story became known outside Malawi.

A fellow African blogger and new friend of Kamkwamba, Soyapi Mumba, described his first impression of Kamkwamba: "What I like about William is that he didn't join the multitude of people just blaming government or policy makers for his lack of education. Neither did he point fingers at statutory corporations for the lack of electricity in his home. He didn't just sit down and blame his parents for all this, either."

Andrew Heavens, a journalist based in Khartoum, Sudan, says Kamkwamba belongs to the "cheetah" generation of Africans who are not going to wait for government and aid organisations to do things for them.

While Kamkwamba is certainly a cheetah, the migration from remote Malawian village to the global stage of cyberspace has not been achieved alone. He was assisted by US-based Tom Rielly, director of partnerships at TED and Kamkwamba's mentor. Rielly travelled to Malawi with Kamkwamba after the TEDGlobal conference and helped to establish the blog, typing while Kamkwamba dictated the content in his limited English.

With help from friends, the Malawian also set up an email address and an account on Flickr (you can search for William Kamkwamba's photos on the website).

"William was so hungry for books and reference material," Rielly says. "He asked me for a dictionary, which I brought with me to Malawi. But I told him, 'I want to show you something even better than a dictionary.' After I showed him the internet, William commented, 'With computer, you can do anything."'

Kamkwamba was to get a chance to prove whether his belief in the power of the net was correct when a computer - donated by conference sponsors in the US - was due to arrive in his village last week.

"My future plan is that I'm going to learn to research using the internet," Kamkwamba says. "Then I plan to build a water pump powered by my windmill so we can have water from the well in our house and irrigate our fields. Then, I don't know."

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A colourful array

Image samples from my travels!