By Enyonam Nanevie, founder and CEO at Building Community Bridges, providing communities in West Africa with access to basic needs and economic opportunities.
Building Community Bridges began with an African girl’s journey almost three decades ago. For at least half of that time, my nonprofit organization was only a dream, but I never gave up on it. I was a diplomat’s daughter who became homeless at the age of 18 to pursue a path my parents did not support. As I told my parents, I wanted to go back home and help the villagers.
Being born in Togo and then becoming an American diplomat’s daughter at nine years of age meant I came from two different worlds: the world of villagers and have-nots, and the world of privilege, education and opportunity that many dream about when imagining a better life in America or Europe.
The story of Building Community Bridges (BCB) is rooted in my personal story because creating BCB was about seeking to address all the issues I had experienced as a child in Togo and Ghana. The issues many villagers experienced on a daily basis still exist today. I lived in the villages during the summers with my grandparents. I fetched dirty water from holes in the ground and brought it back for us to cook with and drink. There was no electricity in the villages I grew up in. I remember the difficulty that my mother had in paying our school fees and the many girls in similar circumstances who stayed home from school to help their families.
I did not create a nonprofit as a benevolent foreigner who wanted to “save Africa.” I created it as a child of those I left behind in the villages. My uncles, aunts and cousins still live in villages in Ghana today. My background and story informed and fueled my pursuit to create solutions that would last for the long term and address issues in a manner that upheld the dignity, culture of collectivism and hope of the people.
Our mission has always been to transform and empower villagers to become changemakers who take their own destinies in their hands. We have been adamant about not propagating complacency and the “aid dependency” that many international development efforts have fostered in a manner that disempowers people.
I’ve seen firsthand that the true sustainability of any project lies in the local shareholders’ — in our case, villagers’ — confidence in their own ability to maintain projects past completion. I believe the international developmental community must understand the importance of involving local communities at the beginning and throughout all levels of any development effort as a way for stakeholders to take ownership of projects. This has always been our approach because we know that the African people, with their own local knowledge base and traditional technologies, know best what they need.
After many starts and stops, failure and successes, we have finally found a solid foundation and model that combines agribusiness and entrepreneurship, expertise from academic institutions and the transformation of villagers into investors who invest in other villages. Today, I see potential in a multilayered approach to agricultural development, with opportunities for farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs in West Africa to take a significant market share in this multibillion-dollar industry.
The president of the African Development Bank Akinwumi Adesina stated, “I believe that the future millionaires and billionaires of Africa will come out of the food and agriculture industry — not out of oil and gas sector.” I not only wholeheartedly agree, but I’m also seeking to pioneer a way forward in Ghana by placing a fair share of profits and power in the hands of African farmers while helping them seize the market opportunities. In fact, it’s predicted that the agribusiness sector in Africa will reach $1 trillion by 2030.
For example, recognizing this long-term trend, BCB has pivoted to the growth of its social enterprise in the processing and sale of rice as one of its pillars. (Our for-profit social enterprise grew out of the nonprofit parent organization.) Our organization is working with a village partner association to provide resources that will allow the farmers to produce rice all year long. The farms’ location is close to a tributary of the river Volta, which means they have an endless supply of water, a critical component for growing rice.
I believe mechanization, processing and storage capacity are the keys to empowering African farmers to generate profits that provide a clear pathway out of poverty and to enable them to take ownership of their futures. With increased hands-on training and education on technological and digital advancements, African farmers will be poised to emerge as the winners in an era when immense global resources are being mobilized for increased food production. I predict that profits generated from this sector will impact all other development sectors, making agribusiness a new cornerstone of overall social development in rural and village communities not only in West Africa, but in Africa as a whole.
From my nonprofit journey to the dream of agribusiness’s potential to transform the African continent, dreams must be kept alive, nurtured, pursued and never given up on. In today’s world, dreams are the promises of tomorrow. The dreams that are realized manifest our future reality for our beloved planet. Dare to dream.