What started as an awareness raising and ethnographic styled walk through Sierra Leone, this site now details the encounters of a not so academic academic who spends more time occupying Wall Street and squats than a university...

Friday, July 2, 2010

Narrowing Down...

So I've finally gotten through my list of Non-Profit organizations working in Sierra Leone.  336 organizations.  I had a list from just a couple years ago of something like 100.  Shows how far the country has come of late.  Lots of good resources there, but a lot of the organizations don't do a great job of contact info or media resources, so there would still be further opportunities.  My goal with this list is to identify organizations that I would either feel comfortable working with or like to.  I will need contacts on the ground not only when I get into the country but also as I travel through the country in some of the other areas and cities.  It would be nice to have a few friendly little rest stops, places for a meal or bath, as well as to chat with local people/workers and hear about the specifics of getting projects done in that locale.

So all told I have narrowed it down to 57 non-profits that we will look further into, and likely contact with an introduction to the project.  I have been trying to find smaller local organizations that would feel closer to the ground.  I also have been looking to focus on organizations that, though they may focus on specific issues, do not get into specific ideologies - whether religious, economic, or whatever.  Helping children or refugees is fine, but sometimes if you have a designated 'how' - god, privatization, reconciliation/justice, etc. - organizations can fall into awkward stigmas.  As the post below says, we are trying to stay as clear of this as possible.              

Thursday, July 1, 2010

ICNL is on their toes...

Go figure, I actually could have held my breadth!!  The International Center for Non-Profit Law actually sent me a personal email with the document I couldn't get to work - the Revised Non-Governmental Organizations Policy Regulations for Sierra Leone from 2009.  Big fun!!  Something to do tomorrow!!  Thanks for being on top of your game ICNL...

Why Sierra Leone?

I was posed a very good question last night and thought that I should answer here on this page as well.
"You are from the US, what about looking to help the people right here in this country that need it as well?"
 I was caught a bit off guard by the question and I'm not sure why.  I ended up with pretty much a three tiered answer.  Firstly, I do not see myself as an "American".  I know that nationalism is ingrained within us all from an early age - and not just into American's, but into just about everyone.  National pride, the Olympics, holidays, school history lessons, wars, they are all laced with a "what's within our borders" versus/in comparison to "what's within their borders".  I struggle with this because, A, I am trying to minimize as much competition in life as I can, and B, what makes a person born on one side of a line in the sand more or less valuable than someone born on the other?  I consider myself a 'citizen of the world' (Though I hate the cliché), and more importantly I view us all as equal partners in both humanity and our whole ecosystem.  I believe that we all need and deserve compassion and 'human' security as much as anyone else, no matter where we come from or live.

Secondly, and probably most importantly to me, ties directly into the first one.  As I see us all as being of equal worth, then effort should strictly be based on need.  I am poor by US standards, yet I have food, shelter, familial support, education, security, etc.  There are a tremendous amount of people in the US struggling these days - especially given the economic situation we currently face - but imagine what this recession is doing to people in the developing world that rely on US and European investment when there isn't even money being spent here?  Where do they sell their goods when consumer spending is down in the rich countries?  People in poorer countries were, and are, far worse off in terms of basic human needs (as judged by our Western measures).  A great one of these measures is the UN's Human Development Report.  Just think about this, when adjusted for purchasing power (PPP) the average person makes 679 US dollars in one year!!  (in terms of per capita GDP - dividing the population of the country by it's total dollar value output). They measure it all equally in terms of what it can by, looking at each country on one scale.

Now imagine that for yourself?!   If you make $679 in one month in the US you are desperately poor, that is $8,148 annually.  Now imagine a family of four, five, six... making that for the whole year!!  The people in these developing world countries are truly poor.  Not what we consider 'poor' here in the US, we make $45,592 per year in per capita GDP and consider a family of four to be poor if they make under $22,050 annually.  The US is a very rich country (8th in terms of per capita GDP), and it ranks 13th out of 182 countries in the world as measured by the Human Development Report.  Sierra Leone ranks 180th.  Third from last.  That means that statistically speaking, of the 6.8 billion people in this world there are only .006% of people live a worse life than those in Sierra Leone.  99.99% of the world population lives at a higher standard of living than Sierra Leoneans.  They truly need the assistance more than we do.

I should also say though that it pains me to have to 'prioritize' or 'triage' the situation like this.  I read a statistic several years ago that said that 2 billion people will go either without adequate food or clean water that year - and this is a global phenomena that touches even the US.  You can go to either the South Bronx or Appalachia and you will see destitute people.  People that could use help.  Yet they have outlets, social services, food stamps, homeless shelters, educational and training services, etc.  These services are grossly inadequate in my view, but this is what a social welfare system does and can do, it helps to provide for those in need.  In Sierra Leone, none of these services exist, there is not social safety net - and they really need it.

This line of volatile thinking above segway's well into my third point.  I think that if anyone wants to help the US and its poor, that it is never going to start in this country.  The entire system is way to engrained with the arrogancy of itself.  The US is the world's super power.  It is a fully established socio-economic entity that has lead the world for a century.  It views democratic capitalism as the victor, and its political, cultural, and economic systems are far too entrenched to be able to change or experiment with on any level.  Just think of the American political debate, red v. blue, liberals v. conservatives, republicans v. democrats, and NO ONE wants to hear what they other side is saying.  There are no alternatives, mainstream or otherwise, especially and truly revolutionary ones!!    Intractable ideology and closed minds.  Need I say anything more than simply refer to the New York and California State budgets?

America is a mess, but one with such fortified positions and issues, that it is virtually unnavigable.  I believe that to bring about any change in America it is going to taken proven results from elsewhere, and a collapse of the American system and its subsequent standing in the world - which some would say is currently happening.  However, with no alternative pathways for human development and security on a larger scale right now, we are left wanting.  This is where my interests lie, looking to create new pathways to human development that break free of current ideological constraints.

This project is not just about Sierra Leone, it is about the US, it is about Europe, Asia, Africa, the whole of the Americas, everywhere.  Sierra Leone is a place that I have studied and have developed an affinity for.  It is a small country of just under 6 million people that has been devastated by a recent civil war and has a relatively cleanish slate build upon.  Yet it still maintains incredibly proud traditions and history as it was created to be a home for freed slaves, and was once considered the "Athens of West Africa".  Projects undertaken there are not only to assist the local population, but can also be used to learn from and then to be used elsewhere.  If some of the ideas that we are working with can become successful, then the whole world could benefit from them in time - including the United States.  Think local, act global.                    

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Just had a long chat with a friend in Kyrgyzstan that is working for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Naryn.  The country has seen a great deal of unrest and insecurity of late due to a wealth of ethnic issues.  I had a very good conversation with her about the situation and the country's needs.  It never ceases.  There are so many places in the world that need assistance, opportunities.  With several acquaintances/friends in the country, and a long standing interest in it, maybe that should be the next 'walk'?!?  ;)

Setting up a Non-Profit in Sierra Leone

So I've done a decent amount of research on setting up a non-profit here in the US and there is of course a great deal of information on it.  It isn't going to be difficult at all.  Incorporate, write the articles of incorporation and bylaws, set a board, apply for tax exempt status, etc.  No big deal.

Surprise surprise!!  Seems to be a bit more challenging in Sierra Leone!!  Actually, I must admit that it was almost just as easy to get information on Sierra Leone as on the US, until the one file I needed couldn't open.  The International Center for Not-For-Profit Law (ICNL) has a nice little library on Sierra Leone, and I later found a bit more dated one at doingbusiness.org.  But of course the one perfect document I need the Revised Non-Governmental Organizations Policy Regulations from 2009 has some problem with the file and it won't open.  So it looks like the initial cursory searches are going to need to be expanded upon.  Of course, not living in Sierra Leone makes it all a bit more difficult as well.  One week on the ground and these things would be simple.  But it is a good idea to know what the parameters of doing business there are like, which I have read some legalese about in terms of registering a business (fun reading!).

Ease of... Doing Business 2010 rank Doing Business 2009 rank Change in rank
Doing Business 148 156 8
Starting a Business 58 58 0
Dealing with Construction Permits 171 168 -3
Employing Workers 166 167 1
Registering Property 175 165 -10
Getting Credit 127 147 20
Protecting Investors 27 53 26
Paying Taxes 161 162 1
Trading Across Borders 137 135 -2
Enforcing Contracts 144 144 0
Closing a Business 147 147 0

I've gotten the constitution of the country, and lots of stuff on doing business there.  Amazing that if you want to start up a limited Liability Company to start a profit making business you can, but non-profits seem to get no literature.  Money! Money! Money!  Go figure, where are all the self-less people of the world!?!?  It seems that the country is one of the hardest countries in the world to do business in.  This is of course not much of a surprise.  If it was simple to do business there, everyone would and there would be little need for more!!  And what fun would that be?!  (or perhaps I should say, but then would there be as much need for assistance?)

However, these ease of business indicators are set up by people focused on making money, not on providing for the local populace.  Measures of things like 'ease of employing workers' are usually measuring how quickly and easily you can hire and fire workers, and whether employees have much (if any) rights to unemployment compensation or to unionize. These are of course things that typical for-profit employers don't want, but an employer looking out for the local populations welfare as the top priority do not only not hamstring them, but actually embrace.  So these figures are not all bad.  They just raise the challenges.

I put in an email regarding that document, and hope that the ICNL will be able to fix the problem they have with their document.  The form say 7 days for a response, but I'm not gonna hold my breath and keep looking.  I obviously can't afford to pay for anything.  Fact of the matter is that there will not be much I can do about this type of intelligence until I get to the point where I am speaking to people in country or on the ground there.  A great deal of things keep coming back to finishing my NGO list for prospective cooperation and contacts.  Will be working a bit this evening on the Non-Profit set up in the US, we'll see how that goes...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Marketing and PR

Hand-in-hand with communications is of course the promotional/marketing aspects of the journey.  The cornerstone is of course the website.  All information would theoretically flow through there.  Obviously though, as information is posted on it, who then reads it?

The plan at this point is largely grassroots, and hopefully will eventually become somewhat exhaustive.  For everyone that gets invovled it would be hoped that they would bring their networks in.  Obviously these days facebook is an incredible tool, as are things like twitter and other social networking sites.  These would all be used to maximize exposure.  There is some difficulty with these situations though as I have found that these mediums tend to be more about individuals than about causes or ideals.  I always say that facebook is about sports, spouses, babies, and parties - the fun things, the distractions.  It's rare to see political messages and the such, but this journey through Sierra Leone is actually going to be a personal journey.  It is one person undertaking a challenge in an effort to bring other people closer to not just that individual's challenge, but to the challenges faced everyday be the whole of the people there.  Life is about personal contact and personal attachment.  The more people that become that much closer to those in need, means more care will be shown.

Every web post will automatically be linked to facebook and twitter.  This will basically provide 'teasers' for anyone following the project or affiliated with it that would then bring them to the website.  Search engine optimization (SEO) will also be worked on in an effort to have searches not just for "Walking Lion" but for "Sierra Leone" to be high in searches.  This however, requires a great deal of things that are not all completely under the influence of any one person.  It requires traffic and lots of searches, hence the promotional campaign needed.

So if friends and family will be reached by grass roots and social networking sites, what about people interested in Sierra Leone, charity, and hiking?  Again, the website is the medium of information, but we will need to bring them to the site.  There are certainly going to be people interested in the country itself - that are either from there or for other reasons affiliated with it that will be targets.  For this there are a number of existing websites that would be notified and approached.  Getting invovled with the US and European based Sierra Leonean communities will be a key aspect to the project, both in legitimacy and in terms of support.  I already have started a list of local communities and websites worth contacting once the project gets further along.  The aid community will also be a good avenue to follow.  The key is to get linked in to a number of their websites as this both raises the SEO of our site and brings more people into the project.

Another avenue that I thought would be very interesting is to contact local schools and approach grade levels that might be interested in following the journey in an effort to learn about the country, Africa, and/or other places and cultures of the world.  I think this would be a huge learning opportunity for children - especially elementary school aged children.  I am not sure how this process will work, whether we would need to go through schools or teachers, but it would be a very worthy line of inquiry.  If you had several classes of children reading the blog everyday this would raise the awareness and impression numbers tremendously.

The project would also be using social media and other automatic notifiers as press releases for local mainstream media.  Of course it would be great if large publications such as the New York Times would follow the journey, perhaps giving interviews throughout or after, but more realistically it would be local papers and Sierra Leoneon focused publications that would be more specifically interested.  For example, I live in the Poughkeepsie area of New York.  I would send releases to the local newspaper and - though mostly unlikely given its readership - perhaps this paper would follow a 'local' person on this kind of journey.  An article or two would be wonderful to bring people to the site.  More realistically, it would be publications of altruistic and/or hiking minded people that would be interested in the journey.  This will all need to be researched.         

Though not exhaustive or even extensive, this is a brief sketch of some options to be followed in terms of marketing, if you have any additional suggestions, by all mean pass them along...


So the trip itself is going to be a challenge for sure, but staying in contact is going to be something that will be essential, as blogging is a key to the whole project, actually it is the heart of it.  My whole goal with this project is to chronicle it, to raise awareness, to draw people in, and to assess things on the ground.  Obviously the walking and meeting people is the assessment and important, but means very little without the awareness and bringing people in.  This is all about information, and that is the blog.

So how do I do this while backpacking through the small post-war West African country of Sierra Leone?  I have looked into mobile phone service and Satellite phones there as well.  There seems to be plenty of mobile phone service there, and sat phones are quite expensive and tough with data.  So it doesn't seem worth it, especially with multiple mobile phone providers there with varying coverages.  The other nice thing with the service there is that they all use sim cards (smart cards), so with an unlocked phone I could just get sim cards for each provider and then simply swap them out depending on the service. As far as coverage, the country's coverage seems the same as most places in the world, stuck mostly to population centers, but the country isn't very big (about the size of South Carolina).  So if I was to walk 15-20 miles a day I would certainly not spend to much time out of coverage.  So the question then becomes what capabilities do I have with those networks?  Is it 3G?  Internet compatible?  Can I simply write things and then upload them onto the web right then and there?  These are questions that must be asked.  It is hard to get answers from Sierra Leone for these questions though while I'm in NY.

As far as hardware goes, this is something that I would want to handle from here in the US as things will be much more expensive there (Yes, more expensive in a place with much less purchasing power, ironic huh?).  As of right now I am looking to solve the communications issues by taking a small "Netbook" with me, a mobile phone, and the ability to connect the computer to the internet and/or phone.  I had considered taking a phone with full internet and word processing capabilities and then a flexible key board.  But the key boards are not lap top sizes and would take up more space than the Netbook.

Power is obviously going to be an issue there as well.  They use British type plugs (which are huge), but I will be basically camping so without access to outlets.  There are however small compactible solar panels that you can roll or fold up into a backpack.  It really is a great little scenario, you unfold them and leave them facing the sun on the outside of your backpack with the wire running into the computer or mobile phone.  As you hike throughout the day the batteries charge.  Wunderbar.

The computer itself needs to be really small and light with a very long battery life.  They have these Netbooks that are tiny little things.  They become a bit of an issue in terms of typing as the keyboards are really tight, but I would certainly be able to manage that as it would save so much weight.  These computers can be about 2.5 pounds.  Really nothing comparatively, and that is the real key - weight.  When you are carrying your life on your back, the lighter your 'life' can be, the better!!

Anyway, there is a lot of research to be done.  I need do some sharing of it and bring some other people in to work with on it though.  Doing things on your is very rewarding in many ways, but not as rewarding or as motivating as it is when you can share it all with others...