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 9, 2010


So I'm thinking in here that it will be worth passing along some of the things that I am reading about the country. Yesterday I sat on the beach and finally was able to start reading a long way gone, memoirs of a boy soldier, by Ishmael Beah.  I read the first couple chapters and was physically appalled.  I looked around and saw all these people, sitting on the beach - umbrellas, chairs, towels, toys, - yet none of them seemed to care Not just about boy soldiers or far away countries, but about anything.  They were on 'vacation', from work, from life, from a moment, from whatever... what else mattered but the serenity of their moment?
"The last casualty that we saw that evening was a women who carried her baby on her back.  Blood was running down her dress and dripping behind her, making a trail.  Her child had been shot dead as she ran for her life.  Luckily for her, the bullet didn't go through the baby's body.  When she stopped at where we stood, she sat on the ground and removed her child.  It was a girl, and her eyes were still open, with an interrupted innocent smile on her face.  The bullets could be sen sticking out just a little bit in the baby's body and she was swelling.  The mother clung to her child and rocked her.  She was in too much pain and shock to shed tears." 
"I am pushing a rusty wheelbarrow in a town where the air smells of blood and burnt flesh.  the breeze brings the faints cries of those whose last breaths are leaving their mangled bodies.  I walk past them.  Their arms and legs are missing;their intestines spill out through the bullet holes in their stomachs;brain matter comes out of their noses and ears.  The flies are so excited and intoxicated that they fall on the pools of blood and die."
The boy that wrote these passages was describing his life at 12 years old.  Do you know how many boys on that beach were around that age?  To many for me to watch - all having fun.  I sat there listening to conversations... nothing, no one cared.  The trappings of our everyday American lives are so simple, so pristine - so much of a paradise.  We don't want to know about these other places.  If we ignore them we don't have to realize that our human instincts actually force us to care about other people.  When people you know are sick or in the hospital you rush to their side, you try to help them, you do what you can.  You know them, they matter to you.  If we never acquaint ourselves with other people and their problems then we don't have to worry about them.  We don't have to stop what we are doing to help them, to care about them.  

People always say America gives the most aid to the developing world of any country (in dollar terms this is true, but not as a percentage).  But what have you done?  What have you given?  And I do not mean this in dollar terms, but what part of your heart, your sole, what emotional bond have you given or created?  Too what extent have you attempted to feel the pain of other people that are simply just not fortunate enough to have been born within a certainly randomly demarcated line of national control such as the US or Europe?  

The at risk and impoverished people of these countries and the world in general are innocent - mostly children.  Yet we don't choose to care, we don't choose to become aware of these 'others', less fortunate than we are.  It is time though.  Time for humanity to start showing its true colors, that deep down inside we do care, we just don't know about the travesties found in the far corners of our world.  Teach us!!  Nothing worth having or doing every came easily...  Strive for more.           


Funny now that with all of these goals of going to Sierra Leone and trekking through the country that I don't spend much time thinking about physical aspects of the journey.  Things like walking 20 miles (32km) a day for a few months come to mind.  I am working on my 'training' a bit, I've been running on the Appalachian Trail (AT) regularly, staying relatively 'in-shape'.  But there is another huge aspect of it all.  Heat and temperature.  It is going to be hot and humid there.  I will not be inside an air-conditioned room, I will be out walking during the heart of that heat.  My body will need to get acclimated.  This heat that we've had here in the northeast US is going to be the norm there.  It will be well worth it for my body to only be used to it, but comfortable in it.  Everything from the sun to standard body temperature.  Why is it that 80 (26C) degrees in March feels like a sauna, but 80 degrees on Tuesday felt chilly after a high of 102 (38C) degrees?  Our bodies get used to things, we adapt to the sun, to temperature, and to our environment in general.  Just as I need to get my legs in shape I need to get my regulatory system in shape.  Next time its going to be hot like that, I'm gonna get up straight away, throw a pack on my back and go do 20 miles (32km) on the AT.  I was kicking myself when I thought of it Tuesday evening.  I need to get some of my stuff together for hiking, camping, communicating and get out there and go.  No AC, no icy stuff, lots of hiking, lots of running, lots of  being barefoot (or in the vibrams), and definitely lots of sweating...  Get used to that life which I will be living...  

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Naming the Non-Profit...

So this may seem like a bit of an obscure thought, but one thing that we have to do is come up with a name for the Non-Profit.  Really, at this point, all possible options could find space on the table.  It is really quite tricky as well because if you come to a name, the first thing that you must check is availability for a website.  This means everything today, as if you can't get a good web presence you really have nothing.

The company will be using a .org address and thus must find something that works with this.  I have always used name.com for web domains.  Right now I own a few options but am not satisfied with any.  For quite some time now I have used alternativeideas.org for another project of mine, and still have a goal and plan for that address.  I also own alternativeidea.org but this is virtually the same.  I had this sort of "alternatives" theme that I thought I could follow with everything including the non-profit. I looked into alternative solutions, transitions, whatever and anything.  I eventually found alternate pathways and reserved that.  It seemed fine at the time but I feel that I have grown away from it.

So here we sit, all these ideas and work done for the project but not much of a name to work with.  I have been toying around in my head with a name/concept that is close to me, but it is not available straight as written for a website.  It is a historical figure with little to no interest these days but that resonates quite loudly with me.  Ideologically his work fits extremely well into our concepts and I have already been planning on writing another ideology post in reference to his work and ours.  His name was Mozi and you can see some of his work here.  He was an ancient chinese philosopher that believed principally in equality and universal compassion for all.  I think it fits the project well, but I couldn't think of how to use it in terms of a website address in relation to this project.

Anyway, This is just an idea, but I think we need others.  Names are tricky, they are the first and last thing anyone ever hears of an organization, and the first and last marketing tool you have.  This is my thought with 'mozi' its interesting/catchy and it has meaning, but it has no website unless something is added to it.  Ideas are welcome, for anything and everything.  Help!!    

Information, Information, Information ! ! !

I just had an outstanding meeting with NYCON, the New York Council of Non-Profits.  It so nice to get solid advice from people with good experience doing what I am trying to do.  Now of course "figuring it all out" is part of the project we've undertaken, but NYCON just made doing that a bit easier.  As an organization they are fairly similar to the Small Business Development Centers that governments provide.  The only difference - and quite indicative of our socio-economic system - is that the for-profit assistance is free, but if you want to start a non-profit, the assistance is fee-for-service!!  Something seems backwards about that!?!  Luckily for me though they are nice people and the first meeting is free!!  :)

So what did I go there to do?  Obviously I want advice on what it is that we are trying to do.  We are looking at doing two things, one is a trip to Sierra Leone in an effort to experience the country/identify opportunities, and the second is to implement those projects through a non-profit organization that we are trying to set up.  It is amazing at how wide a delineation there becomes between the two as you sit down and people begin asking good questions.

This project started as a chronicled walk for charity through Sierra Leone, it then expanded to include the initiation and implementation of a Non-Profit I'd been thinking about as well.  So this delineation is of course very important in our planning.  The meeting today raised this specific question.  Why does it have to be one in the same at this point?  The logistics of incorporating make it fairly difficult to do without a very definite description of the organization in its articles of incorporation.  The whole point of going to Sierra Leone (from the organization's point of view) is specifically to get on the ground and figure out the best things to do and ways to deliver them.  So how do you say that explanation in a way that allows for the governmental reviewers here in the US to identify what the organizations does and how they do it?  Ms. Lockwood (whom I had the meeting with), was discussing the process of approval and how given increased restrictions, especially since Sept 11th, 2001, that the government is going to want specifics - "what you are going to be doing and where".  They are not simply going to want to hear that we are going to focus on post/conflict areas all throughout the world using a synergy of  cooperative and individual socio-economic developmental ideas.  Now obviously our aims are much more focused than that, but we don't want to limit the organization to Sierra Leone or West Africa, or agriculture.  I see this expanding and becoming much bigger than this one project, so the articles must be broad yet still focused enough to get approval as a non-profit.  And the question I had been thinking about and she was getting at is how do you focus, before you have found your focus?

Another discussion point was fiscal sponsorship.  It has been my goal with this project to bring together a team of individuals that were interested and experienced, and try to motivate them enough to do it ourselves and learn things in the most rewarding way (i.e. the hard way), and maintain autonomy (see ideology posting).  I have read a decent amount of information - and have been recommended by a lot of people - to look into working with/under another organization's non-profit status.  This meeting shed a bit more light on how this type of cooperation specifically works.  It is just like a small business incubator.  You basically incorporate as a non-profit, but then file your IRS and accounting information through the fiscal sponsor as if you were a part of their organization.  They provide you with back-end support for the organization, filing paperwork, accounting, general administrative support, etc.  You get on with what it is that you really want to do, the projects, and then they help you with the admin part until you get things up to speed.

It does sound quite enticing, however, at what cost?  How much autonomy must you give up?  What are the specifics?  As with any scenario like this, you obviously always must realize who is telling you what, and what is their position in the process.  Ms. Lockwood's organization is certainly a fee-for-service organization, so whether it is because she truly believes fiscal sponsorship is a great option, or if she is trying to increase the organization's clients, this information should certainly be taken with a grain of salt and an eye for the other side.  (I will say though that she seemed to be more of the former.) It is an option very much worth looking into as it really would help things in the very beginning.  Still though, putting together a team and learning as we go is part of the experience - why take the easiest road when you can take the one that is far more challenging and thus rewarding?  ;)

The issue that must be weighted right now is when to incorporate and how - on our own or through someone else, and before or after the trip.  How has been discussed, but what of when?  The initial thought process on that is really about weighing the difficulties that could arise (as mentioned above), and our original rational.  Firstly, donations.  It is obviously very important to be able to offer people tax exemption for any donations given to the organization.  She did say though that there may be a one year lag that a donation could still count - not sure how that would work though.  The second, and probably more important is whether I travel through the country as a lonely traveler or affiliated with an actually legal entity.  An organization would seemingly carry much more clout than an individual traveler.  This authority could be tough to overcome.  She said it may be possible to reserve a name for a company, but upon further thought I was thinking that it wouldn't seem 'right' to represent an organization that does not yet technically exist.  Which is better then, to be an independent traveller giving the impression of not having an agenda and as a result collecting 'innocent' data, or a representative of an aid organization?  Would the two be treated differently?  Would people try to cozy up to the organization?  Would they not really think much of a mere traveler?            

Anyway, there was a lot of other information that came out of the meeting.  The concept of a Managed Services Organization - kind of a holding company for non-profits from what it sounds like - must be looked into.  There is NYCON's Innovative Charitable Initiative (ICI), the Foundation Center Cooperating Collection in the Mid-Hudson library system.  The New York Department of State's and the Attorney General's websites, IRS form information, the Dutchess and Ulster Community Foundations, and Guidestar.org all made it into my notes.  So in all, Ms. Lockwood was incredibly helpful and gave me a lot to think about and research.  I'm not sure how much of it we will implement or if we would use them specifically, but they certainly gave a good representation of the industry and how they could help make our soon-to-be organization better.  Thanks NYCON...  ;)

Sunday, July 4, 2010


I've had a few good conversations with people about getting involved with this project and the subsequent non-profit concept to follow.  There is certainly interest - I would imagine most people are of the 'show me' type.  But overall my conversations bring up a huge part of this type of work, and one that I experienced in managing a sports non-profit in Prague that was pretty much all volunteers.

Volunteers are just that, they don't have to be there and they don't have anything holding them in place but their own desire and 'word' (unless its something like the Peace Corps).  And willfully joining in as one can is what this project is going to be all about - finding interested people with good experience that can bring something to the table in their spare time.  The hiking part of it isn't really going to require to much work from other people, but setting up a non-profit, and supportive connections in Sierra Leone certainly will.  The tricky thing with getting through this process is getting other people's interest - there are the non-responses, the other engagements, other priorities, or the flat out excited commitment that simply bit off more than they could chew.    Everyone loves ideas, and they especially love ideas that make them feel like they are doing something good for both other and themselves.  Easy to commit, harder to follow up.  It always has to be kept in mind that this is "YOUR" passion, your project, your heart, most likely not immediately theirs.

So it is tough to manage that kind of business relationship with people.  Especially if some of them are in other countries, have jobs, etc, and there are plenty of things to find help with.  I will need legal advice, financial and accounting services, bookkeeping, project advice, help in Sierra Leone, help setting things up in the US, communications advice, board members, etc.  It becomes a very complex scenario for one person, and one that really is just going to need a tremendous amount of hard work, fortitude, and management skills to keep all together.  I must admit, this will be a tough challenge for me as I function internally much differently than most other people and sometimes my idealism and rejection of conventionalism don't connect to well with others in terms of motivation and functionality.

But I've approached several people about filling these roles, and go figure some people have had positive responses, others luke warm, and others no response at all.  About as expected!!  lol...  Ok, enjoy the day...   ;)

Search Engine Optimization

Just spent a little more time on Google analytics and webmasters.  I am starting to get some decent key word generation for "Sierra" and  "Leone".  In order to have a site show up in a google search, google has to index the pages and see what words it finds often enough to think of as keywords for your site.  For a while there it was random stuff like 'initial' or 'introduction', nothing that was directly pertinent to the site or that would bring traffic.  But as of this morning 'Sierra' and 'Leone' are at the top the list for the site.  I also tried to get the googlebots to index each page - but I don't know that this happened, only that I fetched the page as a googlebot would see it (which I would think they'd have to go there to do it).  Anyway, the keywords themselves are starting to be a bit more indicative of my own project.

I also did a search for "walking lion" and I seem to be number four on the list.  Nice.  I am not having much of any increase in traffic, but I was solely having direct traffic for the most part - meaning someone typed www.walkinglion.org into the address bar -, then I started getting a decent amount of referring traffic from facebook and blogger (where the site is hosted), but now I am starting to get search engine traffic.  This is of course a good sign, people other than my friends/acquaintances may be starting to see the site.  What I need though is to get on the "Sierra Leone" key word list.  This is going to be extremely difficult, but things like "Sierra Leone hiking", "Sierra Leone non-profit", or other such things may not be to far fetched.  This however will take time, especially with the hiking part, as I will have to do an awful lot more writing on the hiking part of my trip.  Anyway, its all a step in the right direction...  enjoy...  

Sierra Leone Non-Profit Regulations

So I got through 'the document', big fun!!  Lots of fun 'legalese' to get through, but not actually very long...

So this is the gist of it, they don't make this easy.  Imagine if in order to start a company in the US you had to sign a contract with the governement stating each parties responsibilities and obligations to the other?  Granted this was a draft copy, but the document reinforced a reality all to familiarly described.  In the US for profit business holds the power.  Wall Street, the insurance companies, media, making money and companies that strive to maximize profits are given every opportunity to excel and limited involvement by the government.  It may not seem like it to those debating the the financial regulation bill, but 'doing business' in the US is relatively easy, number 4 in the world.  Sierra Leone seems to be trying to live up to its ranking of 148 with this NGO regulations document.  Unlike in the US, the governments' involvement is virtually all-intrusive.  In a country as underdeveloped as Sierra Leone the bulk of a economic involvement for most of the country comes from NGO's (non-profits).  I suppose with such a large part of a country's economic and governmental resources rapped up in the non-profit sector it would be no wonder that the government would see it as a definte way to control a bit more of their national development.

The document opens by saying "The current review was carried through a consultative process with key stakeholders [my italics] in a series of workshops held in each province..."  Who are these people or organizations?  This could simply mean a couple of local power brokers trying to find a way to make a quick dollar, the government and some of their 'people', or an exhaustive all inclusive Jirga.  But it seems to me that if they wanted everyone to know who was really involved they would have said it.  What are the intentions here?

As for the complexity of the regulations themselves: A company must be "in conformity with GOSL (government of sierra leone) development policies", and have an easily identifiable office space, signage, local bank account, easily accessible postal address, etc.  This isn't such a big deal, I'm sure there are companies that will register an office for you (at a high price), and the policies could simply mean you follow the laws.  But the document continues to say an organization must have 5 full time employees.  Could you imagine how many US or european companies would be done if they had to carry  five employees all the time?.  Full disclosure of all financial details - itemized down to each overhead cost, donor, outlay, whatever - and "be willing to share relevant activity related reports with GOSL... other NGO's, beneficiaries, and other relevant interested parties [i.e. anyone that asks for your company's details]."  The Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED) is responsible for registration and monitoring of NGO relationships with the government, donors, NGOs and beneficiary communities, "bearing in mind the national priorities".  In other words, they will monitor all the interactions of your company, and through how they fit into their national priorities/strategies/priorities.  I thought NGO stood for NON-governmental organization?

All projects must also go through the relevant government ministries.  It seems if you want to build a school, you have to get approval from the ministry of education, a farm, the ministry of agriculture.  There is a government "NGO Unit" that (among other more straight forward things) is charged to "do site visits to applicants' premises and witness randomly selected activities of field operations without notice [my italics] to the NGO."  In other words the NGO 'police' can show up at your business operation and go through it all and inspect it without any notice.  Seems intrusive...?!?!  But how about this...  "All assets purchased or acquired with donor funds should be the property of the people of Sierra Leone who are the beneficiaries.  When closing down its operations, no NGO shall dispose of such assets and keep the proceeds or transfer them out of the country.  In the process of closure, all assets must be disposed of in collaboration with the GOSL."  ?!!?  What?!? Any assets coming via donors money (most NGO funding) is not the property of the NGO but of the country and the local beneficiaries?  WOW!?!  Tell me if I'm reading that wrong (section 2.7.4).  The problem then gets a bit more complicated a bit later in the document (2.8.4) as they say "NGOs are created entities that serve as agents for both donors and beneficiaries.  All funds released by donors for NGO operations are meant for the benefit of the target beneficiaries.  This implies that even where funds are provided for capacity building/logistics support, items so acquired remain the property of the NGO for as long as it stays in operation."  So I can only think that this just isn't well written as it is a 'draft'.  Please tell me your thoughts on this interpretation.  One says "all assets... should be the property of Sierra Leone..."  the other says they are the NGO's property.  If I'm thinking what are they trying to mean here, it is that an NGO should see there property as for the people, and that if they leave or close up that they must leave the assets for the locals.  But this is not what is directly said here.  Could it possibly be that the governmental could come in and say "hey, that's mine now!"  I can't imagine that - but thats what it seems to say!!

The rest of the document is pretty straightforward and looks to be in the best interests of the people, employing them, and of the economy.  Employ locals, use local goods and services, comply with tax laws, etc. Middle and junior staff positions have to employ Sierra Leoneans or people from ECOWAS (Economic Community of W. African States), and the company has to be able to operate if no foreign national is there for any time period.  On the whole the regulations are a testament to the realities of doing business in a developing country.  It is not the government that is developing the country, it is not private for-profit enterprises, it is non-profits and charities, and if the government wants to have any say in the development of its own country, it has to get its hands in the cookie jars.  Understandable.  Now granted, what is written is very likely not what is practiced down to the letter.  How much oversight do they do?  Is it just about paper formalities?  I have the application and it is not so absurd at all.  There should be oversight, regulations, and the such, but when you tell a company you have to have five employees, I think maybe you've gone to far.  But again, what's to say this isn't five people on the books for a dollar a year?

As it is, it was a good document to read and will be for using as we move forward knowing that it is going to be bureaucratic and perhaps top heavy to set up an organization there (a long ways away).  We will certainly need local advice - which will undoubtedly require a decent amount of cash - but I still have to get networked in and try to find locals to work with.  This could alleviate all of these issues.  But I will start planning my project template structures around this document.  I am disappointed that it didn't say anything about the difference between what the ICNL described as an NGO (which this document talked about) and a Non-Profit Company (NPC) which "are allowed to engage in business activity, provided the profit is used to further the not-for-profit purposes of the organization."  This is different from their definition of an NGO “any independent, not-for-profit making, non-political and charitable organisation, with the primary objective of enhancing the social, environmental, cultural and economic well being of communities.”  More research will have to be done there...