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, February 4, 2011


So what is the plan!?  How is it that all of a sudden we can simply add a new country and a new city such as Newburgh (for a bit more perspective on Newburgh you can read this article).  I have put months of specific effort (and years of indirect effort) into the prospective work in Sierra Leone.  Things are possible there right now.  What has to be developed at this point is the holistic entity that will be not just this endeavor, but an entire organization.  I am trying to find a way to use these two locations in conjunction with both each other and with the bigger picture.

The key insight to it all is to see what the over arching goal of both this project and an organization.  Despite my passion for Sierra Leone and its people, this was never solely about this country.  It has always been about broader goals, a broader learning curve on society, and the systemic way that we order ourselves.  Poverty is a big part of this.  We live in a Capitalist society that has certain values and is achieving certain outcomes.  These outcomes show their faces in both the 'rich' and 'poor' worlds.

Could this be Newburgh?!?

What is really the difference between poverty in Sierra Leone and America/Newburgh?  Some, including myself, would argue - a great deal.  Poverty by American standards is very different from the poverty found in most of the rest of the world.  But I would also say that there are a tremendous amount of similarities, especially on a personal level.  To a person in Newburgh, when they look around the world they see, they are at the bottom of the income ladder.  They are by most social measures at the bottom of society.  The poverty of a place like Sierra Leone is so far away and out of site it may as well not even exist.  All they can see is themselves, their situation, their "poverty", their mental state.

Or maybe this is Makeni?!?

It is not much different in Sierra Leone, they know little of the Western world.  A few products, stories, and movies.  But spend a few days there and you quickly realize that they have no clue, just as we really have no clue about their lives there.  They simply do what they must each and every day to survive.  But this poverty is relative.  There are so few people with anything around them that they know little of the nothing they have.  In their head's, they may even seem better off than the poor in Newburgh.  When everyone has nothing, what is there to be make you think you have nothing? 

But either way, both groups of people are left to struggle.  This is what I find unacceptable.  As friends of mine buy new clothes, talk about summer vacations, the difficulties of their work... those without the means to eat, live, and do, simply embrace the struggle that will come from that day's effort just to survive.  This is poverty, this is evident all over the world.  It must be studied, it must be understood, and it must have a solution found for it.   

Why to expand this process rests in the delivery of these goals and services.  Sierra Leone needs money, expertise, knowledge, and effort, as does Newburgh.  In order to set up an organization to help both places, we need both the means to deliver services, and services to deliver.  By the two locations working together we can provide local comparative advantages that can be capitalized upon by both.

The key to all this is to brainstorm through a process that provides for both places.  The American operations can provide knowledge, expertise, research, and money for work done in Sierra Leone.  Projects can be planned, managed, and even in some cases executed, from America, for delivery in Sierra Leone.  Local products from Sierra Leone can be shipped to the US and administered and sold in America to supplement local projects.

This is not a novel business model.  But it does start to get interesting if being done by a revenue generating non-profit focused on "maximizing local socio-economic outcomes" rather than just maximizing profit.  This means that in Newburgh, we don't always hire the 'best, most experienced' person for the job, we hire the right person.  We hire a person that needs the opportunity and is capable of seizing it, and we make training and teaching work skills just as important a part of the projects as the jobs.  A "socially thick" development model.  Our organization will be about doing business and making money, but it is more so about emboldening local populations with usable and transferable knowledge and skill sets - hiring potential, not achievement.

So what businesses will we be getting into?  This is complicated, and a question that is yet to have an answer.  You can make money in Sierra Leone doing virtually anything.  It is an entrepreneur's heaven.  But making money in Newburgh is different.  Anywhere in the US you have to come up with an original idea or at minimum completely reinvent an old one for non-profit inner city implementation.  The US market is totally saturated, no regurgitation of proven ideas allowed.
This is a short list right now:
  • Brick making in Sierra Leone.  The money would need to come from the US, but there is then a huge opportunity for revenue generation.  The kind that could fund project upon project for the foreseeable future. This project also opens other opportunities that surround this, transportation, contracting, etc.
  • Sierra Leone Diaspora Funding Network.  This project would be managed from the US, and then implemented in Sierra Leone.  Providing for both locations.
  • Solar street lamps in Sierra Leone.  This project would be managed from NY and implemented by the operations in Sierra Leone.
  • Internet and learning facilities.  This is applicable in both Sierra Leone and the US.  It is thought to provide the front of the office space for revenue generation.  Training classes could also be added on top of this.  
  • Sale of artisan goods produced in Sierra Leone for sale in NY.  This can also be expanded to be done online, with distribution from Newburgh. 
  • Obtaining old used goods (such as welding/carpentry tools, clothes, computers, etc) and shipping them to Sierra Leone for donation/local sale.
  • Fruit processing in Sierra Leone.  In time the products could be sold within the US, again with distribution in Newburgh.  That is a long way away though.  For the time being it would be a local operation in Sierra Leone. 
  • Verma composting (with worms).  This has a tremendous upside in decreasing organic waste and is viable in both locations.  Selling the castings as fertilizer is also a revenue generator.
  • Makeni Athletics Facility.  This is strictly a charitable endeavor and thus will take time. 
This list is still missing a good deal.  Newburgh has yet to truly be explored and realized in terms of what opportunities exist there. Hopefully that will happen over the next several weeks as I get further ingrained in the city.  But time will take us there, and a bridge between two impoverished worlds will become both apparent and a reality... 

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