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...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Solar Street Lamps

So the main project that we are focusing on right now is solar street lamps for the city of Makeni. In looking at the three projects that I came back from Sierra Leone with this one seems to be the most attainable at this point.  Granted there is an awful lot to do between now and instalation, including sorting through Sierra Leone's entire governmental apparatus.  But as it is, right now it really looks to be the most feasible.  The brick project requires a lot in terms of expertise, local business infrastructure, and time in country.  It is also a commitment for a longer term production process.  The solar street lamp project on the other hand is a one-off endeavor with a definite start, end, and result.  This I think is best for setting up this business endeavor in Sierra Leone.  Lessons will of course be learned during the process that could easily be used to set up a better production scenario in our other endeavors.  It also can be a solid revenue generator in a shorter fixed term.  Source the lamps, ship them, install them, done.  It's obviously much more complicated, but not like the brick project's open-ended scenario including local production facilities, local sales teams, local distribution networks, local management, and permanent staff.  It is a huge commitment that needs time and planning.  By focusing on the lamps, we can work through the planning of the bricks at the same time without as much risk.

The Lamps are an intricate process as well though.  We have to source the lamps and the poles and ship them to Sierra Leone, where they will have to pass through customs and the entire African shipping process.  From there we have to arrange transport to Makeni and storage for them.  Local labor and materials will be needed for the installation and setup.  The lights themselves are easy to assemble and put up, but the poles would be more difficult as getting them set permanently in the ground brings challenges in a city that still shows some of the effects of war. 

All this is coupled with the governmental aspect of the project.  This would be an open bid through the governments procurement process.  Which I would imagine is a road that will have its share of winding turns...  Also financing the project will be quite delicate.  There would be some advanced governmental payment for the contract.  This would then need to be balanced with the down payments and extensions of credit negotiated with suppliers.  We may need to stagger the delivery and installation of the lamps in order to be able to balance the whole project.  This of course is not the way we'd want to do it as it would cost more on the whole in both money and time, but if this is what allows us to get the contract done, then it would be worth it to establish the company and its credit.  If we do a good job, there will be more cities looking for lights.  Have to start somewhere.  We will see...

But on the whole it seems like a good place to start.  Straight forward, one-off, deliverable project, with a good revenue upside.  With this one done, we could fund the brick making project, an internet/office facility in Sierra Leone, and set up Newburgh so we could run the diaspora funding network from there and then some local programs as well.  Giddie up!!    

Friday, February 25, 2011

Clean Me Up!!

So the other night I spent a nice evening working with the people of Safe Harbors on the Hudson (as well as other community members) to help plan a cleanup day for Newburgh.  Obviously, as you've probably gotten from my recent posts, Newburgh has some serious issues, garbage and a general culture of disrepair being among them.  Safe Harbors has decided that on May 7th (tentatively) they will organize the local community members and organizations to spend the morning trying to change some of this.

The meeting went quite well, there were about ten people there and an infinite number of ideas.  A lot of progress was made and it felt quite good to get back involved in this type of thing.  Un/self employment (never mind malaria) can bring about a decent malaise or disconnect that stagnates you.  I still don't feel as sharp as I was, but it was great to get back involved in a planning/strategy session. 
There are countless things to do, from getting volunteers, to sponsors and partners, to dumpsters and slogans.  But the room seemed to be motivated and involved, so I don't doubt that something great will come of it.  For my part I will be working on an educational aspect to the day and also on getting local colleges and students as well as a few environmental institutions involved.  As well as myself!!  Which will be nice indeed!!

Thursday, February 24, 2011


So progress is not moving forward as I would prefer for it to.  Mostly because of the simple phrase "TIA" (This/That is Africa).  But also, because of the realities of minimal man power and finances.  I have been working of late on a business plan.  But it is slow going.  I have the concepts and the ideology written in all sorts of depth and multiple ways, but I need specifics, and these are tough to come by when you are relying on others and/or yourself to stretch your areas of experience too broadly.  I am not a lawyer, nor do I have the money to pay one (especially before I can take donations/do work), so incorporating is tough.  I need to get this organization registered asap.  For this though. I need help, and I am having trouble finding it. 

The most important thing I keep reminding myself of is that no one truly shares your own passion for the things you're focused on.  Without being able to provide incentives, things become much more difficult with other people.  Even organizations such as GET that are designed to help an organization just like mine don't really seem so interested in having to actually do work.  As a result of all this, a person in my situation has to be able to do everything.  You become the lawyer, the business man, the project designer, the anthropologist, the accountant, the negotiator, and on and on...  Yeah, Ok, Ok, I know, you say: hey that is what starting this type of thing is about.  Doing everything, being everything.  It's been so long since I did business in the US, I feel like I'm starting over!!

The issue I've been having right now though is that there are just some things I can't do without the right information, and I can't get it myself.  Working with Africa is a huge challenge.  In all these meetings I've been having in Newburgh, everyone wants to know why I am not more focused on a specific thing.  I think I am, I want to set up shop in Newburgh to do business in Sierra Leone, and then once I can, do work in Newburgh as well.  I am not tied to a specific 'type' of work - recycling, or vocational training, or whatever - thus am open to any opportunities that can generate revenue and allow for more projects/development. 

In Sierra Leone we have identified several opportunities that could both generate revenue and jobs for local people.  These projects can be far more lucrative than anything we could do in Newburgh right now.  So the company hinges on Sierra Leone.  And up until yesterday, I hadn't heard anything from Yapo (my guy in SL) for well over two weeks.  This is the tricky part of it all.  Not only are you dealing with people that have other things in life that they are/have to do, but you are dealing with the technology and infrastructure of the poorest per capita country in the world.  You can go a whole week there an have NO internet and no one even thinks twice.  Computers are down, the generator runs out of fuel, you pass a place serving palm wine, whatever.  :)  It is a very slow process.

To put together this business plan I have to have any number of things, but costings and estimates for the projects in Sierra Leone are a foundation of it.  This takes time, and doesn't help when I feel the urgency here to incorporate, tie it down, focus it.  Yet, I can't get the information - through no fault of any one person - for weeks at a time.  TIA.  

So what does all this babble mean...??  It means that this is a tough process.  No money, little support, and an unstable personal living situation make things tough.  Splitting time between reviewing girl's lacrosse rules for my spring refereeing job, incorporating in NY, importing solar street lamps into Sierra Leone, volunteer work in Newburgh, social services doing NO part of their Medicaid job, malaria's after affects, life, etc.  But hey, it is the challenges in life that provide us with the opportunity for the successes that we so cherish.  And this is what it is all about, creating this project, and making it successful...  Yes, it would be nice if I had a more stable foundation to do it from, but that just isn't the case, so be it...   

"Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn't possess,
acts but doesn't expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever."
-Lao Zi