Last week, I spent a few days at Kufunda Learning Village in Zimbabwe. Here are just a few of the many activities that were going on:
In the herb lab, Patricia and Enock are blending tincture of Artemisia with lemon juice and raw honey to help a neighbor who is suffering from chronic asthma. They will provide a month’s supply of this remedy for free. Patricia dreams of opening an herbal clinic in town where she would work four days a week so she could spend the fifth at the Kufunda clinic and keep it free.
Admire is examining the millet he planted in nearby fields whose soil has been completely depleted by decades of chemically-treated agriculture. He’s eliminated maize, a hungry plant requiring high volume of water and nutrients, and replaced it with millet and sorghum, grains that help restore the soil and provide greater nutritional density per acre. He is planning to start a chicken project in the coming weeks and hopes to begin providing produce and chickens to Kufunda and beyond.
Inside his thatched home, Allan pulls out a cardboard box filled with gadgets. The first one he shows me has an LED light powered by discarded laptop batteries and solar cell remnants. Another one powers a small amplifier for music. He can also charge cell phones and laptops—all by using upcycled materials and solar cell rejects. He’d like to launch a solar business, but isn’t sure who will buy his inventions.
The list goes on and on. A team of four is designing Kufunda’s next youth program. The preschool is inviting a program for school drop-outs under their roof. There’s a media team, a mushroom team, a jewelry-making co-op. There are all the people who support programs and workshops at Kufunda, including a cooking team, building team, facilitation and security.
And through all of this, there really isn’t any functioning economy.
Starting a social enterprise is a challenge under any circumstances. Now imagine you’re in Zimbabwe, where the economy is still floundering with unemployment probably around 70 percent (the government’s official rate is 10.7 percent, but that appears to have nothing to do with reality) and a citizenship that’s still reeling from a decade of political self-destruction and a failed currency.
Even if Allan’s solar designs are brilliant, Patricia’s herbal remedies are effective and Admire’s grains are inexpensive and delicious—who’s going to buy their products?
This is the question I flew home with, feeling both inspired by the Kufundees’ resourcefulness and deflated by the lack of opportunity in their local market. Clearly, the Kufundees need to find a way to create synergy throughout their many initiatives—the permaculture and mushroom teams can feed the preschool and youth programs; the youth program can teach herbal processing and solar manufacturing; the solar team can power facilities during Zimbabwe’s frequent power outages; and so on.
That’s a start, but it’s not enough. It seems to me that this is exactly the right time for investing in Kufunda’s future—and thereby in Zimbabwe’s future. It’s also the right time to dissolve the distinction between being an investor and being a donor. Each of these initiatives essentially needs start-up capital so they can build their market from the ground up. This capital can be provided as a gift rather than with an expectation of return, so that the flow of abundance can be restored to an economy that has been decimated.
Ever since I first arrived at Kufunda in 2003, the Kufundees have been clear that they are not recipients, a humiliating label bestowed all too often by international development on communities in Africa. Instead, they have consistently chosen a worldview of abundance in the face of scarcity. I’m not challenging this. Instead, I’m suggesting that those of us who are friends of Kufunda—and those who have been inspired by Kufunda’s story—choose to become active participants in this circle of abundance.
I’m making an investment in Kufunda. I hope you’ll consider joining me.