VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The Asante Africa Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to alleviating poverty in rural East Africa by educating and empowering youth. Co-founder and current CEO Erna Grasz transitioned from the corporate world to philanthropy following her visit to the African continent in 2005. Struck by the challenges that rural youth confront, and in particular, young women in rural communities, Grasz sought to establish an organization that teaches the work-life skills and leadership qualities necessary for success beyond the classroom while providing resources that foster gender equity. Together with co-founders Emily Moshi, from Tanzania, and Hellen Nkuraiya, from Kenya, Grasz created Asante Africa in 2007, the culmination of the three women’s shared belief that education bridges the opportunity gap.
4 Core Programs
Asante Africa delivers four core programs: the Leadership & Entrepreneurship Incubator Program (LEI), the Wezesha Vijana Program, the Classroom Learning Program and the Scholarship Program.
LEI is a program that focuses on entrepreneurship and leadership as a pathway out of poverty by teaching income-generating and business operation skills to participants over the course of three years. In addition to furnishing their professional skill set, LEI students receive internship offers and the opportunity to interact with students and leaders from other East African countries.
Wezesha Vijana, also referred to as the Girls’ Advancement Program, specifically addresses the difficulties adolescent girls face, such as exposure to sexual violence, early marriage, female genital mutilation and the lack of knowledge regarding women’s health and women’s rights. Wezesha Vijana not only provides girls with learning materials and hygiene products but also educates parents and peers to create support networks within the local community.
The Classroom Learning Program, also called the Accelerated Learning Program, trains teachers by equipping them with innovative educational models, as to produce more engaging learning environments and incorporate technology into the classroom. Finally, Asante Africa’s merit-based scholarships render education more accessible for low-income students by covering their tuition, boarding expenses, learning materials and other essential school supplies.
A Unique Approach
Asante Africa follows a model based on two key tenants: “Learn-Do-Teach” and “Pay-It-Forward.” Learn-Do-Teach encourages students to disseminate the skills they learn through Asante Africa’s programs to their peers, families and communities. Pay-It-Forward stresses the centrality of generosity in the foundation’s work in East Africa.
Both parts of Asante Africa’s education model create a sort of snowball effect where students feel both internal and external motivation to share the resources they receive with others, and as a result, greatly increase the foundation’s impact and reach. Moreover, such a methodology increases skill retention from 30% to 90% by facilitating the understanding and internalization of learning material when students teach it to others.
Off the Paved Road
Asante Africa also has a wider reach than many other comparable organizations in East Africa. The organization devotes itself to empowering youth from communities “off the paved road.” In fact, many of the communities that receive programmatic material are more than five hours away from the nearest large city.
Director of Strategic Partnerships and Communications Ann Singer attributes this capacity to reach ultra rural communities to the organization’s commitment to building strong relationships at all levels within the communities it operates. “We work very closely with their teachers, school administrators, district officials and even with regional officials so that our relationships within these isolated rural communities are very deep,” Singer noted in an interview with The Borgen Project.
In this way, Asante Africa is able to provide aid on a micro level, by strengthening the support networks of each individual student, as well as on a macro level, through government partnerships, such as Asante Africa’s recent joint effort to maximize the use of digital equipment in classrooms. Furthermore, Singer points out that Asante Africa’s programs benefit from the social competency generated by having on-the-ground teams that consist of individuals from the areas in which the organization works.
In order to avoid the abstract and impersonal nature of numbers, Asante Africa prefers to demonstrate its impact by sharing success stories. Each student, Singer believes, is a unique embodiment of the organization’s mission.
One such notable student is Susan Ekalale, who won the Prince’s Trust Global Award in March 2021. Ekalale, who is 20 years old and from Turkana County, Kenya, participated in an Asante Africa “after-school leadership and entrepreneurship club.” In 2020, Ekalale took part in the Prince’s Trust International’s Enterprise Challenge program, trialed by Asante Africa, which “enables budding entrepreneurs to develop practical business skills through coaching, mentoring and a virtual business simulation game,” according to the Prince’s Trust International website.
An Inspired Entrepreneurship Idea
Faced with the difficulty of growing crops in the habitual drought, a situation further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, Ekalale began her own business of sourcing fruit and vegetables from wholesalers and reselling them locally.
Ekalale’s food stall gradually became the family’s primary source of income. In fact, she earns more than twice her mother’s monthly wage. With her business, Ekalale could remain in school to study in preparation for a medical degree. Ekalale further remains faithful to both tenants of Asante Africa, serving as a mentor for younger girls in her church, teaching them leadership and entrepreneurial skills and emphasizing the importance of education to dissuade them from early marriage.
Ekalale is just one of many students who were able to improve both their own and their communities’ standards of living due to Asante Africa’s programs. As an organization, Asante Africa has impacted 843,535 lives as of December 2021. Moreover, owing to Asante Africa’s efforts to address the pandemic’s impediments to accessing education in Uganda, 98% of children transitioned back to school in Uganda, a significant increase from the projected 30%.
Looking toward the future, Asante Africa seeks to expand its offered programs and restructure its fundraising processes. Singer explained that the organization has “a very aggressive goal to impact 1.6 million youth by 2025,” a rather realistic and attainable target, considering Asante Africa’s current reach of more than 840,000 students.
To this end, the organization is looking both to add to the programmatic elements offered in each country and to establish programs in new East African countries. Asante Africa aims to move into Rwanda in 2024, and other countries are sure to follow. In order to fund all of such expansions, the organization plans to develop a new method of fundraising, with the goal of raising between $4 million and $7 million a year, a significant increase from the current $1.7 million. Such an internal restructuring is crucial: “the amount of work that we do and the number of communities we’re working in,” Singer stated, “is only limited by our financial resources.”
The word “Asante” means “thank you” or “gratitude” in Swahili. Such a trait is evident in the way that Asante Africa’s students make use of their newfound opportunities and acquired skills to benefit the community at large. Through its persistent efforts, Asante Africa has transformed, and will continue to transform, the lives of East African youth to empower generations of agents of change.
– Emily Xin
Photo: Asante Africa