HEIDELBERG, Germany — The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is home to around 69.6 million people. The country possesses valuable natural resources like copper, cobalt, fertile land, abundant wildlife and the world’s second-largest rainforest. Despite its potential wealth, high poverty rates plague the DRC and it has worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was reported in 2018 that about 73% of the Congolese population, approximately 60 million individuals, lived on less than the international poverty line of $1.90 per day.
As per the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), approximately 20 million people in the DRC (out of around 90 million inhabitants) rely on humanitarian assistance. UNICEF has reported that around 6 million children in the country suffer from chronic malnutrition. The 2021 Global Hunger Index has labeled the situation in the country as “alarming.”
Brothers4Change: Strategy and Mission
Apart from the efforts of developed countries and big transnational organizations to provide aid for tackling specific issues that nurture extreme poverty in Congo, the efforts of young entrepreneurs to face this challenge are outstanding.
Jonas Smis, co-founder of the Brother4Change told The Borgen Project that when he and his brother, Samuel Smis, visited a township in South Africa, Soweto, their perspective changed. Witnessing the dreary quality of life there made them realize that not everyone had the same opportunities as they did. This experience left a lasting impression on them and as they grew older, they decided to materialize their natural inclination towards innovation and entrepreneurship and do something more meaningful with their skills and knowledge. They wanted to make a difference in the world and positively impact people’s lives
That is how they founded Brothers4Change. With the motivation to encourage others and cause a positive change, this enterprise aims to create a better future for everyone.
Jonas told The Borgen Project that his ultimate aim is using his platform for empowerment through retail. He and his brother started their journey by creating ethical products that are built to last and dedicating 10% of the profits towards their Empowerment Program. The objective of this initiative is to enhance education accessibility in underdeveloped nations by supplying goods that enhance learning opportunities.
Over time, the brand underwent changes, and Jonas and Samuel came to the realization that empowerment through retail entails more than merely furnishing long-lasting goods and supporting education. It maintains that genuine empowerment arises from knowledge and education, which can enable people to attain their maximum potential. Consequently, it broadened its scope to furnish information on various subjects that can aid in personal development and progress.
Understanding how much power the knowledge bestows upon people, Brothers4Change aims at empowerment through retail by furnishing individuals with essential tools and resources for success. The 2020 Human Capital Index shows that the DRC is positioned at 164th place out of 174 countries, indicating that years of instability and conflict have hindered development in the country. If a child is born in Congo today, they are likely to attain only 37% of their maximum potential, which could have been possible if they had access to high-quality education and optimal healthcare facilities.
By providing education on diverse topics, Brother4Change aspires to motivate people to pursue their aspirations and accomplish their objectives. In essence, its mission is to support individuals through ethical merchandise, education and knowledge, with the goal of improving people’s lives and creating a better future for all.
Brothers4Change faced a crucial decision when launching its empowerment through the retail initiative: determining where to commence providing education accessibility. Though Soweto was its initial preference due to its role in awakening them to the inequality in the developing world, logistical hurdles impeded its implementation. Operating from Belgium, launching the Empowerment Program there proved challenging due to a lack of connections there and the long distance.
Given their Congolese heritage, Jonas and Samuel opted to initiate the Empowerment Program in the DRC. Trustworthy contacts there assisted them in establishing the program. Presently, they focus on the village of Idinga in the Kivu region of DRC, aiming to establish sustainable improvements before extending their program to other developing nations. Nevertheless, they intend to broaden their support when they have built a solid foundation and the resources to provide assistance to additional areas and countries.
At Brothers4Change, Jonas and Samuel have faced numerous challenges, and they are continuously dealing with new ones. One significant issue they faced was delivering goods to the remote village of Idinga, which is inaccessible by car. To overcome this, they ship their supplies, such as solar-powered reading lamps, water filters and sports equipment, to Bukavu. Their local team members load the goods onto motorcycles and travel for a full day on muddy roads, hoping not to get stuck too often. Once they reach a point where no roads are available, they must travel on foot while carrying all the goods. After a journey of more than two days, they finally arrive at the village and distribute the goods.
In addition to transportation issues, communication with their team members poses another challenge. The area has almost no reception, except on mountain peaks, making it difficult to stay in touch. To address this problem, they thoroughly discuss everything beforehand and give their team members a lot of autonomy. Typically, their team members stay in the village for two weeks during donation activities. Therefore, Jonas and Samuel often do not hear anything new for two weeks and always await updates from their team members once they return.
One crucial lesson that Jonas and Samuel have learned is the importance of being receptive to learning from the locals and adapting to their way of life. To make a real difference, they must comprehend the challenges faced by the community and find solutions that work for them. Collaboration with the locals is vital, and they must come up with sustainable solutions that can last long after they leave. Being resourceful and finding ways to work with the available resources is critical, and they must overcome challenges one day at a time.
Social entrepreneurship has demonstrated its ability to deliver impactful solutions to alleviate poverty. While poverty in DRC has been a focus of multiple international organizations and foreign aid programs of developed countries, the efforts of newly established enterprises such as Brother4Change are remarkable. By providing ethically made products to a large market and contributing a generous share of their income to empowering children in DRC, they aim to positively impact people’s lives and downsize poverty. Jonas and Samuel Smis’ noble attempt to better society holds promise for creating a better future for all.
– Nino Basaria