Empower Mali Foundation

Mali Presidential Candidate Niankoro Yeah Samake is promoting self-reliance through his Empower Mali Foundation. Samake spoke at a forum on the Brigham Young University-Idaho campus on May 17, discussing how consistent small actions focused on others can bring about great change.

To begin the change for his home village of Ouelessebougou, Samake ran for mayor when he noticed that the government wasn’t utilizing the taxpayers’ money effectively and was becoming more corrupt. Samake won the election by 86 percent and his first order of business was to get the community to trust the government again.

Members of the community started to pay their taxes and Samake showed them exactly where the money was going, where it was coming from and how much they had, unlike previous government rule. Those in Ouelessebougou were able to build a hospital, high school, have running water, electricity and solar panels. Within two years, Samake was able to move Ouelessebougou from the bottom five of Mali’s 704 districts to the top ten.

“The citizens were able to see the power of integrity,” Samake said. “They could see what could be achieved when leaders and citizens work together in an honest and productive way.”

Samake said that Mali needs a leader that would put them first, and he is running in Mali’s next presidential election.

Creating the Empower Mali Foundation

While he was a mayor, Samake created the Empower Mali Foundation to address the growing need in the areas of education, healthcare and access to basic necessities in the rural communities of Mali. The foundation’s goal is to have the issues of individual communities resolved by the community members themselves.

This foundation wants each community within Mali to become self-reliant. The communities initiate the demand for projects and also contribute through cost, land or labor. By being involved, community members are more likely to maintain their project and become self-sustainable.

Empower Mali Foundation works in five main sections:

  • Education
  • Healthcare
  • Clean Energy
  • Clean Water
  • Leadership Training


At 31 percent, Mali has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world. Many Malian villages don’t have the adequate funding for schools or training for teachers. The foundation focuses on resources in school construction and repair, school supplies, adult literacy, job skills training and technology skills.


The average life expectancy for a citizen of Mali is 52 years. This can be due to many different diseases in the area, and the fact that there isn’t adequate training for doctors in more rural parts of Mali.

The Empower Mali Foundation focuses on providing additional health care training, arranging and implementing healthcare expeditions and supplying hygiene kits to communities in need.

Clean Energy

Less than one percent of Mali has access to electricity. The majority of Mali citizens rely on wood and charcoal burning fires to supply energy to their village. The Empower Mali Foundation focuses its resources on the installation of solar panels.

Clean Water

The second leading cause of death in low-income countries is diarrheal diseases. This is because of poor sanitation and no access to clean water. More than one-third of Mali does not have access to clean water. To address this, the Empower Mali Foundation is focusing its resources to install water tanks and water pumps, dig wells and cover current water sources.

Leadership Training

Many people locate in rural Mali don’t have enough information on what local governments do for them. Along with little communication, the poor level of skills and capacities of the duty-holders restrict the full involvement of the people.

The Empower Mali Foundation wants to focus its resources on training local leaders for success by arranging governance summits between local leaders in Mali and other countries. The foundation also wants to implement local participation in order to teach youth to better understand and engage in the local governance process.

The Empower Mali Foundation has completed many projects such as the donation of school kits, hygiene and dental kits and the successful installation of the first electricity-generating playground in Ferekoroba.

The Empower Mali Foundation’s projects take steps to make communities in Mali more self-reliant and sustainable. It is continuing to pursue its goal to raise Mali out of poverty, one community at a time.

– Victoria Fowler
Photo: Flickr

The buildOn organization has been building schools globally and domestically for more than twenty years, but the construction of schools is not the only focus. The organization builds and develops the abilities of every member of the community in which the schools are placed.

In 1989, Jim Ziolkowski, a recent college graduate and the future founder and CEO of the buildOn organization, took a trip around the world by way of hitchhiking and backpacking. During his travels, he came across a village in Nepal that had recently built a school, and he noticed a dramatic difference between this community and others that he had visited in his travels. This Nepalese village had a unique brightness about it that was centered around education.

Upon returning to the United States he was unable to remove the comparison of what he had seen from his mind. After a short time, he quit his job and began to develop ways in which he could give the gift of education to those who would not be able to obtain it otherwise. In 1992, the first school was built in Malawi, and since then, hundreds of schools have been built in some of the most impoverished locations across the world.

The buildOn website notes, “Our holistic approach ensures that schools are built with a community rather than for a community. It involves villagers as true partners rather than as recipients of aid.” The program claims that this nature of approach incentivizes the residents, and shows them what can be accomplished when they work together in a common cause.

When a community is under consideration for a new school, each member is required to give his or her consensus in writing—or in fingerprint—that he or she will fulfill respective obligations to render local supplies, assist in construction and maintain the school upon completion. It has been observed that “Even as many must sign with a thumbprint, everyone is overjoyed to pledge their commitment to a school that will end illiteracy for their children, their grandchildren, and themselves.”

As mentioned, young children are not the only ones who benefit from the placement of these schools. At night, in the same schools where their children are educated by day, parents and grandparents are given the opportunity to engage in adult literacy classes. These classes address the issues of healthcare, poverty, and inequality, in addition to the fundamental teachings of reading, writing, and math. This is all gauged to help the people build a better life for themselves and their children.

Unfortunately, in many countries, women do not hold the same status as men. For this reason, buildOn places a centralized focus on gender equality. In the written covenant, there is an included agreement that boys and girls alike will be allowed to attend school in equal numbers. From the beginning to the end of each project, women are highlighted as key members of the community. The right to education is for everyone.

Though the construction of schools is the physical product of buildOn’s effort, it is not the ultimate focus. When asked as to what his favorite aspect of working for buildOn is, Badenoch answered by saying simply, “The people. Unlocking opportunity for people who are very capable and intelligent. The key players aren’t our staff, rather the people in the community play the major role.”

Preston Rust

Photo: Flickr

Lilly EndowmentFounded in 1937 by three members of the Lilly Family (J.K. Lilly Sr. and his two sons, Eli and J.K. Jr.), Lilly Endowment is one of the largest private philanthropic organizations in the United States. Based in Indianapolis, it derives the bulk of its funding from gifts of stock in the family pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company.

Lilly Endowment focuses its activities on education, religion and community development. The founders of the endowment had a burning desire to help the people of Indiana; thus, the bulk of charitable initiatives and grants offered by the organization are geared towards activities in Indiana.

Since its inception, various programs have been developed under each of the endowment’s principal focus areas. These are programs that the organization funds on a regular basis.

Lilly Endowment recognizes the importance of education as an instrument of change and development. The organization gives grants to educational institutions and programs that seek to improve the quality of education across Indiana. Emphasis is placed on supporting higher learning institutions in order to increase the number of people with a bachelor’s degree. This is in response to Indiana’s ranking as one of the states with the highest number of people over 25 without a bachelor’s degree.

The three major programs in the education division are the Community Scholarship Program, the Teacher Creativity Fellowship Program and the Summer Youth Program Fund.

Established in 1987, the Teacher Creativity Fellowship Program was developed with the aim of renewing the commitment of educators across Indiana to delivering quality education. During the program, school media specialists, teachers, guidance counselors and principals are given financial backing and time to tend to their personal development and growth.

The Community Scholarship Program was founded in 1998 and seeks to improve the level of higher education attainment in Indiana. The program offers four-year, full tuition scholarships with an additional 900 dollars per year for educational materials. Community foundations in Indiana play an integral role in the administration of the scholarships.

The most recent program that was added to the education section is the Summer Youth Program Fund. Through this program, Lilly Endowment provides grants to organizations that provide constructive and safe activities for children from 4-19 years of age to engage in during the summer. Organizations that receive funding include tutoring centers, churches, community and sports centers, art centers, overnight camps, parks and theaters.

Eli Lilly once mentioned in Madison Magazine that the cause closest to his heart was character education. In order to bring about the development of individuals with moral fibre and upright character, Eli Lilly supported numerous religious causes leading to the establishment of the religious arm of the endowment.

The religious branch of Lilly Endowment seeks to enrich the lives of Christians and congregations across America by improving the capacity of pastors already engaged in the work of ministry and educating a new crop of pastors. They do this through supporting theological institutions and providing opportunities for established ministers to renew their commitment to ministry.

The Indiana and National clergy renewal programs are long-standing initiatives that Lilly Endowment supports as part of its religion arm. Founded in the years 1999 and 2000, respectively, the programs seek to provide pastors with time they can use to recharge their spiritual batteries in order to better serve in ministry. Congregations also use the programs as opportunities to grow the capacities of lay pastors.

The programs both offer grants of up to $50,000 to churches for renewal of their pastors.

Community development is the third major division of Lilly Endowment. Under this section, the organization funds programs that improve the quality of life in Indiana. These are programs that create the kind of economy that can attract lucrative, developmental businesses to the state. Projects and organizations that have received funding in the past include low-income housing projects, neighborhood revitalization projects and arts and culture organizations.

An initiative under community development is the Giving Indiana Funds for Tomorrow (GIFT) program.

Established in 1990, the endowment uses GIFT to support the establishment, growth and success of community foundations in Indiana’s 92 counties. The community foundations, in turn, provide Lilly Endowment with an avenue to improve the quality of life throughout Indiana. The GIFT program has undergone five phases and is currently in its sixth phase.

The continuous growth and expansion of these programs will enable Lilly Endowment to fulfill its overall objective of creating change and fostering development in Indiana.

June Samo

Sources: Lilly Endowment Community Development, Lilly Endowment Religion, Lilly Endowment Education, Lilly Endowment, General, Learning to Give, ISI News

Maboneng Precinct: A Thriving Cultural District in South Africa
In South Africa’s city of Johannesburg, entrepreneurs are reviving once neglected and deteriorating neighborhoods and turning them into vibrant, urban mixed-use communities. Forbes magazine named Jonathan Liebmann one of Africa’s best young entrepreneurs for his transformation of the Maboneng Precinct in the eastside of the city.

Liebmann is the Founder and CEO of Propertuity, a development company in South Africa. He created Maboneng without municipal resources with the idea of developing a place for young people to live, work and socialize.

In 2008 Liebmann purchased warehouses and old construction offices dating from the 1900s and then worked with the architect Enrico Daffonchio in transforming the industrial spaces.

The residential spaces in Maboneng are designed to meet a variety of people’s needs with different sized apartments. Other features of the neighborhood include artist studios and galleries, stores, coffee shops and advertising agencies.

The creative elements and artistic presence make Maboneng attractive to young people. “Why do we love Johannesburg? The answer to this is very simple. We love Johannesburg simply because it is the place of innovation,” said Lizi Brink, a student. “Maboneng Precinct is a neighborhood that has contributed greatly to this change.”

In Sotho, the word Maboneng means, “place of light,” which exactly fits the role of Maboneng as a center of creative energy for artists in Johannesburg.

Shengyu Wang

Sources: Gauteng, Forbes, Mafadi
Photo: Between 10 And 5

President Barack Obama visited Kenya and Ethiopia earlier this summer to draw global attention to challenges facing development organizations throughout Africa, including establishing more widespread access to electricity.

While those large-scale initiatives are important in providing poor regions with economic opportunity, another initiative, equally important, went largely uncovered: community-based development.

Community-based (or “community-driven”) development is defined by Rural Poverty Portal as “a way to manage development, including the design and implementation of policies and projects, [which] facilitates access by poor rural people to social, human, and physical capital.”

Strategies used by community-based organizations include enabling targeted communities to design their own anti-poverty policies, establishing the means for good long-term governance, and prioritizing the impact of public expenditures from the “bottom of the pyramid” up.

Wayne Firestone, CEO of International Lifeline Fund, points to the malaria epidemic in northern Uganda as a phenomenon that could benefit from the inclusion of local communities.

Previous top-down health initiatives, such as indoor residual spraying interventions, he said, have lowered the immunity of residents, made them complacent in taking preventative measures, and have generally made communities more vulnerable to the disease.

Such initiatives would become more effective if they included local communities in “the design, implementation and maintenance of solutions.”

While local communities have voiced their desire to become more involved in decision-making processes, their national governments have started to endorse that sentiment on a global level.

One of the primary takeaways from the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa earlier this year was that developing countries want to take “greater ownership” over their development through domestic resource mobilization (DRM), a process in which countries raise and allocate their own development funding.

USAID associate administrator Eric Postel notes that while DRM has historically been overlooked in global anti-poverty efforts, the international community has begun to realize its importance for countries hoping to escape poverty.

“DRM is hardly a new concept, but one that has unfortunately been out of the spotlight for many years. I remember attending the aid effectiveness conference in Busan, South Korea, in 2011.

Support for DRM was barely discussed there,” he wrote in an article for Devex. “Since then, the global community has coalesced around the importance of this transitional bridge from a nation’s receiving international aid assistance to its sustainable providing for its own.”

While some developing countries may never realize absolute autonomy in directing their own anti-poverty initiatives, DRM is a positive step for countries hoping to become more self-reliant. Earlier this year, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta made an appeal to African countries to stop accepting international aid entirely.

Although certainly not in the best interest of many African civilians, that position reflects the common and natural desire among poor countries to achieve sustainability and self-determination.

Indeed, the lack of cohesion among rural communities like those in northern Uganda can make community-based development difficult, primarily because it takes time to establish functioning bodies vested with the ability to prioritize community needs.

According to Firestone, however, development assistance ought to be rethought in ways that will enable communities to participate in the management of their own affairs.

“For decades, development assistance has created a culture in which these communities are recipients, not leaders of their own solutions,” he said.

“Many development thinkers have started conversations around how we can shift that culture to make sustainable progress; how residents of poor, rural communities can be problem solvers rather than problems, and can embrace changes they generate internally.”

Zach VeShancey

Sources: Devex 1, Devex 2, Rural Poverty Portal
Photo: Flickr

The What Took You So Long Foundation Solving Local Issues
The What Took You So Long Foundation (WTYSL), founded on June 14, 2009, is a team of storytellers that uses multimedia outlets to tell the stories of farmers, nomads and entrepreneurs from around the world. They use these stories to inspire small communities to work together to solve issues with health, education and social justice. Through lectures, workshops and movies, the organization works with people living in rural villages in overcoming speed bumps preventing them from using their resources to create new markets.

The organization collaborates with NGOs, friends and institutions to develop projects in communities based on the issues they are facing. They document the process using videos and photographs, which in turn are used in future workshops or lectures in new communities. WTYSL uses guerrilla filmmaking, a form of filmmaking that works with a low budget, skeleton crews and simple props, to capture the situation, culture and people of different countries.

During the filmmaking process, the members of WTYSL live where they’re filming and build relationships with members of the community. They also follow local customs, use local transportation and encourage residents to participate in their project to gain a better understanding of their everyday life.

In total, WTYSL has filmed in over 60 countries, including Mauritania, Mongolia and Papua New Guinea. The members of WTYSL believe everyone, no matter what their age is, has an imagination and can use their imagination to help those in need. WTYSL will take on amateur filmmakers and train them on the job in creating quality films and working with underdeveloped communities. Working together, the team is able to motivate positive change in these communities.

The team of WTYSL consists of a variety of filmmakers, storytellers and photographers from various backgrounds. The team’s most recent project had them travelling to Rwanda to document the impact of solar energy on the community. Before Rwanda, WTYSL created films in Liberia to observe the quest for camel milk. The team continues to travel the world, documenting achievements, encouraging empathy and creating projects to make the world a better place.

Julia Hettiger

Sources: What Took You So Long, Co.Exist, Afritorial
Photo: What Took You So Long

While talking about poverty alleviation, chances are most people think about money, food, houses and many other physical assets. However, poverty can also be healed from the heart, and art has the transforming power to bring people out of destitution physically and mentally.

Lily Yeh is a petite 70-year-old Chinese artist. Born in China but raised in Taiwan, Yeh moved to the United States in 1963 to study painting at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Fine Art. Instead of becoming a studio artist who creates personal artwork, she chose to use art to develop impoverished communities, build connections among people, and bring prosperity. Yeh believes art is a powerful vehicle for healing, self-empowerment and social change.

“Making art in destitute areas is like making fire in the dead, cold night in the winter, which gives us warmth, light, direction, and we kindle hopes.,” Yeh said. “I can’t solve these huge social problems, but I can open up new possibilities and spaces where, through creativity and working together, we might come to new solutions.”

From 1986 to 2004, Yeh served as the co-founder, executive director, and lead artist of The Village of Arts and Humanities (The Village,) a non-profit organization dedicated to community building, economic development, and personal transformation through art. To conduct a summer park project for The Village, Yeh went to a community in North Philadelphia that was notorious for violence, drug trade, and destitution. It was called “a place without resources.” She offered art classes to local children and adults, and inspired them to paint together. Eventually, she transformed 200 abandoned lots into art parks and gardens.

Aside from changing the community’s landscape, Yeh gave people hope and fostered a sense of community pride and individual accomplishment. “It’s a new kind of empowerment,” Yeh said. “People’s minds are opened to new possibilities and affirmation.”

Under Yeh’s 18 year tenure at The Village, the organization has developed into a multifaceted center of arts and humanities, which includes educational programs, housing renovation, theater, and economic development initiatives. Currently, it has had 25 full-time and part-time employees, hundreds of volunteers, and a $1.3 million budget.

In 2002, Yeh founded Barefoot Artists, a volunteer organization which aims to revitalize the most impoverished communities in the world through participatory and multifaceted projects that foster community empowerment, improve the physical environment, promote economic development, and preserve and support indigenous art and culture. It partners with locals, joining with them to create beauty. Yeh believes that art is an inclusive process and everyone has an artist in their heart.

“Not my light shining bigger than anyone else,” she said. “We all have that innate light within us. My role is to kindle other people’s inner light, so we shine together.”

Yeh is now working on projects in Rwanda, Kenya, Ghana, Ecuador, and China. She brings her unique methodology for using art as a tool for community empowerment and individual transformation to the world.

According to YES Magazine, Yeh worked with villagers to create a wall mural called “The Palestinian Tree of Life” in Palestine. In China, she transformed a once prison-like school into an ideal and brilliant place for study. In Rwanda, she helped people build a memorial to heal their still open wounds from the Rwandan genocide.

Yeh believes that the whole process of transformation and empowerment does not merely benefit people living in the communities. She is also inspired and fulfilled by the progress of art creation, believing that it makes her life meaningful.

– Liying Qian

Sources: Barefoot Artists, The Village of Arts and Humanities, YES Magazine
Photo: Chiam Online

When several U.S. Mennonite conferences convened in Elkhart, Indiana to found the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in 1920, their aim was modest in comparison to their current work. Originally focused on providing aid and assistance to famine-stricken Mennonites in Ukraine, Russia, and Turkey, MCC’s efforts now spread over more than 50 countries across five continents, and are no longer focused on aiding those of their own faith.

MCC works primarily by partnering with local organizations, both secular and religious, to distribute aid funded primarily by donations from Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Church communities in the United States and Canada. While MCC’s mission statement is inspired by and based upon Christian scripture, in practice their work is secular and is primarily focused on peace-building efforts, disaster relief, and sustainable community development.

The work done by MCC and its partners is as diverse as the needs of the specific communities in which they operate. Their food-relief programs include both aid and development based approaches. Last year the Canadian MCC supported over $1.3 million in food aid for people whose livelihoods have been disrupted by the ongoing conflict in Syria. Just one example of MCC’s more development-focused programs is a partnership with organization Global Service Corps that works towards educating Tanzanian farmers on sustainable agricultural methods that increase crop yield and prevent soil erosion and nutrient depletion. MCC funds similar agricultural education programs in 15 other countries around the world including Mozambique, Honduras, Palestine, and North Korea.

In addition to food relief, MCC also supports initiatives that provide easier access to safe drinking water, education for children, disaster relief, and HIV/AIDS related aid and education. One area of MCC’s work that has sparked some controversy, however, is their peace and justice related work in Palestine/Israel. MCC supports a number of Palestinian and Israeli organizations devoted to reaching a peaceful resolution of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. Some of their partners are focused on ending what they view as destructive behavior on the part of Israel’s government, such as the Israeli Commission Against House Demolitions, and the Palestinian organization Stop The Wall. This has led to the Israel-based organization NGO Monitor decrying MCC as “promoting a radical pro-Palestinian agenda.”

While MCC’s efforts to end conflict and aid communities in Palestine/Israel have seemingly shed a negative light on the organization for some in this highly politicized arena, it is clear that their focus remains global. And, despite this wide focus, the Mennonite Central Committee continues to provide aid and funding to local organizations that have real tangible impact upon the lives of those less fortunate across the world.

– Coleman Durkin

Sources: Mennonite Central Committee, ReliefWeb, NGO Monitor
Picture: Mennonite Central Comittee

Mercy Corps
Mercy Corps works to save and improve lives in some of the most impoverished places on earth. Since it was founded in 1979, the NGO has worked in war-torn and poverty-ridden countries to turn crises into opportunities. 95% of their staff are local residents working in nations like Somalia, Afghanistan, the Congo and Iraq.

The countries in which Mercy Corps works have several things in common. Usually children’s lives are at risk, women’s education is ignored, and there is little chance for economic growth. The organization helps to provide and build food security and create educational and economic opportunities. Their method is to listen to the locals and prioritize urgent needs first. They look at long-term and innovative solutions that bring systemic change.  Through taking responsible risks and thinking big, the organization is able to help large numbers of individuals.

Mercy Corps believes communities work best when they work for their own growth and change. They believe local markets provide sustainable recovery and good governance is the foundation to success. They focus their work on places in transition either from conflict, natural disasters, or political upheaval. They start with emergency relief and move to long-term goals to create communities that can withstand future shocks.

To get involved with Mercy Corps, check out their website at  They have lots of opportunities from donating money to fundraising to attending events or visiting their office in Portland. They also have a list of open positions and offer internships for those interested in a longer or more permanent position.

It is evident that the organization is making a difference in some of the toughest places on earth. Lives are being saved and communities are being changed through the work Mercy Corps does.

– Amanda Kloeppel
Source: Mercy Corps