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One of the “unfair advantages” of being an African founder of Hiinga is that I intimately understand the problems we are trying to solve. I have lived in poverty, faced hunger, lived in the poorest of the villages and I do understand the local market. According to Muhamma Yunus, the grandfather of Microfinance, the 3 great characteristics of a Social Business Entrepreneur (I don’t understand the difference between this term and just a Social Entrepreneur) are 1. Passion (I have more than I need), 2. In-depth understanding of the local community and market (I am a poster-child), and 3. Ability to attract talented people to work with them (we are working on this!).

And yet, it seems, at this early stage of our venture, one of my biggest disadvantages has been being African. Unfortunately, most of Africa in general has a bad reputation for corruption that pervades all spheres, from politics, to the police, to the church, and even the media. So many times it does not help that I am Christian, therefore I am called to the Christian standards and ethics. For even Christians fall, whether in Africa or America. The perception from a lot of people that all Africans are corrupt leaves a sour taste in my gut. And yet, the fault is ours, as Africans, as a people. This reputation is from the endless corruption that plagues our systems, whether its in Uganda or Nigeria or Kenya or Angola. The richest black woman is from Africa, with a net worth estimated to be around $3billion. She is the daughter of the president, and the levels of poverty in her country are appalling.

Still, for the west to blanket every rest of us as corrupt and thieves is not only wrong but prejudiced, just as its wrong for Africans to assume that every successful entrepreneur on the continent is connected to echelons of power. Before you invest in any organization, before you entrust them with funds that you have worked so hard for, do your due diligence as is expected of any wise person. You will be pleasantly surprised by how many African organizations out there are doing the right thing, not because they want to please you, but merely because they are called to higher standards.

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About 15 months ago, I founded Hiinga Microfinance, an agricultural nonprofit social enterprise investing in poor farmers in Africa to rise above poverty (both physical and spiritual).  Founding a nonprofit organization is not for the faint-hearted. It is hard, really hard. Yet, we have many nonprofits opening and even more closing. It is postulated that as many as 9 out of 10 new nonprofits fold within their second year – mostly due to funding problems. Founding and running a nonprofits or social enterprises has many challenges some that are not related to money but have a huge bearing on the longevity of the organization.

When I was starting out, I tried to find a co-founder. I approached an alma mater that I knew had more experience than myself in the development world. Having worked for several global development organizations around the world, I thought he would be a great partner. He loved the subject that we were dealing with; poverty and hunger from a social enterprise model. He had traveled with Ashoka to Brazil – truly he understood the social enterprise model. But he would not join me – at this point he was a director with an International agency earning a great pay-check. With a young family, the risk was too great for him to work with me on zero pay for a long period of time. I looked for other options, including websites such as founder2be or newer ones like Founders Lab.  As you will realize, most of these are tech-centric.

Finding a co-founder is not easy, but it’s really worth the try. There are several advantages, when you are a nonprofit start-up, to finding someone to create synergies. Finding a partner that can complement your skills, keep you accountable and transparent, and their sheer presence can keep you motivated when the low-downs hit. A cord of three strands is not easily broken, you have heard it said, and it can be any truer with starting organizations, if you have a partner that works together well and fully grasps the vision that you both have and set out to achieve.

In the absence of cash to hire talent at the beginning, your best talent is your co-founder. You will battle together, cry together, triumph together, and change the world together.

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Since the fall of 2012, I have been focussing exclusively on our agriculture social enterprise, Hiinga.  I have always desired to blog about that adventure from a personal point of view but didn’t know exactly where to blog it- certainly not on the Hiinga website as the blog is reserved entirely for Hiinga related progress. I started tumbler blogs, bought new domains, did this and that but it didn’t feel right. While Sonya, my wife will continue to do photography and serve her clients, I am going to use the spare space to write about my journey.

Starting a social enterprise or nonprofit has been the hardest thing I have ever done but it has also been the most rewarding. The pay off is the lives that we have been able to change by both our sweat and theirs. Let no one deceive you, money is the number one need for a nonprofit. Without it, you can’t do programs, hire smart people, or scale your operations. But in the ever decreasing source of funding, how can a start-up nonprofit creatively expand its tentacles?

Beginning this week, I will be trying to take advantage of LinkedIn and its vast database of individuals to get new connections and meetings. For some of you, you may have done this already, but for others, this could be your “aha moment – why did I never think of that?” Most of us use LinkedIn to connect with potential employers or to scout for talent. A nonprofit can use LinkedIn to connect with potential donors. One of my board members asked me to go through his connections, make notes on whom I wanted to connect with, and then he would make the introduction. Surely, why had I never thought of that?

You do not want to go on LinkedIn and start sending unsolicited emails to strangers. What you need to do, find someone that has credibility and is involved in your mission, and then ask them to introduce you to their network on LinkedIn. When they introduce you, they have bought you instant credibility. Take advantage of that and begin building relationships with your new introductions. Before you know it (usually takes time), they will either support your cause (if your mission aligns with them or if you find a way to align your mission with their interests) and they will introduce you to other people. I am telling you this as much as I am telling myself – because, I am starting on this now!