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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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As we move into a lot of humanitarian work, I am rarely calling myself (Andy) a photographer as much. And yet, everybody knows me as a photographer. I learned very early on that photography was always going to be a platform. In the spirit of The Lord’s word in Proverbs 18:16 –  A man’s gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men. I literally believed that. And I have seen doors open because of the gift of image making, that The Lord alone has given me. Even as I pursue this other higher calling, photography will always be the way in which I communicate and create. We have blogged less often about our family and I believe from now we will do that more and more. Below is a photograph that our friend Raymond took at our home in Lancaster, PA on their recent visit.

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Apr.5 2012, posted in Personal

My mission, now that I live in the Lancaster city is to enjoy it to the maximum. My number one of enjoying it will be to photograph it with my phone, day in day out. So, this morning as I left home to go to my meeting in downtown Lancaster, I took an unfamiliar road. I can’t even remember it. I pulled my motorcycle next to the curb and pulled out my iPhone, snapped a few photographs that are full processed by iPhone apps and resized through photoshop to fit the dimensions of my custom blog.

This church in Lancaster is a perfect one for weddings. The location is great! Lancaster has some of the finest traditional architecture complete with exquisite brick and mortar walls. I will be photographing more of these buildings, and posting them. I also will try to keep bringing updates from my street on South Ann. So far no incidents, but I want to be able to document the life on that street, either through words but preferably through photographs – even though that might be a little too dangerous. What do you think of these photographs?

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Finally we have moved home and are now living in Lancaster city. After years of staying in Manheim township and then months in Brickerville, we have embarked on a new journey of city living, and not just anywhere but South Ann Street! Inner city!
As with any moving, this one has also been crazy.

I for one hate moving passionately but was very excited about this one. I am now close to people, a lot of people and I love that. Plus, many a ticities do happen in the city that we have usually missed. It is also cheaper in the long run. For example, the Brickerville commute was costing us about $60 in gas every week, has a large yard for maintaining etc.

There are several reasons why we have moved to the city and I am wondering if I should make a dedicated blog for it, but let me just say that for now, life is exciting, it’s a new chapter and we do love our new house. I will post some photos of the new house and the old one. We did not move with any furniture and are looking for offers. Craigslist is another place we are looking for deals.

Oh, we don’t have the Internet yet but the convenience of the city is such that I can jump on my new motorcycle and go to prince street cafe and use their wifi on my device! The photo below is an iPhone photograph taken at night.

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If you live in the city and would like to come and welcome us please do. And bring gifts!

If you live in Lancaster city or any city or have any experiences living in the city, what are they?

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A few weeks ago, myself and a few other Lancaster Photographers grabbed our gear, went downtown, set up shop, and took portraits in a give back gesture. We also had other volunteers that included make-up artists, hair stylists, and many other volunteers. I grabbed my light and handy Elinchrom Ranger RX battery power pack that makes my on location photography so seamless. For light modification, I took the elinchrom rotalux deep octa 27″ softbox which is also handy; small, but big enough for individual portraits and small group photos. It is not heavy, and if your are shooting inside  where there is no wind, there is hardly any need for sandbags. I am a fun of one light photography, and the elinchrom system gets the results for me. I also had a the Westcott 40″ – 5 in one reflector which I found no need for as I found another photographer with a similar set up (I used their neat brown paper backdrop) for these photographs below.

Back to giving back to Lancaster! When scripture says it is better to give than to receive, it is very hard for us to believe, or even process! For boy, I love receiving. I love gifts, I love free stuff. I love to receive! In fact, if you and I stop right now and reflect a little bit about that, the truth will at first, slowly sift into our minds and then suddenly bring us to the realization that every one loves to receive. To love them, as we are commanded to love one another as ourselves, would imply that we need to give to people, because if we wear their shoes for one passing moment, we will understand only too well what it would mean to them. But that’s not the bottomline. How can giving be better than receiving? Well, if you have ever been on the side of giving; and I don’t mean those instances when you share leftovers or pass on used clothing; the genuine “it costs me something” giving, you realize that the genuine happiness of the recepient gives you some inner satisfaction and joy that one can’t buy. This exactly what happened to most of us when we went out to offer free professional portraits to families and children. Boy, the photos from that event are some of my all time favorite!

I hope that you too will give or continue giving back to your community. Everyone has something to give. I do not have a lot of money to give, but I have gifts and talents and abilities, and so do you. Everyone has something to give. Do not hoard it, give it back. I can’t wait to give back in this same way to my Ugandan community in Kampala, Gulu, Mbale, everywhere, and of course to Rwanda, Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania, and Burundi, South Africa and Jamaica…oh, I want to give photos, photos, photos! Please continue checking the progress with our new initiative, VillageServe, coming soon. Together, through this social enterprise, we will give back and impact thousands of small farmers in Africa.

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Nov.29 2011, posted in Africa

My photo-blogsite is not just a place for photo blogs, weddings, engagements, etc. It is also my platform from which my voice about Africa can be heard. As an African migrant living in America – a very wealthy country, I desire to see some of that wealth transferred into Africa through creating business opportunities (for both Africans and Americans). Yet, solutions to Africa’s problems of poverty, hunger (famine), disease (HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, etc) and conflict (civil wars, coup de tats etc) corruption and a host of other problems  lie in economic empowering of the masses through jobs creation through business opportunities. Even though we have seen again and again that the old way of doing charity doesn’t work, that is still the common practice.

Make no mistake! Africa is the last frontier (read the definition of market frontier here, only that part!)  in terms of investing in Africa, and the time for investing in Africa is now! According to The Next-Web, within the next 4 years, mobile growth and penetration is set to increase by a staggering 60%, bringing the total number of cell phone and mobile computing system owners to about 1 billion people! Now that is phenomenal. It is therefore not rocket science that people who invest in technological applications, data services, mobile apps, etc will reap big. It also means that there is still room for newer or foreign telecommunications companies such as the UK’s O2 to enter the African market and earn a buck. But most importantly, it means that African entrepreneurs, investors and developers are presented with an opportunity of a lifetime.

There are many growth areas in Africa. Agriculture, housing construction and infrastructure development, mining and manufacturing; all these are areas still in their infancy or totally untapped but promise a lot potential. For someone trying to reap big, Africa is no longer that place that you shun as volatile, unstable, etc. Recent history shows us, as Reuters News put it two years ago while quoting the BRIC Report, that it as risky to invest in Africa as it is to invest on Wall Street. So the wise investor will spread their capital across the spectrum but the wiser investor must include Africa in their investment plans. If I were the chief executive of a technology or telecommunications company such as the UK’s O2, I would seriously push to invest in Africa. This Wall Street Journal Report gives as a snapshot on how some investors including big name organizations such as Wall-mart have found their way into Africa even though the same report is quick to underscore how small businesses and enterprises are finding it difficult to raise money.

If you are entrepreneur looking to invest in Africa, regardless of your weight, you could talk to investment advisory firms such as the Africa Maven Group which is made of young African entrepreneurs looking to establishing connections and advisory for business and people looking to invest in Africa. As most of you know, I am working hard to push our non profit social enterprise for Africa called VillageServe that will work to provide opportunities for village communities in Africa through training, providing start up costs and creating vast markets (investing in small farmers of Africa). Please contact me if you have more questions about this program and how you can be involved.

 

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Around 1960, the world’s population was about 3 billion. By the turn of the last century, the population had doubled! Today, the population, according to data from the UN Population Fund will hit the magic figure; 7 billion. The BBC has an online application that if you place into the box your date, month and year that you were born, it will show where you fit in the 7 billion. For example, if I were born on June 25, 1983, I was the 4,693,296,339th person to be alive, and the 79,424,999,362nd to have ever lived. Whether this algorithm is on the mark or not is very inconsequential. The fact of the matter is that humanity is around the 7 billion point now, and counting. By 2050, all things remaining constant, we will be about 9.3 billion people. If you are my age, or 35 years and below, the odds are that you could be alive; and the signs are that (if we stay with business as usual), it will be a difficult time.

Let’s bring 7 billion people into perspective. What does it really mean in very ordinary terms? It means more cars, more homes, more mouths. It means more hunger, more deforestation, more poverty, and more conflict. It means less food, less water, it simply means less of everything that we need. There is no doubt that conflicts around the world will continue to be resource based. It will not be about oil, gold or diamonds. This time, it will be about food and water. Already, we have witnessed a slew of corporations and countries running to Africa in search of cheap land and water to feed their populations. But in the places where they seek these resources, populations are growing unchecked, while resources continue to dwindle.

Poverty is very closely connected with bad environmental practices in the third world. Paradoxically, it is even worse in richer countries, where hunger, conflict and diseases are not a major worry. But in many third world countries, the tree cover has vanished due to massive encroachment on natural vegetation by local populations who lack alternative sources of energy. Environmental degradation is in all time highs, food yields have drastically declined and water sources are drying. The ramifications of climate change affect everybody, and yet, we don’t seem to be united in effecting meaningful change to bad practices and finding long term solutions. It is not lost on the whole world that the United States, the world’s biggest emitter of green house gases shied away from signing the Kyoto Protocol (1997). It is almost 20 years later and one can’t imagine the changes that could have happened had the USA taken the lead and shown commitment to this global challenge that we all face.

The solutions that Africa need are well known and they are achievable. Africa is a dumping site for old Asian vehicles, especially from Japan, and this could change if Africa invested more in durable infrastructure that would give people the confidence to start investing in newer vehicles and vehicle manufacturing plants. But this could be considered a minor problem as more than 90 percent of the Sub Saharan African population still can’t afford a used vehicle, or even costs of maintaining one. The real problem is energy for home consumption. Rural electrification in Sub Sahara Africa is at 12 percent. Yes, one, two, three…thirteen, fourteen percent! Even in Urban Sub Sahara Africa, electricity access is at about 55 percent. In short, more than 45% of the people that dwell in urban areas do not have electricity. And that’s not all, in the cities, the other 45% who have electricity, they probably don’t have it all week and sporadically experience power outages during the week. And to bring it further home, only about 5 to 10 percent of the 45 percent can afford to use the electricity for cooking, water heating, and other high electric consuming tasks.

Therefore, 90 percent of the rest of the populations in Sub Saharan Africa have their hopes fixed on trees. Not for shade, for beauty, or for the climate but for fuel or firewood. When I was consulting for the Government of Uganda and the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) during the Juba Peace Process, one of the recommendations I made after thoroughly touring Northern Uganda, was to mobilize the communities through radio and have them plant trees, each family a few trees every year. But like most recommendations made to the Ugandan government, it was swept under the rug. 7 billion people today, and a few million following shortly is just not cool. I don’t think that the babies in our bodies are crying out loud to have us produce them. They certainly don’t want to come to this earth that we are simply destroying. They don’t look forward to the tsunamis, the droughts, the landslides, the flooding, the climate change. I bet you, and you know it that they’d rather be where they are right now. That’s how much we have sucked!

So, where doyou fit in the 7 billion? Does it matter? Yes, it does, but only if where you fit isn’t just in the numbers, but in doing things that will consciously improve the place that we live in. We don’t own it. So we must become good stewards.