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Entrepreneur Works With African Nonprofits On Fundraising, Branding

Entrepreneur Works With African Nonprofits On Fundraising, Branding

Liz Ngonzi wears many hats: an educator, a nonprofit consultant, marketing expert, and entrepreneur.

Born in Uganda and raised in New York, Ngonzi works as an adjunct instructor at New York University Heyman Center for Philanthropy. She is also entrepreneur-in-residence at Cornell University.

With a passion for working with nonprofits and promoting entrepreneurship in Africa, Ngonzi is a board member of Africans in the Diaspora, or AiD, and she works to leverage the funding and knowledge power of the African Diaspora to partner with organizations in Africa.

Around 2004, she started consulting with nonprofits and working with them on branding, fundraising, marketing and events. In 2009, she began working with organizations in Southern and East Africa with an emphasis on online fundraising and branding.

Ngonzi spoke with AFK Insider about the challenges facing nonprofits in Africa, how they are using digital tools to overcome them, and the importance of entrepreneurship on the continent.

AKF Insider: What challenges are especially critical for nonprofits to address in Africa and Uganda?

Ngonzi: One of the biggest challenges for them is having to finally deal with building their brands. In the past, they were funded by the European Union and they would apply for grants, get the grants, and that was it. Around 2008 and 2009, when the whole world’s economy went through what it did, that funding dried up significantly. All of a sudden, these organizations went from having this source of reliable funding that didn’t require much to get, to now having to figure out who they are.


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They were developing their brands, figuring out how to differentiate themselves from other organizations, and starting to fundraise. But one of the biggest challenges is that most people — from the U.S. — are used to funding organizations from here that are doing the work in Africa. If you’re a small water project in Africa, you’re competing against charity. It’s really hard. You don’t have the base here, so you have to find that marketing muscle and funding. Comparatively, it can be daunting.

How are nonprofits in Africa using technology and online tools to connect with supporters?

The Kenyans For Kenya Campaign… is my favorite for a number of different reasons. It’s a campaign from the fall of 2011. There was a big drought and famine in East Africa that affected Kenya in a major way. The major organizations, like the U.N. agencies and so on, came in to provide their support, but there was a gap. Some folks in Kenya decided that they wanted to figure out how to address the problem internally — Kenyans in Kenya and Kenyans in the Diaspora — and get them to raise the money.

They were able to do so leveraging social media to create awareness, offering online donations, and within the country using the M-Pesa mobile money system. This literally provided anybody an opportunity to participate and it meant that even the seemingly most-impoverished person who has a mobile phone and an M-Pesa account, could donate as little as three cents. But they were a part of the campaign and part of the solution.

How do the people in Africa view nonprofit organizations?

On the continent, there are a lot of people who don’t look at nonprofits as a good thing. The reason is, if you go to Uganda and you look at street parking, the nicest cars you are going to see are driven by the people who work for the international aid agencies, the international nonprofit organizations and the NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations). There is this thinking and skepticism by people that NGOs represent greed and they represent people who are coming to ‘save Africa’ but are really just taking advantage.

People will joke, “I want to make money; I’m going to start an NGO.” That is unfortunate, and ultimately, I feel that they should say, “I want to make money; I’m going to start a business.”

The reality is that 90 percent of African economies are informal. You do have a lot of petty trading and a lot of people…are involved in entrepreneurial activities. But in terms of formal firms, registered companies, that is the direction we need to go in in order to address all these issues related to development, economic development, jobs growth and so on. People or organizations looking to make an impact need to figure out how to invest in the creation of incubators or mechanisms to help spur entrepreneurial activity in a formalized manner.

How does entrepreneurship play a role in building up the economies of Africa?

In terms of true economic development and addressing the extremely high Uganda unemployment rate, you need to create jobs and those jobs will be created by businesses. It’s important to encourage, nurture, support, and help build these businesses. That’s ultimately how you are going to generate the jobs necessary and economic activity necessary to develop these economies on the continent.

As far as nonprofits go, my philosophy around thinking entrepreneurially is the same whether it’s in the U.S. or Africa. Because it’s an increasingly competitive sector, those organizations that are nimble and can think outside of the box and position themselves at the top amongst many, are the ones that will come out on top.

Organizations that have been around have to start thinking differently: they have to be willing to take risks, be able to innovate, and have more accountability to donors. Just like in the private sector, where you are accountable to your shareholders, there are now issues around transparency and demonstrating return on investment for nonprofits. Because we’re all in this troubled economy, donors are looking much more at bottom line. That’s what I mean about thinking entrepreneurially.