You see how the entire world is quiet? All of us had anticipated a Hilary Clinton win, and I had no doubt about it, especially from the media outpouring of support for her, and the negative reportage on Trump.
I had spent nearly four hours writing Simpa Panyin with Clinton’s win in mind, just waiting for the final declaration so that I could include the press facts about the elections.
I have many friends who are closer to Hilary, so I guess I know more about her than I do about Trump.
The first time I heard of Trump was when I saw a tall tower in Chicago with Trump on it. That same day I saw him on television hosting a program. When I told my friend, who is an American, that I liked Trump, she was like, “what!?”.
I liked him because he spoke business, and spoke like someone who had answers to all the challenges in entrepreneurship.
However, it turned out that nearly all my American friends liked Hilary Clinton more. So within a few months I was a Hilary convert, but still with the towers of Trump’s images on my mind.
But here I am, with barely two hours to press time, with Hilary’s pre-meditated win story written in my hands, but faced with Trump’s eventual win, how do I go to the press?
Obviously I don’t know much about Trump, so I cannot write much on the spell of the moment. What should I do with this story? Should I call the editor to give him an excuse?
Anyway, I have not told you about what happened over the weekend. Last weekend the Association of Ghana Industries held its 5th annual awards dinner, and Challenging Heights was adjudged Ghana’s Social Enterprise of the year 2016.
I dedicate this award to all of my American friends, regardless of where you stand, and regardless of how you feel about the outcome of the elections; the real heroes are those of you who believe in the cause of humanity.
It has been nearly 12 years of Challenging Heights working with women and children. It has been both exciting and a lot of challenges on the way.
It has been both a fulfilling experience, and a daunting journey. Sometimes my energy has completely dissipated, and I have gotten to situations where I have lost so much steam, that continuing the journey has simply been because I live.
In the year 2003 when I decided to start Challenging Heights, I did not anticipate an NGO, I did not anticipate that I was going to abandon my banking profession to pursue this as a full time passion. I did not even understand the concept of NGO and how it worked.
I was only determined to see that changes happened in my local community, and for this I was willing to give up everything and anything to see those changes happen.
I could safely estimate that the vast majority of the children in my community at the time never attended school. I could estimate that there were more working children, there were more children trafficked to Lake Volta than there were in school. Several of my community members traded in children for the purposes of fishing labor exploitation, and this industry kept growing.
This was always a disgusting issue to think of. While I was in the University, I felt so desperate to do something about this situation, and I recall being frustrated for my inability to help due to schooling.
This made me pick many fights with some of the community members who gave their children out to fishermen for money. I knew no bounds; I boiled, I complained, I picked fights, and I did everything to attract attention to the problem.
So when I had the opportunity to work with Barclays Bank, I was so determined that whatever the cost, I will stop this issue of trafficking of children in my community, and nothing was going to stop me from realizing this dream.
I devoted 60% of my salary toward this project. I did so freely, voluntarily, and effortlessly, and it worked so magically, that within a short time I was able to get so many children into schools. Although there was no name to what I was doing, the children understood the concept so perfectly that the whole thing became like a movement on its own.
It was an eruption of the energy that had been bottled up within me for several years, and this eruption further unlocked the energies of the children in the community who, I observed, were also not happy with the fact that their parents were trading in children for exploitation.
It was in February 2005 that the mission, whatever it was, was registered. I registered it because it had grown beyond what I initially anticipated, and I could not contain the momentum without getting it formalized, and needed to position the movement to receive support from sources other than me.
Challenging Heights received its first international funding in June 2007 from the Global Fund for Children. This was to support the evening school project I had started with the children. This was the first open door to getting Challenging Heights this far.
We have since then supported several hundreds of women and children, in at least 40 different communities across six regions of Ghana.
We have built our own child trafficking survivors rehabilitation center, operates our own rescue boat, operates 50-seat capacity library, computer programs, schools, livelihood programs for women, youth employment programs for young adults, and many other projects. All together, including our business ventures, Challenging Heights currently employs over 200 staff.
In order to ensure future financial sustainability for the organization, we created other income generating social enterprises around Challenging Heights.
We operate a restaurant, a media company, a cold store, a football club, and two other enterprises which are yet to be launched.
That is why I have always told young interested social entrepreneurs that the first step in starting a Social Enterprise is not the amount of money you can have access to.
Please note that it took me nearly four years before receiving the first external grant, in between that I had to sacrifice everything of mine.
In my view the personal passion, the personal sacrifice, the personal believe and dedication to the cause, are the most important first steps to running a successful Social Enterprise. Supporters of such organizations are interested in knowing the nature of the passion behind the social cause you are pursuing and your personal investment in that vision.
Starting and managing Social Enterprise is more challenging than people might think. The challenges are multi faceted.
You face your own dreams, you face your own communities, you face resource constraints, and you face the very people who you wish to help. It includes balancing the initial motivation for starting the enterprise, and making sure that you have access to the tools that will keep the passion alive.
After I officially registered Challenging Heights, I went to so many already established NGO executives for ideas in how to manage such enterprises.
And here I wish to pay tribute to my friends Bright Appiah of the Child Rights International, Ken Donkor, then of the Futures Resources, and a number of other individuals at Plan Ghana, for helping with the needed starting technical support.
Through it all, I have had my down times, and I have had my excitements. There were several times that I had felt so low, so dejected, so disappointed in life, so daunting, that I have come so close so many times to quitting the social sector.
There have been times that I have been confronted with so much pains, so much trauma, and there have been times that I have lost so much energy, that the only thing that kept me going is the focus on the children.
I am definitely in a transitional period. I think Challenging Heights has developed enough for me to give part of the control to fresh energies, to continue with the vision. I do not want to perpetuate myself on the organization for life.
Anyway after winning 14 major international awards, including the most converted World Children’s Prize, Grinnell Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize, C10 award, and many more, I think it is about time I allowed others some control to be in charge, and to help with the decision making while I do other things that will further promote even bigger causes.
So now you see? That is exactly why Simpa Panyin was born! I think our country needs more of its citizens to help point out the issues, and help demand responsibility and accountability within our governance institutions.
I feel so angry and disgusted at some of the things that happen within some of our state institutions. Many children are not in school. Child poverty is high. There are only a limited number of jobs. We have poor sanitation, and yet the very state institutions put in charge have themselves become obstacles to socio-economic progress. I guess that is part of my next stop.
Source: James Kofi Annan/ email: [email protected]
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