Sep 202012

by Guillermo Olivos, Assistant Director of Programming & Social Entrepreneurship, CSVC

I had the pleasure of joining about 60 of my peers this past Tuesday to see Charles Waigi speak to us about global philanthropy. Mr. Waigi stopped in to the Smith School as part of a month long tour in the USA, and was co-hosted by the Center for Financial Policy, the Center for International Business Education and Research, and the CSVC. He is eventually to receive the Williams College Bicentennial Medal for humanitarian recognition and alumni achievement from his own alma mater.

Yours truly, closing my eyes as photogenically as possible. To my left, M&O CSVC Faculty Committee Representative Prof. Paulo Prochno. In the row in front of me from left to right: Chris Olson (Global Programs,) Valerie Lubrano (MBA/MPP ’13,) and Martha West (MBA ’12.)

For a talk on a topic as broad as global philanthropy, I felt in understandably good company not knowing which direction Mr. Waigi’s lecture might take. Mr. Waigi took the reins admirably, taking a personal route and sharing with us how the philanthropic efforts of others enabled his own journey and early education. At a young age he won an award through a New York Herald Tribune grant to visit the U.S. based on an essay he wrote. In his college years, a number of scholarships supported his studies at Williams.

Mr. Waigi then went into a summary of his own work in education philanthropy and the building of Asante Africa Foundation, an education access organization working in Kenya and Tanzania. The mantra of Asante, as articulated in its brochure, can be summed up in a quote from Waigi himself: “Enriched minds will collectively find solutions to all other problems. No matter what poverty, illness, violence, or other problems people face, the only long-term solution is quality education.” The path forward, Waigi emphasized to the group, is two-pronged. First, a sort of “global village” of minds connected through social media and technology to co-exist and function collectively in these efforts. Second, a more investment-minded approach to philanthropy dollars and people-development is necessary for more expeditious progress in education equality- an approach that requires due diligence and follow through on monitoring the dollars you invest.

I found it fascinating that the Q&A quickly turned to metrics and measuring progress. In education, Mr. Waigi emphasized, it can be very difficult to find that “yardstick”. Personally, I can tell you that working within the Center for Social Value Creation we struggle with the same questions of how to measure impact and how to define success in our work. I am a fan of accountability and reporting measurable progress and action, but this challenge will always be present in progress beyond profit.

Without a universally agreed upon measure of progress, I believe the next best path forward (or perhaps the first) is to start from the bottom up with defining that yardstick. In the work of Asante Waigi spoke of his pride in the localized leadership model; I couldn’t agree more. Successful  initiatives born out of the roots of community tend to better integrate the cultural facets of strategic implementation that externally born engagements can miss. I truly enjoyed hearing Mr. Waigi speak and look forward to see what he and Asante do going forward into the future.

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