Why is it so hard to find funding for fighting Covid-19 in Africa?
Him: I don’t know who I am talking to, when I deal with you, Ahmadou.
Me: I don’t understand, you are talking to me, Ahmadou, the guy you saw back in January 2020 in Dakar (Senegal).
Him: Yes, but I don’t know if I am talking to you Ahmadou, the private person, to you Ahmadou as the member of the Airbus Africa Community, or you Ahmadou, the employee from Airbus.
Me: Well, I am all of them as one. I don’t see your problem.
Him: For me, it is not the same. I appreciate you trying to help. But I am not able to know which position is yours. And what we need right now is filament, 3D printers and financial support.
Me: Yes, I know. I am not able to provide that because I am just a guy trying to help. THe best I can give now is my time, my energy and my network.
Him: Yes I know. But this is more than what we need now. And thank you for personally contributing to our fundraising. But we expected more from you, when all of this started.
“Him” is one friend and comrade in Dakar, Senegal, who has set up a collective of makers trying to fight Covid-19 in Dakar, Senegal.
I am personally involved in 2 actions in the fight against Covid-19 in Africa as a member of the Airbus Africa Community.
And finding funding for these two initiatives has been a challenge for me and the people involved.
The first initiative is the SN 3D COVID 19 initiative in Dakar, Senegal, which aims at printing 20 000 faces shields and distributing them for free to the medical people all over Senegal.
As I am writing this article, their fundraising of “just” $ 5 000 US has been going on since the 11 of April 2020 and they still haven’t reached their target.
The second initiative is a collective called “MakersNordSudContreLeCoronavirus”, which aims at providing equipment, machinery and plastic recycling machines to the Reffao (Réseau Francophone des Fablabs de l’Afrique de l’Ouest) so that they can be resilient and autonomous to fight Covid-19 and beyond that, be able to locally manufacture and provide open source medical equipment to those who need it in West Africa.
Coming back to the discussion before, I will try to share the frustration of my friend about not knowing with whom he was dealing with, when talking to me.
The story goes back in March 2020. In Toulouse, France, the Covid-19 was hitting the country hard.
In Senegal, the first cases appear. The two initial cases are from 2 French citizens who live in Senegal. They decide to go to France for holidays. After their stay, they fly back to Dakar, bearing one gift, the Covid-19. And this is how it stars in Senegal. The 3rd case was a community cluster in the holy city of Touba, Senegal.
A guy living in Italy is eager to attend this religious gathering, which happens every year in Touba. So there he is in a city with thousands of people, shaking hands, kissing hands, hugging each other.
He just forgot to mention that Italy was in the middle of the Covid-19 outbreak when he sneaked away.
I read an article from the New York Times about how Africa was missing ventilators. I automatically think about my parents, my family and all the 16 millions people living in Senegal, which at that time had only 20 ventilators for the whole country. Yet the country has 32 members in the government.
When I read this article, I panic right away. I take my phone and contact my friend in Whatsapp. Do you know people with 3D printers, because at Airbus in Spain, we are working on a prototype of a ventilator?, I asked. This is how the SN 3D COVID 19 started.
One month later, we were having the argument about who I was: Ahmadou, Africa Community or Airbus?
I made a mistake after he started assembling the collective.
We created a chat group with 15 to 20 people, ranging from people owning a 3D printer to Fablab managers and medical people.
I said: Hi, I am Ahmadou, a member of the Airbus Africa community, let’s fight against Covid-19.
Lot of people understood: “This guy is from Airbus. Airbus has a lot of money. He can bring us financial support. Let’s jump in.”
That was my mistake which led to the argument about which Ahmadou I was.
I should have, right at the beginning, clarified that, even if I am an Airbus employee, member of the Africa Community within the company, I got zero mandate and zero money from Airbus to bring to the table.
Without knowing it, I created some expectations that I was not able to fulfill. THe lesson here for me is, for the future, to clarify my intentions when I join an initiative as an Airbus Africa Community employee.
The Airbus Africa Community is an ERG (Employee Resource Group) of employees without any budget as most of ERGs in a lot of companies. Within Airbus I tried to see if there were some ways to get some funding for this initiative.
Below some samples of the answers I received:
Random Rerson 01 (RP 01): Yeah you know, Covid-19, airlines crisis, no money coming in, …No!
RP 02: You know we don’t fund directly organizations like this, paper work, maybe, …No!
And my favorite one so far:
RP 150: You, the AAC, are scattered and just a sum of individuals, go create a committee, a steering board, get some backing from VP (Very Powerful?) people, fill in those forms, bla bla bla, and then we might help you get you some funding eventually, …, No!
THere I am, between an unstoppable force of Covid 19 in Africa, an unmovable people within Airbus.
On one side, in Senegal, people expect me to just be Airbus and all it represents in terms of financial success, without taking into account the reality of the Aerospace industry.
To them, I say: I am here to help, so take me as I am.
On the other side, in Airbus, I am a guy, who has no legitimacy because he is not a VP, has zero reason to get funding, or even if he wants to, he has to bow down first.
To them, I say: I am here to stay, so take me as I am.
I love Senegal and I love Airbus as both are part of my identity and both are providing me with amazing resources to have an impact in this world.
The situation is similar for the “MakersNordSudContreLeCoronavirus” but in a different way. In this case, the hurdle comes from the fact that we are facing the French administration and organizations. Each time we present the project, people are very enthusiastic.
Yet it’s too late or too early on their funding timeline.
Or we have to fill in a template that will be submitted to a committee and we might get an answer in 2 months, top.
Being in the middle of it, feeling the urgency of the actions to be taken, I feel disconnected with people hiding behind their organisations’ processes, forms or policies as excuses to not take actions.
In Africa, in Sengal in particular, the feedback I have received from my friend above is that they are furious and frustrated. They see European/american funds being poured into the country via the government. And in most of African countries, corruption is the first national sport. While the people in the frontline use the money from their own pocket to build 3D objects to fight the Covid-19 crisis, they see how the money from outside the country is embezzled for personnel use.
I am not saying that corruption is not present in France or elsewhere in the EU or the US. I just believe that the impact of corruption is more visible, not challenged and has more negative impact in Africa.
I have been feeling angry, powerless and exhausted while fighting for supporting people saving lives in Senegal and in Africa.
I might not have the money, I might not have the power. Yet I have been gifted by my words and my voice. This is what I am using right now because this is all I can give.
I believe that it can make a difference in someone’s life in a remote village in Senegal.
Because as long as I raise my voice, I have made my choice. I make the choice to use what I have to change the world and not to complain about what other people are doing wrong.
I chose action over reaction.
To answer my friend, I will say:
I am a “White” French guy from Airbus.
I am a “Black” Senegalese guy from Africa.
I am Airbus, I am Senegal.
I am Airbus Africa.
I am “Black”, I am “White”.
I am Ahmadou.
I am an Oreo.
And who doesn’t like Oreos?
A big thank you to Hanan Bihi for your advice to share this story.
What kind of fundraising issues did you face for your cause?
What is your experience being pulled apart while fighting for what’s important for you?
Any tips on how to raise funds more efficiently?
Leave a comment below.
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You can read my previous article on Why Black Lives Matter to me?
Photo by Kat Yukawa on Unsplash