Georgie Fienberg is the founder and International Director of AfriKids, a Child Rights Organisation, which works alongside indigenous communities in Northern Ghana to improve the quality of life for rejected and vulnerable children. AfriKids aims to listen to the community, empower them to make changes themselves and ultimately to achieve sustainability so that the UK partner no longer needs to exist and AfriKids Ghana can support itself.
Tell me a bit about your experience with partnership working in international development?
I am the founder and international director of AfriKids, an NGO which is based in the UK and works with one main partner, AfriKids Ghana in northern Ghana. I started AfriKids because I was inspired by what local people were doing to support child rights and disillusioned by how badly they had been overlooked by the existing aid infrastructure. These people became my first partners in Ghana and one of them, Nich Kumah, began to co-ordinate our projects as they grew after registration in 2002 and became a natural leader. Nich registered AfriKids Ghana as an NGO and has led it’s development, with my support since then. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have found Nich and the team he has built around him. Everything AfriKids has achieved, which is a considerable amount, is thanks to having such a fantastic partner and what I believe is an exceptionally positive and close working relationship. That’s not to say it’s all been easy, we’ve had some challenges with partners on particular projects and unfortunately we’ve had to end some of those relationships.
What do you think are the key things that need to be in place for a partnership to work well?
Trust and mutual respect. We underpin the trust and respect with robust systems of accountability, which are essential to good development practice. But what really makes our partnership with AfriKids Ghana work is that we trust their judgment when it comes to caring for children and prioritising their work and they trust ours when it comes to fundraising. All of my staff visit Ghana and many from Ghana visit us, which means we’ve been able to develop personal links between the organisations and foster a sense of shared purpose and mutual respect; we all know we have the same vision for northern Ghana and are working towards it together.
Can you tell me about an experience you’ve had which you felt was partnership working at it’s most effective?
Most of our work is planned, we’re not an emergency relief body and we don’t have reserve funding for extra projects. However, northern Ghana is a really poor part of the world and we’re confronted with desperate cases we’d like to help every day. I can’t possibly begin to work out which children we should support and which we shouldn’t but thank goodness, Nich can. In October 2007 we met a little girl together in Bolgatanga Regional Hospital, she had been badly burned six months previously and had been languishing, untreated in the hospital since then. The family couldn’t afford the cost of sending her to the specialist burns unit in the south and couldn’t even pay the outstanding fees for her current hospital stay. It was a particularly tight time for funding but Nich insisted that this girl could survive and we were her only lifeline so we must find a way to support. When I came back we launched an appeal and used up many of our precious asks with donors. Luckily this case touched their hearts and we raised over £5k in a week. Two years in and out of hospital and three operations later Asokipala is now a healthy young lady living at home. She is training to be a seamstress, she had a baby boy last year and this year she’s coming to the UK to celebrate AfriKids’ 10 year anniversary. If I didn’t have Nich’s judgment to lean on and he our fundraising ability that girl would have been lost.
Are you willing to share an example of something that you were involved in that didn’t go well?
Our original project supported a babies’ home in rural northern Ghana. It had originally been set up by the church and a local priest was responsible for its oversight. AfriKids quickly became the main funder and, encouraged by the community, requested that we have a place on the management board and that more places were also made available to community members. The priest in question was resistant to this and reluctant to share records of how our funding had been used. To this day I do not believe there was any corruption involved but there was a cultural gulf between the priest’s approach to managing community affairs and my own to managing funds, which we could not bridge. In the end we had to end that partnership but I would like to note that this is not representative of the work AfriKids has done with the church. We have worked with many excellent priests and nuns in northern Ghana and they are represented on AfriKids Ghana’s management board and among our current partners.
What are the key things you think need to happen to improve partnership practice across the sector?
That’s a tricky one! AfriKids is privileged because we only work with one partner and have donors that are very generous with their airmiles, meaning we can visit each other frequently. This time spent working together side by side is undoubtedly what strengthens our bonds the best and which allows us to build on that trust and respect which I believe are at the heart of good partnership. I think the more people in this sector can see and understand each other as colleagues and equals the better partnership practice will be.
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