CorpsAfrica: Peace Corps by and for Africans

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This transcript is from a CSIS podcast published on October 19, 2023. Listen to the podcast here

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: Welcome to Into Africa. My name is Mvemba Phezo Dizolele. I'm a senior fellow and the director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. This is a podcast where we talk everything Africa: politics, economics, security, and culture. Welcome.

Africa is home to 1.4 billion people, and of those 1.4 billion Africans, 60 percent are below 25 years of age. That means around anywhere between 400 to maybe in excess of 600 million people are between the age of 15 and 35. That means Africa is a very young continent and I'd like to say that Africa is the continent of the future. It is not the continent of the future because of mineral resources, because of rare earth minerals, because of all this other stuff, climate change, the forest, and stuff that we often hear about.

I'll argue that Africa is the continent of the future exactly because of its young population. The, uh, demographics are in favor of Africa. Let us look at, uh, a couple numbers here. The average age, or the median age in Germany is 49 years old. The median age across the continent of Africa is estimated to be about 19 years old. That's a 30-year gap between Germany and Africa. In the United States, we've been told it's about 38, uh, median age, and China, similar.

This means that Europe is aging, if Germany is any indication of what's happening across Afri- across Europe, that means that continent is aging. In another 40 years, everybody will be 80 years old out there, and that will be an old people ward. This means, even though we have the rise of the extreme right, politically, and other thing, we need to think differently in how we engage Africa.

All the issues that the world will be contending with: climate change, workforce, security, et cetera, will find a big part of the solution in Africa. So, different countries, uh, being that Africa is so young, different countries in Africa have tried to address this problem differently, and I use problem here, not in a pejorative way, just as a challenge. If you- you have a young population, if half of your population, or more than half of your population is below 25, or below 19, you have a big challenge in front of you.

That challenge is to create job. That challenge is to send them to school. That challenge is to keep the peace. That challenge is to keep them happy. Otherwise, you have rebellion, then you have militias, you have protests. Nigeria, for instance, has something they call the National Service Corps, where Nigerian, after high school, serve in different capacities across their country.

Ghana has something called National Service Scheme. In the United States, we have AmeriCorps, Teach America, and several other initiatives that trying to tap into the force that the youth is. Churches also do this. In Africa, again, it varies from place to place, where you are. Uh, the Peace Corps was something that the United States created, although the mission was overseas.

Today, I'll like to talk to somebody about the state of volunteerism in Africa. How do we harness the youth and their energy and their creativity to push a country, to push a community forward, and that person who's joining me today on Into Africa to discuss the state of volunteerism, especially youth volunteerism in Africa, is Liz Fanning, who is the Founder and Executive Director of CorpsAfrica.

CorpsAfrica was modeled after the Peace Corps, from what I understand, but I'm eager to hear what Liz has to say. Liz, welcome to Into Africa.

Liz Fanning: Hi, Mvemba. Thanks so much for having me.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: Tell us, CorpsAfrica. It sounds militaristic. It sounds something corps.

Liz Fanning: (Laughs)

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: What is CorpsAfrica and, uh, what do you do?

Liz Fanning: Oh, gosh. That's the first time I've ever been told it sounds militaristic. The short answer is we're creating a second Peace Corps, by and for Africans. So, to give young Africans, uh, the chance to serve in high-poverty rural communities in their own countries, similar to the experience and the opportunity I h- I had with the Peace Corps in Morocco more than 30 years ago.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: So, what does that mean when you say it's like the Peace Corps by and for Africans?

Liz Fanning: We give college-educated young Africans the chance to take a year ... Peace Corps is two years. We are one year, but opportunity to extend. We train them, give them a very intensive training in, um, human-centered design, which is a facilitation skills, and asset-based community development, which is a mindset about going into communities and not saying, "What's wrong here? What do we need to fix?" but "What's right here? What can we build on?"

And so, these young, ambitious, idealistic, young Africans are volunteering to spend a year to go live in a high-poverty village and to listen to local people. One of the things, I think, that makes CorpsAfrica special is that we go in without any agenda whatsoever. Their role is to listen to local people and to connect them to the outside resources.

So, they spend a year. They start with what we call immersion projects. Right away, they're doing small projects, tree planting, building kitchen gardens, fuel-efficient cookstoves, small things, as they get acclimated into the community and to introduce themselves, and then they start facilitating community meetings and help the local people identify what the challenges are, what the highest priority development needs are, and then they come up with a project to address those needs, small-scale, high-impact project.

Usually, a well or a school renovation or a lot of irrigation projects, but we don't just do an irrigation project. We'll do ... we'll introduce innovation wherever we can. So, we'll do a solar-powered irrigation system, but these are all small-scale, high-impact. They're community-led. They don't choose what gets done. They don't manage the project. The project happens through the volunteers, not by them, and the community is required to invest as well.

10 percent, in cash, from the community, 25 percent, overall, of the total budget comes from the community and includes things like land donation, labor, those sorts of things. But we find that the cash donation is really key to the community having ownership and skin in the game.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: This is very interesting, uh, Liz. You use a lot of terms there that I'd like for us to dissect today. You said it's without agenda, listening to local community-

Liz Fanning: Yeah.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: ... small-scale, high-impact, community-led, and so on. So, let us go through those one by one. Uh-

Liz Fanning: Okay.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele:  ... one is what inspired you, yourself, to get to this point? We're gonna come to the other- the other topic, but you, yourself, served in the Peace Corps. What did you do when you were in the Peace Corps in Morocco and did that experience have anything to do with you creating this?

Liz Fanning: It had everything to do with it. Well, it had part to- partly to do with it. I was, um, you know, from the upper east side of Manhattan, and I was, you know, working away, and for a number of reasons, joined the Peace Corps. Went to live in a high-poverty rural villages in the high Atlas mountains of Morocco for two years. This is back in the mid-1990s, and I was an environmental volunteer.

We were doing solar ovens, we were doing tree planting projects, those sorts of things, and it was great. It was an incredible experience for me, and I really came to value and understand the complexity of these communities and how incredible these people are, and how capable, and, you know, I- I did feel, at the time, "Who am I to come here and help them? They- they are so skilled." What they needed, really, was to be connected to the resources and to be listened to, and organized, and facilitated, and encouraged.

So, I talk a lot about this woman that I had met at a café in Marrakesh, told her what I was doing as a Peace Corps volunteer, and she said, "It's so great what you're doing. I mean, it's so ... Thank you for- for helping my country. Can I be a Peace Corps volunteer? You know, I'm Moroccan. I want to help my country," and I had to say, "No, I'm sorry. It's only for Americans," and her question dogged me for 20 years.

Now, I look back and I- I feel like her question changed my life, but I didn't know it at the time. It really did stay with me for a long time, because she's- she's right. She deserves this opportunity, and there are so many educated, credible, ambitious, eager young Africans who are very capable of doing what we, as Americans, come from overseas to do, which is help the local people.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: And on that note, you know, I recently spoke to a group of, uh, you called them return, uh, Peace Corps volunteers.

Liz Fanning: Uh-huh, our PCVs.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: Yes. I spoke to a group of those. You know, I, myself, I don't know if I'm a product of a Peace Corps or not, but my first English teacher was a Peace Corps volunteer from Massachusetts, a word that we couldn't pronounce at the time. I was all of 11 years old who- who didn't understand why a word would have so many Ss and Ts and- and all that stuff.

But be that what it may, so I'm a- I'm a- a product of the Peace Corps experience, but speaking to ... that was many, many years ago, but speaking to this group of return, uh, Peace Corps volunteers, a lot of them did not seem to have very positive things to say about the Peace Corps. There was a sense of disappointment. They thought it need to be recycled or changed or some thought just closed altogether. There was an entire spectrum of how people feel about it.

In my case, I'm just happy my teacher was a Peace Corps volunteer. (laughs) It's opened a world to me in, uh, in which I still live now. As you talked to this woman in Marrakesh, and as this question "haunted you" over the years until you decide to yourself to start this, what was your sense of that? Did you feel like, uh, yes, she's right. She needs to do this, we need to actually to open this? Did you feel like the old model was limited?

Liz Fanning: Well, it's not perfect. I mean, you know, people love to complain, and something about Peace Corps is something in the water. Peace Corps volunteers, especially, love to complain. (laughs) Uh, actually, our volunteers love to complain too. I think there's something about the extreme experience, but it's not perfect, um, but there is something that, you know, your experience that you had, an American that you grew up with who exposed you to America, and- and inspired you to think about the world outside your village, and taught you English, brought in their skills.

That- that is extraordinary, and, you know, that's something that we actually do that in a little bit, because we ask, once you serve in your own country, you can go serve in another CorpsAfrica country as an exchange volunteer. So, I used to call it, like, AmeriCorps for African countries, but with the exchange program, it's kind of a mix of Peace Corps and AmeriCorps.

So, that's a powerful experience. Nothings- Nothing's perfect, but I do believe really strongly that Peace Corps is some of the best, most efficient, most effective development dollars spent, because living in communities with families, eating what they eat, sleeping where they sleep for an extended period of time, learning their language, that is so powerful. It's so important in development efforts, that friendship, that trust, that love really is a key ingredient to helping people, to not be an outsider, and we bring that as well.

And maybe I do- I wonder how you would have been impacted if it had been ... you're from DRC, right? So, if it was from body- somebody from your country who had come to live in your village from the city and lived with you for a year. If they would have been maybe even more inspiring for you, because, you know, Americans are kind of like aliens. People don't know what to make of them.

But somebody (laughs) from your country who you probably would have stayed closely in touch with over the years maybe have made as big, more or less, it's hard to say, but a-

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: Right.

Liz Fanning: ... a different im- impact.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: So, this- this leads me to the next question, because in my case, it was not in the village. You said your model, you talked about village quite a bit. So, in my case, it was in a village. The Peace Corps is across the board. Right? So, in my case, this Peace Corps volunteer, it was actually a couple, husband and wife, they were assigned to our boarding school. Now, they were assigned to the boarding school, and they taught at school.

This was, uh, a Catholic school. There was an entire group of them that would come every two years. They would be renewed and the new set would come, sometime a single, sometime couples, and so on. But in the cities, as well, we had the Peace Corps volunteers. That's all the way across the board. In your case, you said high-poverty village. So, why do you chase that model of high-poverty?

Liz Fanning: We started with rural villages because of the- for the security reasons. It, as a very small, scrappy organization, our volunteers were a lot safer in rural villages where there's no such thing as a stranger, and everybody knows everybody, and people take care of them. When you're in a medium or larger city, it- you live more anonymously, and the- the volunteer is more independent and on their own.

So, that's why we started in rural villages, but we have come to really value the work that they do, the connection. You know, these disconnected rural communities, a bit, um, facet of CorpsAfrica is our collaboration with a broad range of development partners. During the training program, we teach them human-centered design and the asset-based community development, but we also teach them, I mean, we introduce them to a vast array of NGOs and other development partners that talk about what they do, and why they do it, and where they work, and are available as a resource to the CorpsAfrica volunteer.

So, an NGO that builds schools, you don't wanna go to a village and say, "Do you want a school?" It's the wrong question. Who's gonna say no to a free school? But our volunteers go there, they start from scratch, no pre-conceived agenda, ask people what they want. They say the issue is education, the issue is, you know, the kids are walking too far. A school is identified as their top priority. Then we would go to that NGO and say, "Hey, we have a community that wants a school. Will you come work with us to help build them a school?" So, it's really directing scarce NGO resources to communities that have asked for what they do.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: So, you partner with NGOs.

Liz Fanning: Mm-hmm.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: You kind of, you have a landscape of various NGOs in- in a set of different ... set of regions in a country, and then you build that bridge between the NGO and the community, and you serve as someone between.

Liz Fanning: Yes, and they also are going to live in villages where there have been projects that have been done in the past or are being done now, and the volunteers, by living there, they help with what we call the last mile logistics. Sometimes there's a well that got built and it broke, and nobody knows how to fix it, and so it sits there unused. The volunteer can go in there and listen and figure out what's wrong with the well, contact the NGO that built the well, learn how to fix it, teach the local people how to fix it, and there you have a functioning well.

It doesn't cost us anything. The volunteer's already living there. And so, it's a really efficient way to help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of a variety of NGOs.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: How do recruit this youth? What is the, uh, method that you use? How do you they know? I mean, until I met you, I never heard of CorpsAfrica.

Liz Fanning: (laughs) Uh, well, we were very small then. We met several years ago. (laughs)

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: Sure.

Liz Fanning: We're still about 10 years old. So, Facebook, social media, universities, very much like Peace Corps, spreading the word. We actually advertised in Kenya. We started in Kenya last year, and we had more than 3,000 applications for 15 positions. So, getting the word out, and in most other countries, we don't advertise at all. It's word of mouth. Our former volunteers, you know, all their friends want to join when they see what they do, and they learn about it.

We speak at universities or alumni go around the countries speaking at universities to college seniors to tell them about this opportunity. So, we had more than 10,000 applications for 350 ap- ... uh, volunteer positions this year in nine countries.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: And what are you looking for in this candidate?

Liz Fanning: Very much like Peace Corps, again. We look at grades, we look at experience, and volunteer and work experience. I usually go straight to the essay, "Why do you wanna be a CorpsAfrica volunteer?" We're looking for that- that certain something special, somebody who has got a burning desire to be a part of the solution and find their place in the world, and, you know, is eager.

It's not- it's not a scientific quantifiable thing, but we interview every volunteer. We narrow the grou- pile of volunteers, usually over 1,000, we had more than 2,500 in Malawi this year, down to about 100, and then we will interview them, and second interviews and get it down to about, we have 40 in C- in Malawi this year.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: Now, what's the minimum education level they have to have achieved? High school or college degree?

Liz Fanning: College. They have to be 21 years old. We do say college, but we have made exceptions. So, college or equivalent, which is also Peace Corps's rule. They have to be 21. They have to be grownups. We look for character, and judgment, and maturity, and- and also a sense of adventure, and, you know, some- that kind of flexibility and positive outlook on life can really help our volunteers be successful.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: So, a candidate comes, applies, young woman, young man, and then how do you place them, because I see here, you are in 10 African countries. So, it does- this is a variety of country. I see Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, and Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, and Uganda.

Liz Fanning: Yes, we're- we're still working to open in Nigeria.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: Oh, you're still working to open in Nigeria.

Liz Fanning: Yes. Hopefully-

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: Yes. Yeah.

Liz Fanning: ... this year.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: Yeah. So, how do you then pair them with this villages or are there certain regions that are off? (laughs) You know?

Liz Fanning: I mean, the most important thing that I do in my role as CEO is hire an incredible country director and stay out of their way. (laughs) Really, we hire people who have the judgment and the- and the connections and the- the gravitas to really know where volunteers ... not- not that they have to know everything, but they have to know who to ask. They have to figure it out. Um, and often, fir- the first year is the hardest, because we don't have experience working in areas.

Once we are serving, then all the surrounding villages and people hear about volunteers, and then we start getting lots of requests. But the first year, we look for, a good site would be somewhere where one of our development partners has a long, ongoing project and have a volunteer nearby, living in a village, but give our volunteers the support and, you know, um, some people nearby that they might work with, if they choose to.

We have to be careful that they- these partners don't see our volunteers as staff, but they don't, and we put our volunteers in clusters of three. So, three in a region. So, they're- they have their own village, but they're close enough, in case something happens or in case their project is really ambitious and they need help from another volunteer, or maybe their project, for some reason, doesn't work out, so they can go join another volunteer.

They're there to be support for each other. When they host their first community meetings, they can visit each other and support each other. So, that's really key, the- the bonding and the- and the relationships within the cohort of volunteers. Even thought they're serving across the country, we have this intensive training program, the pre-service training, we have two in-service trainings, and then a close of service comp.

So, they spend a lot of time, and, you know, we have such a strong bond within the cohort, because they're drawn, people who are drawn to do something like this have something really powerful in common. So, they tend to, like Peace Corps, make friendships that last a lifetime.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: How do they sustain themselves. In the Peace Corps, there's a modicum of, I don't know what you call them, honorary or or stipend is the right word. So, how do they sustain themselves?

Liz Fanning: We give them a stipend, enough to live comfortably in a high-poverty village. It's usually $150, 200 about, um, it's different, obviously, in different countries, but, you know, again, we ask the Peace Corps (laughs) what they pay as their stipend. We tend to give our volunteers a little bit less, but one of the things I think that Peace Corps does so well is take care of the volunteers so that they can be successful, give them a stipend that's enough for them to live comfortably, take care of them.

We- we don't have doctors on staff, but we get them all health insurance, and we are there to, if they get sick, we can visit them. We can make sure that their- their cluster mate is, you know, checking on them. You know, we have one volunteer liaison on staff for every 10 volunteers. So, they were ... nine volunteers. So, each volunteer liaison has three clusters that they oversee, and this is ... mostly, they're usually former volunteers. So, they're the ones who provide that direct support.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: In that case, you mentioned that you are focused on one community-led, and the community is to invest about 10 percent in cash, I think I heard you right?

Liz Fanning: Yes.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: Or up to 25 percent of the budget of the project.

Liz Fanning:

 So, if it's a well that costs $1,000, they have to put in $250 worth of that $1,000 budget. $100 of that has to be in cash, and then we provide the other $750, and if it's a really ambitious project, we will help them raise money for that project from a variety of sources.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: And in that case, who are your respondent in the village? That's the NGO or the village chief or, you know, different villages are structured differently. Right?

Liz Fanning: Exactly. That's right. And so, we have to figure that out each time, with each village, and you figure out who the decision makers are, but really, the role of the volunteer is to facilitate that conversation, make sure that everybody is heard and bring people to consensus. These are the tools of the human-centered design, and that really put the people in the forefront of all the decisions so that they do have ownership. And then, they put money into it, and they're gonna make sure that it's sustainable.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: And the f- facilitator, in this case, is local NGO or-

Liz Fanning: No, the- the volunteer.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: The volunteer is the fa-

Liz Fanning: Right. The volunteer. That's what they do.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: Oh, okay. But they're new. Right? When they come, this volunteer, a 21-year-old, doesn't live in that region, you take him from one side of country X and then you move to Y.

Liz Fanning: That's right.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: You're demanding quite- you're asking a lot of these young people.

Liz Fanning: We are. We ask a lot of them, and they are amazing. (laughs) They really step up to it. I think most of them, I don't know the exact number, but at least half of them are learning local dialects. Uh, so, I mean, they do speak fluently at the- with the major language of the country, which a lot of the chiefs and a lot of people speak, but really to reach everybody in the village, the women and children included, they- they learn the local dialect, and that- and that's really powerful for them.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: The other word you used was, uh, small-scale, high-impact. What does that m- what does that mean in this case?

Liz Fanning: These are small projects. We're not building, you know, huge, ambitious, $200,000, million dollar, you know, systems. We'll do, like, a small irrigation system for 10 farmers or a well, which is $500, but it has a really big impact on the whole community. So, we're looking for that really efficient, really ... the type of project that's going to bring this community out of poverty.

And we always tie ... well, we ... when it's a- when it's appropriate, we tie any income-generating activity that the volunteers do, they tie that to a savings plan so that the community is starting to put away a small amount of money together as a group that they can invest in sustaining the project, but also investing in future projects, and that's what's going to enable them to change their mindset from waiting for things to be given to them to really proactively making decisions about their own lives and futures.

The value of the CorpsAfrica volunteer is that, you know, these communities are really high-poverty, really living on the edge, and it is difficult for them to change when their farmer is ... their land is becoming less and less fertile every year, it's hard to change the way they do things, because they know what they've been doing, and to make any change is risky.

And so, the volunteers can come in and they can educate people with an- an agriculture innovations. They can bring in other farmers who can talk about what they've done and how it's helped them, to answer questions, but they can also maybe try a different way of doing something on a, you know, a small parcel of land so that they can see it, and then next year, they'll do a bigger and bigger parcel.

Because that's the thing that these communities are really vulnerable and it's hard to come in from the outside and just tell them what to do, and it's, you know, it's part of who we are as an organization with all this international aid as well. You can't tell people what to do. You- you have to show them, and that takes- that takes time.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: You said it was without agenda. Do they believe you?

Liz Fanning: Do who believe us? The community?

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: The communities, (laughs) yes.

Liz Fanning: I think they do. I mean, I think, then, when they start having the community meetings, I think they do. It's so incredible. I mean, one of the most powerful things about CorpsAfrica is the relationship between the community and the volunteer. They live with the host family. We set them up with a host family for the first two weeks, and then it's their responsibility to find a place to live, but I think most of them negotiate a rent, room and board with the host family, and they stay there, and they really become part of the community, and- and they love it.

The- these families love having them because they're so interesting and they're so nice, and they're so eager to help them, and- and they listen to them. I mean, this is ... I always say, you know, we are ... if we're anything, we're- we are an army of listeners. This is going back to your military (laughing). The job is to listen and there's not enough of that in this world.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: How many of them, I think you said it a few moments ago, how many volunteers do you have in this corps of listeners?

Liz Fanning: This year, we have about 350 in nine countries. Hopefully, we'll start in Nigeria soon, and we'd start with, uh, 15 probably in the first group.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: So, 350 in nine countries this year. Over the- over the last 10 years, how many have you- would you say you've had.

Liz Fanning: I ... yeah, I need to get that exact number, but it's almost 1,000.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: Okay. What are the biggest challenge that you face the last 10 years? Now, you have a horizon you can look at and say, "This the- the obstacles lie, and, uh, moving forward, I would like to do differently in here and there"?

Liz Fanning: I don't know if I'd do it differently. I think the biggest challenge for get- getting started was obviously funding is always the hardest part, but for us, because we won't say what we're gonna do to go in without an agenda, you know, tell that to a funder. "What do you wanna ... (laughing) what do you want money for? "Well, we want ... we don't know." (laughs)

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: We don't have an agenda. Just give us the money. (laughs)

Liz Fanning: Exactly, and they're like, "Oh, that's really nice, but we're gonna fund this group here who's gonna build 10 latrines." So, when we're building those latrines, we just don't know in advance that we're gonna be building them, but after several years, we started to build a track record, and these are a number of sectors and- and actually, we- we recently started what we call our sector-specific initiatives. Starting with CorpsAfrica Green, which is a focus on climate change.

It's about providing additional training for the volunteers, expanding our partnerships with our development partners with climate change-related experience and also really helping the volunteers share what they're learning about the communities. What do the communities know about climate change? How are they being impacted? How are they adapting and what's working and what's not working? And our volunteers, by living in this community for a year, at the end of that year, they have so much to share with these climate change stakeholders about how the people are really feeling, thinking, and being impacted by climate change.

And they can introduce innovations, and they can try out new ways of doing things, and share the results, 'cause we have this, you know, we have this really unique model. Many different countries, relatively short-term experiences. We can be a laboratory for climate change, and then there's CorpsAfrica Pink for women and girls. There's CorpsAfrica Purple for people with disabilities. I could go on.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: It's color-coded. (laughing)

Liz Fanning: We're staring with that. We're running out of colors. So, we'll see (laughing) if we keep going with that, but ...

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: It's gonna be- uh, it's gonna be the rainbow- rainbow CorpsAfrica.

Liz Fanning: Right. We do wanna keep the- the approach of going in without a plan, but just providing this additional training and really making the volunteers aware of these issues. Like CorpsAfrica Purple is about ensuring that we recruit people with disabilities to be volunteers and to ensure that if there are people with disabilities in these villages, that we can connect them to NGOs that- we just did a great project in Kenya where they provided wheelchairs, um, for there was this village that had a lot of people with injuries.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: One of the challenges that I can foresee, I'm sure you've come to this before, people obviously will ask you, "Who's funding you and why are you coming here?" You may say there's no agenda, but people always think there's got to be an agenda behind the no agenda.

Liz Fanning: The agenda is to make the world a better place. We're ... our- our biggest funder for many years was a Moroccan company, OCP. They really saw, in CorpsAfrica, the impact that we could make, not just for the communities, but on the young people who are gaining, you know, they're having this transformative experience, they're learning skills, skills like critical thinking and problem-solving skills that you don't really learn in college. They're able to apply what they've learned in school and get real world experience, which-

'Cause that's often the hardest thing for young Africans, is getting a job without having had any experience, and- and we give then, not just the experience, but the support and the freedom to sail, because we- we have a safe environment where, you know, if something doesn't work, you figure out why it didn't work, you share that, and that turned it into a success, and that's a really important ... you're taking the stigma out of failure is- is really key, I think, for the NGO world.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: So, you have diversified that funding, I suppose, then?

Liz Fanning: Yes, actually during COVID, all of our volunteers stayed at their sites and chose to stay at their sites and help the people and- and they were, you know, they had been at their sites for several months. So, people automatically were going to them for advice when they were scared, for information, and they were easily able to facilitate community meetings, tell people- We- we could email them the most up-to-date guidelines from the Africa CDC, you know, stand two meters apart, wear a face mask, wash your hands, and they could easily just translate it into the local dialect and share it with their whole community, and answer questions. I mean, there was so much misinformation. People thought you've died as soon as you got COVID or, yeah, a lot of people thought Black people couldn't get it because it was an Asian disease.

There was just being there, answering questions, providing information, and most importantly, being a model of safe, hygienic, calm behavior was critical during COVID.

And so, that actually opened the door to funding from MasterCard Foundation. Um, they had set up a rapid response fund to reach rural African communities. And so, we applied and received $1,000 micro grant for each of our volunteers, and then they gave us another grant to help our volunteers continue their service, extend their service so they could finish their projects, which had all been on hold for six months.

And then, they started giving us ... and we started talking about, um, a very big grant, and they gave us a grant of almost $60 million over five years to expand to seven new countries and to ex- go deeper into countries with more volunteers and much more capacity. So, it's really exciting.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: Congratulations.

Liz Fanning: Thank you.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: Tha- that's huge. That sta- gives a new meaning to small-scale, high-impact.

Liz Fanning: (laughing) Well, we are still small-scale, high-impact.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: Yeah.

Liz Fanning: Our volunteers service, itself, has not changed at all. They still et $150. (laughs)

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: Oh, and that's fantastic.

Liz Fanning: Um, yeah.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: Those, uh, those young people served in CorpsAfrica 10 years ago, what became of them?

Liz Fanning: Oh, uh, we're still in touch with most of them. A lot of them are on staff. Most of our staff in country are former volunteers. All of our staff in Africa are Africans, and most of our headquarter staff is ... are based in Africa. So, it really is about Africans for Africa. What's become of them? They're doing amazing things. A lot of them have gone on for, uh, higher education and gotten Masters and PhDs.

We have a new scholarship fund to provide matching fund. A lot of them are getting matching scholarships and they have to turn it down because they can't raise the rest of it. So, we created a fund to match their scholarships that they receive. We have an entrepreneurship incubator to help invest in their job creating ideas, which is really exciting to provide, not just funding, but support and mentors and, you know, a community, a network.

Building this community of young Africans, the alumni communities, so powerful, and now we're working to join other alumni groups, like YALI Alumni, and other youth-focused groups for emerging leaders to expand the- the value to them.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: Liz Fanning, this is quite innovative. Um, I'd like to congratulate you on, uh, on the work that you do.

Liz Fanning: Thanks.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: On that note, thank you very much for joining us today. Uh, we need more creativity in that space of volunteerism, across Africa.

Liz Fanning: Thank you for the opportunity.

Mvemba Phezo Dizolele: Thank you very much, Liz.

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