Anita Erskine has lived the dream of every young person sweeping stages, copying scripts, or fetching coffee at a studio. She was a lowly intern on a talk show, “The Bold & The Beautiful,” when the host of the live show called out sick. Erskine was dressed for a day behind the scenes, not her TV debut, but before she knew it, she was sitting in the host chair thinking to herself, “This lady is never coming back.” And thus, at 18, Anita Erskine started her career in front of the camera.
This story may seem fantastical to the reader, but after spending just a few hours with Erskine is becomes believable. She puts in the time to do the hard work and has a natural aptitude for building a personal brand.
Now, back in Ghana, she’s focused on something bigger than her personal brand. She is focused on using the media to promote the African brand and is doing it in a real and nuanced way. The two prevailing attitudes towards Africa’s brand are nicely portrayed by two editions of TheEconomist. The May 2000 edition included an article titled Hopeless Africa which cites flood, famine, and war summing up its laundry list of ills with, “No one can blame Africans for the weather, but most of the continent’s shortcomings owe less to acts of God than to acts of man.” Ten years later, we had The Hopeful Continent: Africa Rising which described the continent as being, “home to millions of highly motivated entrepreneurs and increasingly prosperous consumers.”
Meghan McCormick, Alumna, MIT Sloan School of Management
“Macro indicators show good performance, but below the surface, there are economic and social issues that threaten the cohesion of Ghanaian society.” With these words of both optimism and caution, Hamdiya Ismailia, the General Manager of the Venture Capital Trust Fund and Chair of Impact Investing Ghana (IIGh) debuted IIGh to a room full of stakeholders in Ecobank Ghana’s brand-new auditorium.
This renewed push for impact investing in Ghana specifically, and more broadly around the world, comes out of necessity. According to Sylvia Lopez-Ekra, the UN Resident Coordinator for Ghana, $5 to 7 trillion are needed each year to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are a bold collection of 17 goals set by the UN General Assembly in 2015 to be achieved by 2030. Like the Millennium Development Goals that came before them, they include such stretch goals as ‘No Poverty’ and ‘Gender Equality’. It will take an equally bold combination of innovation in policy, implementation, and financing to achieve them.
MIT Sloan’s mission is to develop innovative and principled leaders who will improve the world. This resonated with me, as I’ve always had a desire to help impoverished children, especially in the developing world. However, it wasn’t until I started this program that I was able to turn my good intentions into an actionable plan, much less a plan that might even disrupt the nonprofit world.
The key was utilizing the EMBA network, going to ‘see and assess,’ conducting small experiments, and learning from mistakes. In other words, I followed the MIT Sloan method for affecting change. Today, Broken Crayons has opened 15 businesses, which has positively impacted the lives of more than three dozen children in Ghana. Now, we’re scaling our approach to impact entire communities with plans to turn Broken Crayons into a self-sustaining organization.
Look for the root cause
The first step involved Systems Dynamics, which taught me to model the relationships in all parts of a system and how those relationships influence the behavior of the system over time. Applying this knowledge, I built models to identify the root cause of youths and poverty. The overarching question centered on how I could use simultaneous interventions to break the system of poverty.
Go see and assess
Another MIT principle is understanding the importance of observing the ecosystem you seek to impact. After connecting with a friend and former colleague Carl Dey, I decided to focus my efforts on the ecosystem of Ghana. The next step was going to ‘see and assess’ the ecosystem in Ghana. Read More »
As philanthropy becomes a common source of finance for poverty-fighting programmes, it is natural for donors to want data about their impact on the people they want to help.
Yet measuring the benefits of philanthropy is surprisingly hard. How can we define and measure “income” in a village of subsistence farmers? Can we ask a street kid enrolled in a violence-prevention programme about his illegal activities? How do we know if a change in nutritional outcomes was the result of a social programme and not some other variable, like a change in food prices? How can we measure non-quantitative or non-monetary outcomes, like women’s empowerment or entrepreneurial motivation?
For many years, aid impact studies were based on anecdotal evidence or fragments of data. Over the past decade, searching for a more rigorous approach, development researchers have applied the “gold standard” of medical research: randomised controlled trials. In an RCT, researchers allocate an intervention, such as a microfinance loan, to a randomly selected test group of people and compare their outcomes with a control group. Read More »
Picture yourself going to the doctor. You arrive by car, park nearby, and when you enter a receptionist greets you and checks your information on a computer. You’re led into a comfortable, well-lit office; the cabinets are fully stocked. Your records are on hand. The nurses and doctors are well educated and knowledgeable, their equipment at the ready. If they can’t help you, they refer you to someone who can.
Now try to picture the same scene in sub-Saharan Africa. If you’re wealthy, your experience may be similar. But if you’re not, it’s altogether different. The roads are unpaved and riddled with potholes; it might take all day to get to the clinic by public transport. The queue to see the doctor is long–an eight-hour wait is not unusual–and there’s nowhere to sit. You might have to bribe someone to be seen. The electricity is unreliable; the clinic’s supplies are running low. Your medical records are incomplete, perhaps even non-existent. The doctors and nurses, while trained and dedicated, are not up-to-date on current treatments, and lack access to the tools they need.