Two weeks ago, the TingaTinga team was hanging out with Benson Ocen, who is running our pilot investment in Uganda, called “I Live Again” (ILA). We dragged him all over the Pittsburgh region to introduce him to friends and potential partners, and listened to him tell stories – some of the difficulty of life during and after the war in northern Uganda, and some of the beauty of new hope and recovery for his people. Interestingly, Benson’s visit came on the hinges of Invisible Children’s well-publicized launch of the KONY2012 video. Regardless of anyone’s perspective on that video, its launch certainly spawned an incredible level of interest in Uganda’s story – past, present, and future. That said, Benson’s visit was remarkably timely, as he was able to offer a well-formulated perspective on the struggles of his people – and then, a unique proposition for their rise out of desolation. It is that unique proposition that we, TingaTinga, are seeking to make a reality for Benson and the people of northern Uganda.
Our weekend with Benson was definitely productive in terms of connecting him to folks who are interested in his vision – but it was also fantastic for us to have time to work through questions with him and forge the action plan for next steps. One of the questions that came up several times over the weekend – particularly from potential supporters of TingaTinga – was how the arrangement was structured between TingaTinga and ILA. To be honest, this was really the least of our concerns up to now. We have been entirely focused on proving that the model on the ground works – that Benson can, and is, effectively helping his people, first through picking up the “soft” pieces (emotional, communal, spiritual well-being), then – and only then – through economic empowerment by initiating microloans and generating small businesses.
We’re happy to report that this model is working. Now, we want to see it scale. We want ILA to own land and do farming and make more microloans and be self-sustaining and beprofitable itself, thereby playing a real role in the holistic development of a broken community. Up to now, we’ve been giving money to prove this model and to be culturally sensitive – now, we’re going to partner with Benson by making equity investments in ILA to see it scale, and then to reap rewards so we can find and fund more people like Benson in the world. So, simply stated, the way the arrangement will work is that we’re going to buy pieces of ILA – we’re going to be a team with Benson, each side bringing to the table what we have to make this thing happen at a larger scale. This is totally agreeable to both sides, as we both agree that ILA needs to be accountable and able to fund itself in the long-run, and TingaTinga needs to be able to grow.
Coming to terms with how this will structurally function was huge for us, and aside from having time to introduce, connect, and dream, working through those mechanics was probably the biggest stride forward for TingaTinga of Benson’s visit. Thanks for checking in on us. We’re aiming to keep you updated about once a week, so stay tuned and subscribe to the blog! And if you have any sweet ideas – of people we should meet, places we should go, or money we should have – please drop a line. We’re super pumped to be building little bridges to big places, and hope you’ll come along for the ride. Much love!
–The TingaTinga Team