Forbes Magazine Interview with Darius Mans
Future of Development in Africa
November 9, 2011
Rahim Kanani, Contributor, Forbes Magazine
In a recent interview, I spoke with Dr. Darius Mans, President of Africare , a leader among private, charitable U.S. organizations assisting Africa and the oldest and largest African-American led organization in the field. Africare now reaches families and communities in some 25 countries in every major region of Sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal to South Africa and from Chad to Mozambique. Since its founding in 1970, Africare has delivered nearly $1 billion in assistance — over 2,500 projects — to 36 countries Africa-wide.
Prior to joining Africare, Dr. Mans served as Acting Chief Executive Officer of Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). Dr. Mans has over 30 years of development experience with a major focus on African countries. Prior to being tapped as Acting Chief Executive Officer for MCC, Dr. Mans was the organization’s Vice President of Implementation where he oversaw the strategic and operational approaches of MCC’s entire compact implementation portfolio of over $6.3 billion in 18 countries. Mans also served as MCC’s Managing Director for Africa, where he drove an increase in commitments to Africa by $1.6 billion.
Rahim Kanani: Since joining Africare as President in January 2010, what have been some of your top priorities in moving the organization forward?
Darius Mans: Africare has had four decades of being a long-term trusted partner in 35 countries in Africa because of its great successes in investing in the African people. But, unfortunately, our story is not very well known.
This has been one of my top priorities: shining the light on Africare’s great work to help Africans lift themselves out of poverty, particularly women. We are trying hard to tell the Africare story better and widely, and we are beginning to have some real success doing that in video, print, television, radio and social media.
My second priority continues to be to strengthen our ability to deliver real value for money to benefit Africa. I am happy to say that 94 cents of every dollar of support to Africare goes directly to our beneficiaries and that we have a four star rating, the highest possible, from Charity Navigator and we are doing a better job documenting our successes so people can see the real impact we are having on the ground.
My third priority has been, and continues to be, to diversify our sources of fundraising and strengthen our partnerships. We are attracting greater funding from foundations and from the private sector. For example, ExxonMobil was our lead sponsor last year, and we are doing some very innovative projects with them as a strong partner in several countries. This year the Brazilian mining giant Vale, the world’s second largest diversified mining company is our lead sponsor.
Rahim Kanani: Describe a little bit more about the “New Africare for a New Africa”.
Darius Mans: As you know, Sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing a second Renaissance with a number of countries holding their second and third democratic elections, in just more than a decade. The real news however, is on the economic front, as 6 of the 10 fastest growing economies are in Africa. Africa has become an investment haven for a number of countries – Brazil, China, and India – to name a few, and this is good news for development, and development organizations like Africare as we are responding to the new Africa. The New Africare is focused on a new model of development with a significant role for partnerships with the private sector. What do I mean by this? We are stressing the need to move away from many of the old corporate responsibility models and really make communities self sustaining through income-generation, entrepreneurship, and business-focused cooperative — particularly in areas where foreign direct investment (FDI) prevails.
For example, with The Coca Cola Company we are in partnership on HIV/AIDS projects that have benefitted thousands of South Africans making them able to lead full lives, and make a living for themselves and their families. We also are in discussions with Brazil’s Vale on projects to help underserved communities in Mozambique become more self-sustaining through training and entrepreneurship in areas where Vale has mining operations.
Rahim Kanani: In honoring former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula today at the 2011 Africare Bishop John T. Walker Memorial Dinner, how would you characterize the relationship between Brazil and Africa, and Brazil and Africare?
Darius Mans: As I noted, there are a few countries which are really developing a new relationship with the Continent, and Brazil is one of those. Former President Lula, unlike many heads of state during his time, made 12 trips to Africa and visited 25 African countries – really engaging the leaders and addressing hard development issues such as food security, improved health, and new models for entrepreneurship. In fact, you may know that both Brazil and Ghana received the World Food Prize only 10 days ago because both emphasized a new paradigm on how not only to feed their people, but also how to use new technologies and environmentally- sound practices to help small holder farmers produce more yields.
Lula’s vision was to turn the rhetoric of “a partnership with Africa” into a reality and Brazil has really stepped up to the plate. Not only has it opened many more new embassies in the region, but Brazilian companies are increasing FDI in Africa at an impressive rate. In addition, right now Brazil is the region’s 4th largest trading partner.
On Brazil and Africare, the goal is to build on this vision of Africa, Brazil, and the U.S. working as a trio to spur sustainable development. We know that the old development models have not had long-term successes which really changed peoples’ lives. We are hoping that with our innovative projects such as the system of rice intensification (SRI) in Mali (SRI), or our soybean (Zimbabwe) and health projects like the Liberian pre-natal village clinics are all areas where private sector partners, particularly from Brazil and the U.S. will see the sustainable benefits for the people of Africa.
Rahim Kanani: As the former Vice President for Implementation and then Acting CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, what are some key insights and leadership lessons you learned that you now bring to your work at Africare?
Darius Mans: Some important lessons I took away from my work there was the importance of partnerships, which as I mentioned earlier is a major focus of our organization today. Another is how powerful monitoring and evaluation, managing for results and learning can be to organizational renewal and success. Another is the importance of empowering the front lines of our organization, especially our field operations. I inherited a very Washington centric organization. We are trying to make turn that around to make Washington better serve the needs of the field.
Rahim Kanani: Lastly, and as you look ahead, what’s on the horizon for Africare as we move further into the second decade of the 21st century?
Darius Mans: The landscape has changed dramatically since we first entered this space 41 years ago. Back then Africare was one of only a few NGOs focused on Africa. The field is crowded now. Our goal is to remain the top-of-mind choice for our funding partners. To stay competitive we look for ways to differentiate ourselves, to build on our unique strengths.
For example, there is a big push now in the donor community to refocus attention and effort on local capacity building, and strengthening of national institutions. This has been always been at the core of Africare’s approach and Africare is well positioned to play a role in implementing this agenda. We are a recognized leader in community-based development. We bring a participatory approach to capacity building with an exceptional track record of helping communities improve access and control over resources and decision making.
Looking ahead, we will leverage this experience, and continue to invest in ways to document and disseminate this. We see a big opportunity to engage our partners, to share what we have learned from our operational programs and to scale up the most promising interventions.
Funders today insist on better designed projects, more rigorous analysis and measurable outcomes. We know that our work in the field has to be supported by strong backroom capabilities, efficient operational processes, financial management and enabling technologies. We are making these investments in systems and talent.
We are also committed to bringing more African voices into the development debate using social media tools and platform. In the 21st century, the most successful learning occurs when we give African communities, practitioners and leaders we work with the megaphone to share their ideas, thoughts, opinions and concerns and raise the level of awareness, understanding and debate about Africa here in the United States.