I am proud to be the Chief Executive of Action Through Enterprise, a small charity doing brilliant work in Lawra, Upper West Ghana. We empower communities and individuals to better their lives, we give the support that’s needed for bright motivated people to meet their potential, to be able to care for themselves and their children. The people of Lawra do not need our pity; they need our investment – an investment of time, energy and cash.
I’ve spend the last 7 and a half years rushing around Lawra on a motorbike, doing the work, knowing the people, seeing the difference first hand. It’s been a challenging journey, and I have absolutely loved it. But things have changed. It’s been the privilege of my life to be the person on the ground, doing the work myself, but we are now out of that phase, we have moved into a different space, one that requires me to step back, to step up, and to lead.
The heroes of the story are our staff in Lawra. Lawra talent, local knowledge, doing brilliant work in the local language. Our team in the UK have a support role, our skills add value only where and when they are needed.
I was asked in my appraisal last year ‘what has been the key to your success in 2018?’, my answer – recruitment. I’ll say the same thing again this year. It’s the people doing that work that makes all of the difference. Our team is outstanding – bright, motivated, hardworking. The relationships are key to it all – in Lawra with our beneficiaries and partners, and here in the UK raising the funds. We invest in brilliant people, pay them well and value them.
Working in our beautiful Inclusion Centre which opened in May of this year – it’s been transformational for our work, a professional office space and training room, a space to host our twice weekly PlayScheme for disabled children. It’s a beacon of hope on the landscape of Lawra.
We’ve come a long way from our 3×3 meter container office, which had no electricity and was basically a large oven. This huge change represents the shift we have made in 2019; we are growing, developing, professionalising, and improving.
So what have we done to improve our organisation? This has been an extremely difficult year, one that has brought professional challenges that have taken commitment and determination to overcome. It is my firm belief that as a result of these challenges that ATE has become more sustainable, robust, and far more professional. 2019 has propelled us into the next phase of professionalisation, encouraged us to look critically at all aspects of our work, and to improve them.
Areas that we have specifically improved include: financial processes, risk analysis, safeguarding, cross team working, monitoring and evaluation, staff training and development. These improvements have taken work, work that is already paying off. Our team is stronger, our work is better.
A brief over view of our programs:
Firstly SNAP, our Special Needs Awareness Program which works to enable disabled children and their families to access basic services and to support each other. We run monthly groups in 3 communities, have a 2 x per week PlaySheme in our wonderful Inclusion Centre, and carry out significant casework and home-visits to work to enable children like Paulina to go to school.
EDUCATE – enabling children to access education. Free education, at government schools. We now provide free school lunches at 7 schools, to nearly 1000 children every day. We employ cooks, provide learning resources. We do what is needed to address hunger, and to make sure these children learn so that they can become skilled, educated adults with a chance at a poverty free future. This is such a simple solution to a huge problem – poverty is complicated, feeding hungry children is not.
And BizATE – We know that creating sustainable income generation is vital to enable the people of Lawra to pull themselves out of poverty. This wonderful, innovative work supports individuals to completely change their lives, and when they do, they change the lives of those living around them. We make big investments in people; we spend months searching for the bright lights, for the people with capacity to transform themselves. Our success rate is outstanding, this work is transformational.
We are proud to be fair employers, in situations where many other NGO’s wouldn’t be, we pay all our staff fair living wages, tax, pensions, social security – this fits with our value of empowering individuals and communities. We now have 33 employees (30 in Ghana, 3 in the UK) and a board of 6 committed and skilled Trustees.
In Ghana, our team is lead by the fantastic Jessica Cruse. Jess came on board to help us manage this years challenges and has (wonderfully) recently agreed to staying for a further 12 months as Director of Operations. With extensive experience in change management and in Africa, and with 6 months demsonstrated brilliance with ATE, she is the very best person for the job. Throughout 2020 she will be further training and empowering the team in Ghana, giving each staff member a leadership objective to begin hand over to the Ghana team. Jess is a trail blazer – as happy serving school lunches as she is facilitating large workshops.
ATE has had it’s most challenging year yet. We have faced our challenges head on and improved our organisation dramatically. Today, I believe that we are doing the best work we ever have done, I look to the future with excitement.
We are going to a place where men and women can make in income, where disabled children are included, where all children go to school. I want every person in Lawra to be able to access our work, if they wish to. I want to continue doing what we do, and to do it well, to do it better. This is not about changing the world; it’s about changing Lawra. ATE is small, but it is beautiful.
Thank you for being part of our journey so far.
By Sarah Gardner