“Our strength is our people, and our current team is really, really strong. My biggest achievement has been putting that group together.”
Charles Gardner, ATE Chair of Trustees 2012–2023
From small beginnings to the successful charity we are today – and looking towards the life-changing work we’ll do in the future – Action Through Enterprise has always been driven by its amazing people. And that’s why we are saying a massive thank you to Charles Gardner, founding chair of trustees, who is stepping down after an incredible decade, and giving a huge welcome to new chair, Nathalie Burdet, who will help guide us through our next exciting stage of growth.
When the Gardner family launched Action Through Enterprise back in 2012, there was no formed vision beyond feeding the children of Karbo Primary School, funding a few small businesses and supporting a handful of disabled children and their families.
“It came at a good time for me, because I was winding down at work,’ remembers Charles. ‘It seemed a really good thing to do, to give it a chance and see where it goes.
And it’s gone from strength to strength. Over ten years, the charity has grown and evolved, with hubs of education, enterprise and inclusion running in villages across Lawra district.
“I remember the first day of school lunches at Karbo Primary, seeing those children lining up for food, some looking terrible, very suspicious until they actually got their food. I remember the Zambo weavers, right out in the bush, and seeing them put on such a display of weaving. There are a hundred moments, usually out visiting rural communities, like the time we resolved a problem in Biro and the tribal chief gave us a live guinea fowl to carry home on the back of the motorbike.
“But probably my best memory was during the first year of the dry season farmers project, travelling forty-five minutes on a motorbike and all around was incredibly dry and barren and infertile. Suddenly, there was an oasis of fertile land being worked by thirty or forty people, of which three quarters were blind. That was powerful.”
Guiding the organisation has been a learning curve for Charles. “One of the things I always say – beyond the impact for the people of Lawra – is that I am one of the biggest beneficiaries, because I’ve learnt so much. I learnt to work with people rather than getting them to work for you. I learnt the importance of bringing people with you, of understanding their point of view.
“Now, with our UK and Ghana staff, our trustees and volunteers, that’s more than fifty people, and our whole success is based upon them doing a good job. And we are proud to be truly bi-cultural, which is good for everyone, for the Ghanaians, who are gradually integrating into the wider world beyond the Upper West, and for the Europeans, learning the world is a place of many parts. That’s a bit of a passion of mine.”
Charles may be stepping back as chair of trustees, but he will continue working on the business programme, helping to develop a new generation of entrepreneurs. “BizATE has been my baby from the start, because of my business background, and now I’m going to focus on training the local trainers who deliver the modules in the local language of Dagaare. I’m also planning on bringing a group out to visit Lawra next January. The charity is in strong shape, and it’s entirely realistic that we can now double in size every five years. It’s gone well.”
Taking on the mantle as chair of trustees for that next stage is Nathalie Burdet, a senior marketing and communication professional with vast international experience, as well as a keen runner and marathon fundraiser. Nathalie has been a trustee since 2022, when she visited Lawra.
“I absolutely loved what I saw, the work, the impact, the team. People would come, unprompted, into the Inclusion Centre, to says thank you, my daughter is going to school, or she’s now in apprenticeship, or entrepreneurs and farmers would tell their me their story. I found it mind blowing because Action Through Enterprise is a small organisation and it doesn’t have a lot of means, but the way it’s run, the way it approaches every single situation, is incredible. And that’s why I thought, I’m really happy to become chair and do as much as I can to support.”
Nathalie, who has been interested in development since a visit to Zanzibar in her 20s, was particularly impressed with the local focus of the charity. “I like that it’s people from the community who work on the ground, as opposed to a bunch of westerners who think they ‘know’. Local people are getting a chance to have a proper career and do good in their own community, and they obviously understand the cultural approach, the sensitivities and so on. I love the fact that in a hub you meet with the chief and with the community and get their commitment by getting them involved, taking on the responsibility to build the school kitchen, providing a cook from that community. It’s empowering right from the start and it’s a model that works because we can see the impact.”
Experiencing the projects close up, Nathalie is excited by the potential for transformation and change in the Upper West. “The high school girls are so inspiring. And I was blown away by those entrepreneurs, people in the middle of nowhere, in a little shed with a sewing machine, who are so creative. They have vision, they have energy, they have dreams. They’ve got the energy that even in the more developed world sometimes I feel we have lost.
With passion and purpose from within the community and the team, Nathalie can see great things in the future. “My wish for the charity is that it continues to grow, and hopefully, with my skillset in marketing and communications, we can give it the exposure it deserves, bring in new donors and other nations, and really showcase the impact we are having. We are helping to transform the lives of the people of Lawra, and soon the people of Nandom and hopefully other districts – and not just transform their lives for today, but as an ongoing process, future proofing the current generation and the generations to come.”
Everyone at Action Through Enterprise thanks Charles for his thoughtful and wise guidance over ten challenging but hugely productive years, and looks forward to working with him, especially on BizATE, in the future. And we welcome the fantastic Nathalie, who brings her passion, her energy – and her fundraising marathon running! – along with a wonderful new set of skills and connections, to help drive our ambitious plans for the next ten years in Lawra and beyond.