Article 1: Introduction to my Social Venture Work in Africa
By: Brian Ray Dinning, JD, LLM and Social Venture Lawyer
June 27, 2012
NOTE: As I am writing this series, I have been wrongly accused of wire fraud related to social venture projects in Africa and face a trial in the United States. See Footnote 1. While I do not believe I have done anything criminal, that decision is likely in the hands of a jury of my peers and I hope and pray that truth and justice will ultimately prevail. The purpose of this series is to tell my side of the story, complete with letters, video, emails, documents and all backed up by witnesses. As a lifelong follower of Christ, I trust in God and his promises like John 8:32 “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (NIV) I also want my wife, children and family to know that I did my very best to help as many of the 400 million poverty-stricken people of Africa as I could and I will work as long and as hard as I can to help them for the rest of my life.
I also want my family, friends and others to know the truth behind the delays, slowdowns, obstacles and impossible situations we faced when doing social ventures in Africa. While it has been disheartening at times and sometimes I just want to give up, I often think of men like Nelson Mandela, who endured years in prison only to be released to become the President of South Africa. As Mr. Mandela states:
“Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfill themselves.” NELSON MANDELA, speech, May 10, 1994
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” NELSON MANDELA, Autobiography
My aunt and uncle were Christian missionaries in Africa and my family performed missions work in South Africa for over 35 years. Brought up in a dynamic faith-based household, I was always taught that we must care for orphans, widows and the poor – and that everyone is born with a purpose in life. As unlikely as it might sound, by the age of 10, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer, and I also knew that one of my purposes in life was to help people in Africa. It wasn’t until much later in life that I understood how I might combine those two ambitions.
I’ve been a practicing lawyer for 22 years and, up until recently, I’ve had a spotless record, full of accomplishments and commendations that have brought me and my family a great deal of pride. As a tax and business consultant to energy and mining companies in 2011/2012, I was able to charge an hourly rate for consulting work of $400 and I am blessed to make a good living in the for-profit world. In social ventures, you can also make a salary or work as a consultant but sometimes (most times) the pay is not as good.
I have had the privilege of traveling to Africa over 60 times, and in 1992 through 1994, I helped my professor at Georgetown University write a legal textbook on how nonprofit organizations can do for-profit social ventures, which is the foundation of the modern day social venture or social entrepreneurship project. This work resulted in the legal treatise entitled, “Sanders, Partnerships and Joint Ventures Involving Tax Exempt Organizations” (Wiley & Sons 1994).
I started doing work for clients in Africa in 1994 and have been working on social venture projects in Africa ever since then. These were missions-type projects where we would help build a church or community center, help with clean water, renewable energy, organic food and more. In this work, I realized that the local people of Africa had dreams to become something more, to be connected to the world that existed beyond the boundaries they were confronted by – to also ensure that their children had a future. So, I believe that I was blessed with the talents, ability and vision to look for innovative ways to help the local people in Africa to create jobs, income and a future. This was – plainly stated – to look at their natural resources (land, water, wildlife, mineral rights etc.) and help them locate the tools (people, financial partners and education) to help them maximize those resources – by building a tourism lodge, starting a micro business or starting a minerals project. This way, the local African people could achieve sustainability – meaning they could feed their families, afford to send their children to school and have food and clean water. More importantly, when talking with local community elders, they overwhelmingly said they want to provide a bright future for their children.
Initially, in 1994, I was asked to go to South Africa with some filmmakers to do a reconciliation film entitled “The Final Solution” by filmmaker Christopher Krusen about the life of a dynamic lawyer turned missionary named Gerrit Wolfaardt. This changed my life because Gerrit told me that “you must meet the heartfelt needs of the African people in order to talk to them about God, and missions work and micro enterprise. A starving person needs to be fed first before all else.” On this trip, I met John Coors, the youngest of the Coors brewery brothers. John hired me as a consultant to help with his project “Golden Photon” – which was designed to create solar energy water pumping systems to provide clean water to the rural communities in Africa. They also created a solar energy battery charging system to charge car batteries, which could be used, exchanged and reused by local people to power a light, radio or other electric appliance for their homes. Both were designed as micro businesses and were ingenious social ventures. These men, Gerrit Wolfaardt and John Coors, were pioneers in social ventures and I am thankful for the example they set for me. With my recent research and writing on how non-profits can do for-profit ventures, I was perfectly suited to help them.
These were amazing times because the Apartheid Era had just ended a few months earlier and Nelson Mandela, jailed 27 years by the Apartheid Era as a terrorist, was now the President of South Africa at the age of 76! The entire country was buzzing with life and hope – and expectations: for example, Nelson Mandela promised that he would help provide housing for all people so tens of thousands of people living in the rural countryside moved into the cities expecting to be given a home – not understanding that such a promise would take decades to complete. I met Bishop Frank Retief of the St. Johns Church of England in Cape Town, where eleven people were tragically killed in a church bombing by those loyal to Nelson Mandela in their struggle for freedom. Such stories of loss and tragedy and yet miraculously the Government of South Africa switched control from all White to mostly all Black in a short span of months – and all without any bloodshed. South Africa was a new nation and I was blessed to travel there several times a year from 1994 to the present.
In 1998, I met a man in Stellenbosch, South Africa, the wine country outside of Cape Town, who had heard of our social venture work and asked if I would like to travel to a country in need, Central African Republic, and work at a National Park, Manova Gounda St. Floris National Park – a World Heritage Site in Danger. From 1980 to 1999, the once rich elephant population dropped from 66,000 to 2,000 – all victims of poaching! It is also one of the poorest countries in all of Africa and its population is being ravaged by HIV/AIDS. After researching the country and the issues, I agreed to travel with him to Central African Republic in 1999.
Knowing that we needed a lot of help, I called Ted Turner’s office at CNN in Atlanta. His assistant listened to my story and then told me to send a fax to her office. Three days later, I received a call from Ted Turner’s office asking me to go to his newly formed UN Foundation in Washington, DC to meet with them. In 1999 – 2002, I worked as a consultant for Earth Conservancy where we partnered with UNESCO and the UN Foundation in Central African Republic to manage three large National Parks including Manova Gounda St. Floris National Park. In 2001, Earth Conservancy organized a UNESCO and United Nations sponsored mission trip to assess the current state of the National Parks. Headed by an intelligent and insightful woman named Elizabeth Wangari from UNESCO’s World Heritage Center, the trip and mission in May, 2001 was a great success and we had amazing adventures including several Presidential receptions with President Ange Felix Patasse.
We built two small tourism camps to help create jobs and to teach the local community about conserving wildlife so that tourists would come to the untouched paradise. There were many stories about life and death struggles with poachers, being held at machine gun point by soldiers, the amazing biodiversity and wildlife, walking on foot into a pride of lions, cannibals, naked pygmies and more. As early as 2000, we heard of the terrible persecution of Christians in Southern Sudan. In fact, it was the Sudanese soldiers who were the primary poachers in the National Park. With all this land, millions of acres, I thought the National Parks would be a perfect place to also provide sanctuary for those people being persecuted in Southern Sudan – just across the border from Manova Gounda St. Floris National Park.
Based upon these visits, in 2000 and 2001, prior to September 11, 2001, I wrote several White Papers to the late Congressman Murtha asking the US Government to help in our Central African Republic work as the small country is surrounded by Libya, Sudan, Chad and Congo. In meeting with the Congressman, I suggested that a peacekeeping and conservation mission would allow the US Government to post intelligence personnel so that these dangerous areas filled with terrorist training camps could be watched. The White Papers were bounced around the US Congress and different government agencies and I met with many people but it was decided that since the US Government did not have a formal presence in Central African Republic that our Government could not help. Tragically, we learned that many of Saddam Hussein’s terrorists trained just across the border from Manova Gounda St. Floris National Park. I often wonder if these terrorists could have been detected or stopped earlier had we been able to establish an intelligence gathering post in Central African Republic, while also doing our humanitarian and wildlife conservation work.
But, as life always evolves and circumstances change, one week after our United Nations sponsored trip to Central African Republic, the military of the country staged a coup, President Patasse fled the country taking untold millions of dollars with him and most of the government officials we worked with were killed. With the help of his friend Qaddafi (who I met in 2000 along with President Nicephore Soglo of Benin) and the Libyan and Congolese army, Patasse regained control of the country but a successful coup ousted him from power in 2003. Ten years later, after a failed Presidential bid to become the President of Central African Republic again, former President Patasse died in Cameroon in February, 2011.
The sad story is that the people of Central African Republic, who live in a country filled with the most amazing natural resources, remain the poorest of the poor in Africa. Also, the infamous warlord Joseph Kony and his rebel army are thought to be hiding out in those beautiful National Parks in Central African Republic still abducting children, raping, murdering and promoting terror. Tragically, due to circumstances beyond our control, the work for the local poor in Central African Republic remains unfulfilled. I often dream of that beautiful country and the people there and in Southern Sudan and wish I could have done more to help.
In 2002, my law firm was sponsoring The Shakespeare Theatre season of productions in Washington, DC. I was asked to represent the firm at a gala banquet for the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, DC. There I dined with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Justice Rehnquist and the newly-appointed Head of Africa at USAID, Constance Newman, now Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. Ms. Newman was fascinated by the social venture model of partnering for-profit and non-profit companies to promote community-based projects in Africa. Ms. Newman asked that I meet with her staff at USAID and provide power point presentations and keep her updated with any progress.
At the same time, in 2003 and 2004, Dr. William Brown, a Fulbright Scholar and Ph.D Professor, and an innovative film crew worked with Earth Conservancy to produce two award winning HIV/AIDS education films work in Kenya and Tanzania with the United States Department of Defense. The films focused on the true life stories of soccer stars and promoting education, testing and awareness of HIV/AIDS. Winning awards at the Houston WorldFest film festival, the films achieved the goal of educating young people about HIV/AIDS and were shown throughout Kenya and Tanzania using a screen projector shown on bedsheets sewn together by a team who traveled from village to village. Earth Conservancy stills works in Tanzania and I am working on the establishment of social ventures with Dr. Steven Kiruswa, Ph.D and Maasai warrior, at his home town near Mount Kilimanjaro.
In 2005, our social venture team was privileged to partner with several local Xhosa Tribal communities in South Africa to help them manage and sustainably develop tens of thousands of acres of beautiful oceanfront property. See Footnote 2. Sotheby’s International Realty said it is the most untouched and beautiful coastal property remaining in South Africa. See Footnote 3. Because all of the small beach hotels were run by local white South Africans under a for-profit model – meaning they did not share any profits or ownership with the local people – our goal was to help the local community develop their own natural resources where the local people were actually partners in the projects. See Footnote 4. This would allow the local communities to not only receive jobs and education but also potentially receive profit, if the projects succeeded. Through Earth Conservancy, we also participated in three missions trips to build a church and a playground for a local orphanage. We also sent hundreds of bicycles, tons of food and clothing, soccer balls, medical supplies, computers and school supplies to the local people from clothing and bicycle drives that my wife and I organized.
As of today, I am still working as hard as I can for social ventures to help the poor in Africa. In 2011 and 2012, I helped to pay the start up costs for several new social venture projects in organic farming, education and a wildlife refuge and I have not received any compensation for my efforts. Furthermore, I started to pay back my past compensation from the social ventures to be discussed in this series. My goal is to help the people in Africa and to do my best – along with other caring people – to create sustainable and successful social ventures in Africa.
Article 2 in the Series is entitled: Social Ventures in Africa: What can go Wrong?