How can sustainability improve the lives of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa? Through the simple realization of good ideas and global collaboration – the founding principles of startup Africa Rural Connect (ARC). ARC seeks to change lives by engaging “anyone who cares about Africa” (including past and present Peace Corps Volunteers, the African Diaspora, development practitioners, technology innovators, and scholars), as well as requesting – and realizing – their ideas for positive change. In addition to demonstrating grassroots organization at its best, ARC also demonstrates the roles of technology, individuals, and businesses worldwide in promoting sustainable development in Africa.
According to an East Coast Blogging report, ARC was launched by several local firms in the DC area, plus the National Peace Corp Association. Their basic plan was to drive discussions of development challenges and solutions facing sub-Saharan Africa, aggregate participants’ knowledge, and turn participants’ ideas into action.
To jump-start its plan, ARC began an annual contest, through which participants submit their ideas for improving sub-Saharan African farmers’ lives. Then, ARC uses technology to promote communication between submitters with other participants, who help develop the ideas into business-like plans. Finally, ARC awards $3,000 to the first-place winner, $2,000 to the second-place winner, and $1,000 to the third-place winner. The funds are used to implement the winners’ ideas.
The contest focuses on four primary challenges:
- How farmers’ agribusiness may be improved
- How (communications) technology can help rural farmers
- How post-harvest losses may be decreased
- How water resources may be best managed
This year, contestants’ ideas include the re-designing of Africa’s ox-powered farm tools, implementing an ecological sanitation system using urine to fertilize nutrient-depleted soil, and providing solar-powered ovens.
ARC is also involved in a number of other help-Africa endeavors worldwide. For example, according to an In an African Minute blogger, ARC organized a podcast on how the Obama administration can utilize digital technology to socially and economically benefit rural Africans. (The National Peace Corp has pressed Obama himself to empower farmers and help develop sustainable agriculture initiatives in Africa, as Africa News reports.) And Mariéme Jamme emphasizes the power of empowerment inherent in ARC-type projects.
On a side note, this year’s ARC contest comes at a crucial time – preceding the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen in December – as international leaders attempt to formulate a solution for the influence of climate change on underdeveloped nations. While government policy will likely play a huge role in improving living conditions in Africa, ARC’s approach emphasizes that individuals’ and businesses’ contributions (independent of policy) will be perhaps equally as influential.
What are your thoughts on the ARC project and its relevance to sustainable business?