Chidi Koldsweat is an international development professional and founder of Donors for Africa, which strengthens the capacity of African social innovators, non-profits and social enterprises to access funds, achieve their vision towards the SDGs and build sustainable organizations. Chidi has received accolades and Awards including being a finalist in CEO Global Africa’s most influential woman in management, business & public service (civil society category- 2014), and Africa’s 25 most outstanding emerging women leader under the Moremi Initiative for Leadership (MILEAD). Chidi was recently appointed to the Board of the Centre for Higher Education, Innovation and Development (CHEID) in Nigeria. More on Chidi’s work at donorsforafrica.com
Most donors are still from outside the continent. Why is the generous spirit across Africa seemingly not translating into the funding/philanthropy space?
Interestingly, around the globe 70% of fundraising efforts are still from family and friends. In some parts of the world, organizations or individuals get a huge rebate on their taxes for giving a portion of their donations to African led non-profit organizations. Sadly, this practice is not as visible as it should be in Africa. Although, family and friends continue to donate generously, until African governments consciously amplify the benefits of individuals donating funds to help solve societal challenges, philanthropy is unlikely to rise.
What are the qualities of an effective founder and how is that role different from that of CEO where the same person holds both?
This depends largely on what level the ‘founder’ is at and the amount of funding at their disposal. However, if you launch with a certain level of resources, where you can hire someone to manage activities of your organization the two roles can be separate. However, for most grassroots organizations, they may not be able to afford separating the founder role from that of CEO.
How would you say the social enterprise model is doing in terms of it being supposedly more effective for achieving a secure funding base and a more stable institution?
This model is really the way to build a sustainable organization. When most of your funding is not dependent on grants and donations, your organization is able to diversify its programme content and solutions. At Donors for Africa, we teach our community how they can generate their own resources so that the 2030 SDGs agenda can be achieved faster. In addition, a Social enterprise can access loans to scale up or run their activities and although I do not advise nonprofits to secure loans to implement their programmes, knowing that this opportunity is available is reassuring. Unfortunately, within the ambient of the law, this model is not recognized in some countries.
Whilst everyone recognizes the importance of social impact work, not many want to work there when they have a choice. What would you say is the best part of working in this sector that would persuade more top talent to join in?
The satisfaction that comes from knowing that because of your talents, skills and education, someone somewhere in the remote part of the world may receive a life changing opportunity. This in itself for me is the greatest reward. In addition, the opportunity to travel extensively, experience diverse people and cultures, stand up for a cause, meet some amazing people, grow your networks, gain recognition for your commitment and so much more is a strong reason to consider working in this sector. It is such an amazing way to increase your employability skills in finance, research, raising and re-distribution of funds, teamwork, cooperation etc. You broaden your horizon and get a multicultural working experience.
All that you do requires robust leadership. What does that look like day to day?
Oh wow! It is extremely busy but I plan everything through a system called batching. This is where I group similar activities together which makes me more productive. I separate my activities into a) Income generating b) Administrative c) Sacred – that is family time, personal development etc. I plan diverse activities under each so I can touch on all areas daily. I also have an amazing Programme director. She manages all our volunteers so I am freed up to be more creative. I also work closely with the Board who are just a text message away should I need a sounding board at any time.
Like most founders you were a one person show but have a team now. How did you assemble your team and what have you learnt since about building a great team?
We started off with a strong Board which we still keep open all year round for when we find individuals we believe align with the vision of the organization. We’ve actively engaged our volunteers and built a strong team from there. I am still learning. Some of my biggest lessons are the role of visionary leadership, the importance of understanding team dynamics, helping them thrive and how to use people’s strengths for the growth of the organization. You must be kind, get to know them and support their work. You must also be ready to let go of anyone who may not be in sync with the organization’s mission. Some people don’t like to do the work but want to be associated with the fame that comes with the success the organization achieves. It’s an ongoing process so I try to be flexible and consistently evolve as we progress.
Women leaders are often encouraged to use their voices because of how relatively few there are. What would you say you are giving voice to?
Sustainable development in all its forms, due to my varied expertise and the work we do at Donors for Africa. We have opportunity to address issues from poverty to social justice, to increasing access to finance and partnerships to energy, climate change and so much more. I am also very big on increasing the interest of young people in development so that rather than wait for the government to do it all, they can identify what they need and where they can make a difference within your communities.
You support young women too with leadership and finance for education. What is the greatest hope you hold for young women in terms of opportunities?
That they may find courage to dream, to pursue their dreams, to live their life to the fullest, that they can decide their own narrative, irrespective of how or where they were born and do so without fear. I hope that they get an education so that they are empowered to make these choices. I wish that more women will be ambitious and find the boldness to wish for the things they have never experienced. I hope they find their voice, and use it so that they attract good things that help them become memorable in their families and communities.
What are you confident you can always count on yourself for?
Hmm this is a tricky question. I can only hope and count on myself to continue to go forward. To continue to dream and give myself opportunity to evolve and live life on my own terms; determine what success means to me and embrace it. I can always count on myself to stay true to the things that matter to me and hopefully continue to inspire this generation and everyone who comes in contact with me to push and continue to attain what we desire.