ZaRP was founded as a response to Elspeth Kendall-Carpenter’s desire to improve the living conditions of people she met whilst she was living and working in Zambia.
Elspeth is a nurse who worked for several years as a volunteer in a hospice in Southern Zambia and until recently as an outreach palliative care advisor with a mobile clinic visiting rural villages. Her regular e-mails, describing the situation in rural communities in Zambia, could make very depressing reading. In many communities poverty undermined the good work that was being carried out to counter the effects of HIV and AIDS. Many rural communities were failing to grow sufficient food to overcome hunger and many more were failing to create sufficient surpluses and profit to pay for transport to attend clinic appointments at the nearest hospital. Empty stomachs meant the HIV and AIDS medicines caused toxic side-effects and the inability to travel regularly to pick up supplies of medicines broke the vital continuity of treatment.
Elspeth asked her brother Nick to help. At the time, Nick was in a very comfortable position responsible for a large portfolio of National Trust farms and other properties in Dorset and Wiltshire. The contrast between the different situations of Nick and Elspeth was stark and made it easy for Elspeth to goad Nick into revisiting some of the challenges he had struggled with when he had worked for Oxfam. Nick appreciated many of the practical difficulties of making a wide and sustainable impact at the level where it is most needed. He was keen to do what he could to help but he did not want just to add another new charity to an already overcrowded marketplace. He felt if they were to have an impact they would need a different approach.
Nick had many friends in the commercial world and some of
them had been spectacularly successful. Many of them, however, were pretty cynical about the value that charities added and saw them as inefficient, ineffective and too politically correct. Nick, therefore, decided to share the problem with them and see if they could use their business skills to come up with a
solution. They set about querying whether some of the problems of rural poverty and starvation in Zambia could be addressed through a novel approach which avoided the traditional aid and charitable giving of the past and replaced it with a commercial and incentive backed approach. They wanted to utilise the communications revolution that was reaching rural Africa to enable such an approach. They also wanted to rely on the hands on involvement of people in the UK acting as volunteer mentors rather than only seeking to use their charitable donations.
After many discussions there was a general feeling that a solution might indeed lie in tapping into groups of people who whilst unwilling to give additional money to charities might be willing and able to help in other ways. One of the groups identified was people who were retiring or thinking of retiring in their 50’s. This group included bright, well connected, financially self sufficient people with huge reserves of drive and energy. They are retiring at the top of their game and are looking forward to a period of well deserved rest and relaxation. A fear for some of them, though, is that they might follow after others they know who have lost their edge following retirement. These people have a lot to give but are not suited to working as NT room stewards, working in charity shops or delivering meals on wheels. Some have empathy with poor people in the UK or overseas but others don’t. They are not looking to repay anything but rather would relish an opportunity to solve problems that others so far have failed to crack. Another group with similar potential to make a difference was identified as parents who found they had additional time on hand when their children either started at full time school or at university or left home. There were felt to be many other groups with a lot to give but it was agreed that it make sense to just start looking at these two initially
It was also agreed that the focus should be on increasing the food production of the very poor. As 20,000 people starve to death every day it was felt that the focus should be here rather than on other important but less life threatening issues such as education, health and democracy. As money seemed to evaporate it would be better to operate in a way that emphasised other ways of providing support. Dambisa Moyo writes in her book, Dead Aid, that in the past 50 years over US$1 trillion in development-related aid has been transferred from rich counties to Africa. She then refers to a World Bank study which found that as much as 85% of aid flows were used for purposes other than what they were intended. The team was keen not to pour good money after bad.
The question then became whether a group of people from the UK with little or no knowledge of Africa, of poverty or of food production could actually make a difference. Nick therefore persuaded Nick Gregory, one of his more sceptical friends, to join him on a visit to Southern Zambia in November 2009. Nick Gregory had no knowledge of Africa, of poverty or of food production but was an expert in Japanese equities and had proved himself successful as a hedge fund manager.
The pair spent most of the visit in the Southern Province listening to local people and trying to pick up an understanding of the underlying issues. Following the visit Nick Gregory wrote:
I think we can get something very worthwhile going, I found it a very rewarding experience. Not, strangely enough, in the sense of experiencing a damascene moment of tortured post colonial guilt or pity but understanding (a little!) that many of the problems are ludicrously simple although as whole very complex. Just a huge learning experience.
Nick Kendall-Carpenter then bounced ideas off several of his friends who were working for international development charities. These people were generally very positive about the approach and some suggested useful improvements that were then incorporated into the concept.
The two Nicks returned to Zambia twice in 2010. On the first of these visits they revisited Elspeth in the Southern Province before meeting up with Kangwa Puta, the sister of a college friend of both Nicks, and visiting locations with her in the Copperbelt. On the second visit they travelled with Claire Bosley, Alison Langley and Mike Pyper and identified a handful of prototype projects on which to try out the ideas. Andrew Lyons then joined the group and they decided to call what they were
doing Zambian Rural Partnerships and use the
The team selected a variety of different projects to support. It soon became clear that providing and investing a small loan gave both sets of partners something concrete to focus on and to talk about. It also gave the UK partners an increased degree of credibility. Several of the Zambian partners commented that they had met white people before who had come before with big promises but this time something was actually happening. Most of the initial projects were small scale and involved setting up revolving loans of 1,000 Kwacha (approximately £130) to fund vegetable growing. Although initially there were some misunderstandings on both sides these projects all provided useful learning exercises. Generally the projects were successful and allowed the team to draw up templates for future projects. The aim was to set up a process that would enable effective partnerships to be formed in the future without the need for UK partners to travel to Zambia to meet their partners there.
Two of the initial projects were relatively large and involved lending
small communities enough money to build and stock chicken houses. These projects have both been very successful and have each generated surplus income to fund additional projects. Claire Bosley and Nick Gregory have also learnt a lot about chicken farming. The projects, on the other hand, were quite complex and both benefited from having experienced local champions close by who were able to intervene at key moments and to access better communications technologies than is available to the average Zambian partner. The conclusion has been that these are excellent projects but probably better suited to being implemented by a UK partner after they had already built an effective working relationship with the community through a series of smaller projects.
Overall, the team concluded these projects proved the hypothesis and showed that a group of people based in the UK with little or no knowledge of Africa, of poverty or of food production could actually make a difference at almost no financial cost. The UK partners also found they gained a lot from the experience. The team therefore decided that ZaRP should be grown to a size where it could make a significant impact on rural poverty.