Tragedy led to Bintou Kamara founding Global Action for Access to Information & Development (AGAID). Originally from Gambia but now living and working in Paris, Bintou lost close relatives who decided to migrate to Europe illegally. Their drive and ambition to seek better lives for themselves and their families was a black hole. In their eyes, Europe was the Holy Grail, offering them everything they could have ever imagined. Four of her relatives died trying to make the journey.
“I am convinced that had they been aware of the imminent challenges and dangers this journey is typically wrought with, they would have been in a better position to take precautions.”
Bintou has a strong communications and media background within the African Nongovernmental Organizations (NGO) sector. She has utilized these skill sets to communicate the risks associated with the migration journey in her community. AGAID is only 8 months old and seeks to address local challenges faced by people tempted to travel illegally for a better life in Europe. Further, the organization seeks to equip locals with the knowledge and skills needed to tackle their daily struggles; lacking healthcare and nutrition, poor wealth generation and abject poverty. By doing so, the temptation to travel illegally to Europe lessens; in addition, the community has a greater chance to progress and evolve.
Kamara gives more insight into how the specific projects of AGAID hope to be interpreted. The organization advocates for vulnerable communities through visual evidence and storytelling. The focus is to build the capacity of the next generation of Gambians by making sure they understand the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and where they can contribute to provide tactile solutions.
Kamara has been traveling through Europe to meet with communities from the Gambian diaspora, building a network of “thinkers and doers” who can get involved and contribute to the development process back in Gambia. As that network grows, Kamara aims to use her media connections to help bring the issues faced by her beneficiaries to light in both Europe and Gambia.
In Gambia, AGAID hopes to provide intervention in rural communities and popular urban areas to educate the population on various socio-economic development issues. Bringing optimism back to the communities through access to relevant information via community media. Taking interventions one step further, Bintou uses education as an example.
Intervention in schools from primary level to raise awareness of global challenges so they are well informed and ready to face those challenges and respond where possible. Educational documentaries will help sculpt the mentalities of children and youth to begin to discover their potential and get more conscious of the opportunities surrounding them. The aim of this program would be to show them they can be anything they want to be.
Getting AGAID off of the ground has been challenging. As a mother of two young girls, with a full-time job, Kamara is performing a delicate balancing act. She understands her limitations but strongly believes in her abilities to help her beneficiaries.
Bintou cites lacking manpower as an initial hurdle. People interpret the concept as a hobby , not something that could garner enough interest to become a long term service. Kamara believes that once AGAID is stimulating discussion and delivering results people, will sit up and take note. Kamara understands where she lacks technical knowledge and expertise; educating herself on NGO management has been crucial to the organization’s growth.
Seeking advice and guidance from experienced and knowledgeable people has allowed Kamara to begin to overcome the obstacles to taking the organization to the next level. Kamara has a select group of friends within the NGO industry whom she relies on. She picks their brains on strategy or project design. The brains in question, are those of people who believe in AGAID and see the value in having such an organization support local communities. However, funding has eluded Kamara.
“Not being familiar with proposal writing and donor requirements, not knowing where to solicit funding is a big constraint. AGAID has been self-funded since its creation, I have never thought twice about using my humble resources to help grow the organization for the benefit of the communities.”
The term ‘put your money where your mouth is’ springs to mind.
One challenge that plays to Kamara’s strengths as a communications professional is the political climate of Gambia. The Gambian government is very sensitive to anything that appears to be defying them. One misinterpretation could lead to serious consequences. Thankfully, her experiences of working with governments throughout Africa have given her the footing to tackle such difficult circumstances.
“AGAID: Uses outreach to engage with local-level policy leaders to encourage them to adopt development initiatives that improves quality of life. – linking that to policy change for lasting, sustainable development. Where people and their communities are able to support themselves financially”
Along this journey, Kamara is in disbelief of how passionate and focused she has become. It seems she was always passionate, but is now acting on that passion.
“I never thought I could allocate so much time for a cause to the point of it becoming my principal point of focus.”
One thing that stands out in Kamara compared with other NGO founders is her humble approach to things that are outside of her control. Instead of jumping in head first, she is mindful of what needs to be done but is aware that not everything can be achieved overnight.
On paper AGAID looks to be headed in the right direction, growing steadily and not biting off more than it can chew. Kamara personifies this in her demeanor and approach to life in general. Everything is planned-out; however, given the target beneficiaries, political climate and other testing challenges preparing for the unexpected is vital. Who better to understand these challenges than someone who has seen the plight of individuals firsthand? Kamara is on a journey, trying to prevent others in Gambia from feeling the heartache and tragedy she and many others experience every day.
3 KEY LESSONS FROM BINTOU’S STORY
1. MAP OUT YOUR GROWTH PLAN: Do the research when it comes to setting out a growth plan. Financing, understanding your stakeholders and the social, economic and political climate are key factors to planning your trajectory. They should be monitored and reviewed regularly.
2. CONSIDER YOUR BANDWIDTH WHEN PRIORITIZING GOALS: Its not uncommon for founders to find themselves launching a non-profit or NGO while also figuring things out in their own lives. Circumstances are rarely ideal – be realistic about what you can accomplish with your own skills and experiences. Passion can be a great motivator and reminder at the most testing of times, but its one piece of the puzzle.
3. GET HELP! If, even after doing some basic research and self-mitigation, you’re finding it difficult to negotiate past any particular stage, reach out to your network of professionals.*