The recent Live 8 concerts and the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, re-focused the international spotlight on the plight of Africa. The numbers are staggering: 30,000 children die every day because of a vicious combination of poverty, malnutrition, and preventable disease; 27 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS (of 40 million worldwide); the per-capita income for sub-Saharan Africa is less than $750 per year.
The entertainment industry has successfully raised worldwide awareness of the continent's struggles. But what about the business community? Some global corporations have contributed millions of dollars to the cause. However, the massive scale of suffering and the concern that they can't make a difference are enough to make even well-meaning companies give up because they don't know where to begin.
There's an answer. Start small. Do what you can, and do it well. Identify one need your company can address, and follow through even as you accept the fact that you won't solve all of Africa's problems.
SolidWorks is an engineering software company whose expertise lies in helping solve fundamental product-design challenges. When President Paul Kagame visited our offices, we decided to donate software, training, and engineering expertise to help rebuild Rwanda's infrastructure.
Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa. Its residents toil to live on less than $180 a year in a largely subsistence farming economy. Average life expectancy is only 39, and 95 percent of residents in Rwanda's capital have no running water or electricity, and sanitation is a luxury that only a few have.
President Kagame shared his vision for turning a war-ravaged, impoverished country into a viable, developing nation. Cultivating the kind of broad education program that Mahatma Gandhi launched to energize India after World War II would help Rwanda better control poverty, reduce preventable disease outbreaks, and stimulate the economy.
President Kagame's visit spurred us to contribute in the best way we can. We're donating software and training to teach Rwandan high school and university students crucial skills they'll need to help build better lives for everyone. We'll help develop and expand engineering curricula at the National University of Rwanda; the Kigali Institute of Science, Technology and Management; and the École Technologique Officiel (ETO) Gitarama high school. We'll also train professional engineers to design water and sewage systems for urban and rural areas and build roads to connect communities. We'll establish local programs for making engineering software available to more people to foster their creativity so that they can develop everything from computers to furniture to new school buildings.
We invite businesses to take a stand and help countries like Rwanda help themselves. Every company has the opportunity to act not as corporations or even corporate citizens, but as humans. Every company has resources, however small.
Start small. Start now. For our future.
Reach McEleney at firstname.lastname@example.org.