My 2015 Project Pyramid partner organization, Aywa International, is an American non-governmental organization (NGO) that operates the Malika Monkeys program, an artisan organization providing hand-crafted percussion instruments and other products, outside of Dakar, Senegal.
I was immediately drawn to working with the Malika Monkeys because their model—providing young men with vocational training—is the type of investment in human capital that I worked on in my previous career, managing college and career readiness initiatives in Pittsburgh, PA.
My project team and I traveled to Dakar and met with the young men of the Malika Monkeys to determine the viability of using those vocational skills to enter into new markets beyond traditional tourism revenue. What I took away from my Project Pyramid experience, and what has guided my involvement in the Turner Family Center for Social Ventures, is the sophistication of Senegal’s economy, even though it is very foreign from our own.
I have grown to appreciate that assumptions about the “right way” to do business or to address poverty are often based upon localized, personal experience, and that the only way to challenge those assumptions (and, therefore, find more effective, appropriate solutions to global and local poverty) is to have more personal, open experiences with those affected by poverty.
I would encourage anyone interested in poverty alleviation, and, specifically, working with the Turner Family Center, to do so with an open mind and a willingness to work.