Hello from Abraham
I am writing to you from Bukavu, where the year is off to a busy start. Congo has been going through an Ebola outbreak, but I am happy to say it seems to be under control. The new government of President Félix Tshisekedi is reaching out to the governments of Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi — a promising start to the healing of old wounds in our region. Meanwhile, we’re expecting Monusco, the UN peacekeeping force in DRC, to step down their troop levels. We’re keeping an eye on the situation, which has the potential to affect the economy and security of some of our partners in eastern Congo.
Our own government relationships are strong and growing stronger. In recent months, we have seen the U.S. government express new enthusiasm for development work in DRC, and ECI is well positioned to take advantage of this new energy. Our relationships with the Congolese government are strong also. I recently had a good meeting with the new director of Congo’s immigration agency (DGM) to talk about ECI’s need for access to national borders. We’ve also met with the governors of South and North Kivu, Théo Kasi and Julien Kahongya, to talk about the work ECI is doing in their provinces. Governor Kahongya may be a familiar name, since he was a big fan of ECI’s work in his previous position as Minister of Agriculture. He was particularly excited to see what Asili has accomplished in South Kivu, and he’s eager to explore replicating our work in his province too.
You’ll read much more about what we’ve been doing in the rest of this newsletter:
But for now, I want to mention just one more thing: I am proud to tell you that we have just completed the external audit of ECI’s finances, including Asili. That’s a significant milestone for our newly combined organization. I don’t know the results yet, but I have every confidence that this audit will show we are making measurable progress toward becoming the organization we want to be.
Approximate amount of 2020 ECI grant funding now at work in communities throughout eastern Congo. Our grant funding has been disbursed on time.
Price of overnight medical care at the Asili health clinic in Mudusa, in South Kivu’s Kabare region. We are piloting this new service offering to supplement our existing primary care services, offering overnight care at at $1 less per day than the average of local hospitals — with dramatically higher quality.
Convening ECI partners in Bukavu. For the first time, ECI is convening all the community organizations we support in one place. Starting with a meeting of CBOs in Bukavu, our hope is to foster learning among the community leaders we support so that they can together form a bigger force for development and innovation in Congo.
Interest from USAID. USAID has recently invited feedback from humanitarian organizations on a new concept for the agency: direct aid to local community organizations. That’s exactly what ECI has been doing for the past ten years — and other groups have been coming to talk to us about our thoughts. This goes to show that ECI has been a leader for a long time, and that even gigantic agencies like USAID, which can be slow to innovate, are moving toward the community-led model ECI pioneered.
Coffee farmers partner with Nespresso. The ongoing partnership between Nespresso, Congolese coffee co-ops and ECI is on-track. Together we will reach an additional 80,000 people in coffee-growing regions across nearly 30 km — and Nespresso wants to start selling Congolese coffee globally. ECI is convening the partners and building out Asili services in the region, but the funding comes from USAID and Nespresso.
January visit from ECI board members and friends. In January, ECI hosted a delegation of American visitors, including ECI board members Dave Segel, Ward Brehm, and Jen Alt, along with noted philanthropist Muffy McMillan. The trip was especially designed to highlight the work of our faith-based partners. Our visitors had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Denis Mukwege (left), a Nobel laureate and long-term ECI partner, and Prince Emmanuel de Merode, director of Virunga National Park (right, with Ward and Dave). The trip was exciting for our visitors, and we look forward to cultivating the relationships we saw come to life in our company.
Tad’s move to Kigali. Tad Lunden, our Product Manager, has moved with his wife Carly and their dog Banjo to Kigali to be close to the rest of the ECI team. “It’s been really nice being in the same time zone as the team,” says Tad. “What I’m most excited about — aside from the great plantains I get — is all the progress we can make. We have a really busy year ahead of us, and that’s because of all the opportunities to expand on our work.”
Big ideas: 30 new projects in 6 days. In partnership with our friends at Alight, we’re doing something new: piloting 30 new ideas in just six days, 20 in the Asili zones around Bukavu, and another ten in Goma with our partner CBOs. Each project tests a specific idea to serve our customers better, on a budget of no more than $500. This approach is a total departure from how NGOs usually operate. Instead of tailoring our ideas to match available funding, we’re putting ideas first. Stay tuned for stories about our 30 projects, with photographs by young Congolese photographers. (Here’s a preview: to improve the customer experience at water kiosks, one Asili entrepreneur installed a radio for customers to listen to as they wait in line. These kids seemed to like the idea.)
New Asili service: Overnight care. Sometimes people avoid coming to Asili health clinics because they suspect they might need overnight care. That’s why we’re piloting overnight care as a new service. Patients with acute or severe diseases will have a safe place to stay for up to 72 hours, at an all-inclusive rate of $5 per night.
Electronic medical records. Electronic records are crucial for patient care. We’ve been working with a healthcare company called VecnaCares to design our very own clinic management system, just for Asili. So far, the software covers patient registration, consultations, medication management and reporting. All of our nurses have been trained — with certificates to make it official — and we’ve already seen a decrease of 8 percent in record-keeping time.
- Reintroducing ECI in Washington. The first week of March, Abraham and Tad will be in D.C. to meet with old friends and new contacts in U.S. government agencies, on Capitol Hill, and in the international development community. These relationships are being brokered with the gracious help of ECI board member Mvemba Dizolele. Jeremy Haldeman, government affairs director at Alight, will be on hand to facilitate these conversations. We are rekindling those relationships with an eye to longer-term advocacy for Congo in American policy.
- Board meeting Thursday, March 5. This is a friendly reminder that our next virtual board meeting is on Thursday, March 5, at 2pm Eastern / 11am Pacific / 9pm Goma.
- WhatsApp group. We want ECI board members and friends to be more connected to the work we do every day. That’s why we’re starting a special group chat using WhatsApp, a free messaging app that connects more than a billion people worldwide — including ECI staff and partners. Board members, if you don’t have WhatsApp yet, download the app here so we can invite you to join the group.
- Nespresso visit. The third week of March, we’ll host a visit from Nespresso’s sustainability and marketing teams to talk about their growing partnership with Congolese coffee cooperatives. ?