Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Sports for solar diplomacy initiative – a perfect blend of private-public partnership

Sports for Solar is part of our Diplomacy Initiative

Published: Jul 8, 2020 03:41:52 PM IST

Sports for solar diplomacy initiative – a perfect blend of private-public partnership
Effective humanitarian organizations believe that “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” That wisdom is the founding principle of GIFT, and this principle has been the single most powerful influence in shaping our programs and initiatives.

1. Tell us about GIFT. How are you different from other humanitarian organizations?

GIFT Global Initiative is a Humanitarian Organization advocating for and empowering the most disadvantaged and vulnerable families, in some of the poorest areas of the planet. We believe in Strengthening the Family Unit that further allows the children to have a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm.

Prevention is a key component of comprehensive care at GIFT. In contrast to the nuanced and traditional understanding of what humanitarian organizations must focus on, we take a more modern approach. We focus on preventing the root cause of exploitation and poverty rather than a focus on reacting to these causes. For instance, Education for All, Access to Portable Solar Energy, Clean Water, Sanitation, Healthcare for All, and Creating Employment Opportunities are proven ways of relieving the suffering of these families and safeguarding children’s rights.

Today, humanitarians respond to a vast range of crises. These include mega-disasters, complex crises, smaller scale disasters, and slow-onset crises (chronic food insecurity in the Horn of Africa). However, humanitarian assistance is often provided in a generic manner. Most humanitarian organizations will write a thank you note few times a year to their donors and partners and provide a tax write-off. When most people think of donors, they think of a cheque-book; a mechanism to provide funds to operational actors, who then deliver humanitarian assistance. While this is true, it is also an extremely simplistic view of the myriad of roles that donors play in the humanitarian system and what they should receive in exchange for their contributions to humanitarian missions.

GIFT’s unique value add lies in its Media Wing that adds brand value, positive PR as well as High Definition Content customized specially for our government as well as corporate partners by our 14 Time Emmy Nominated GIFT Media team. We provide Socially Conscious marketing and advertising content to our donors to increase their shareholder value, build customer loyalty and shine a spotlight on the company’s social cause. Afterall, Millennials report a greater willingness to pay more for socially responsible products and 81% of the millennials also want their favorite companies to make public declaration of their corporate citizenship.

2. Tell us about the Sports for Solar Diplomacy Initiative.  

Sports for Solar is part of our Diplomacy Initiative! We put together Sports events where children from low income areas compete as a team to win. At the end of the tournament, which typically lasts an entire day, all participants go home with portable solar lights, bringing light to their household for the first time.

The children we serve faces complex barriers to accessing ladders of opportunity. Those same barriers are what keep them off teams, out of leagues, and unable to access programs that could support them to reach their full potential. Addressing one barrier alone is a band aid. Barriers stack up on one another and feel insurmountable. There isn’t a better way to inspire children and create positive role models than to engage them in a sports. Socially conscious and generous brands such as the tennis giant Babolat see a value in Sports for Solar. Together, we are not only lighting up communities but also introducing and advancing sports such as Tennis and Soccer that could benefit immensely from tapping into large pools of talent in poor communities.

In February 2020, we completed a successful Soccer for Solar Tournament in partnership with the UAE embassy in Pretoria, in the Elias Motsoaledi settlement in Soweto, South Africa which is home to about 4000 families that live in extreme poverty without sanitation or power. The water looks filthy and the streets are filled with excrement. It’s not unusual for children to see tourists make their way through his squatter everyday as for about 23 euros, tourists are promised a glimpse into the lives of hundreds of thousands of people living in tiny shacks along dirt roads littered with plastic bags filled with excrement called “flying toilets,” as one travel agency explains on its website. Most tourists never return. Connecting the shantytowns to the electricity grid has been extremely time-consuming, and costly.

The Sports for Solar event in February provided Solar lights to half of the community. Today, young girls and boys can study longer, engage in team sports and soccer coaching, women can travel safe, small businesses can stay open longer, low incidence of fire accidents caused by candles, wood, kerosene and avoid climate change.

We are positive that the sports for solar initiative can kick start sustainable development in underdeveloped communities, thereby decreasing poverty. This unique blend of Public-Private partnership could herald an improved outlook for other economically disadvantaged parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

We encourage corporate brands and government embassies to join us on this unique journey of lighting up 50000 households in some of the roughest areas of our planet. For Embassies, this wonderful diplomacy initiative will bridge the gap between your host country and your home country, using sport to build peace and strengthen relationship between countries. For corporations, there is not a better way to increase shareholder value than through socially conscious PR and developing brand loyalty through social impact campaigns such as Sports for Solar.

3. GIFT Global Initiative empowers communities across the globe. Tell us why the Clean Energy/Solar Initiative is so important. 

GIFT Global Initiative, empowering over 10K children every year in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the USA has adopted A World Clean Energy Initiative that aims at providing 50,000 households access to low-cost portable solar energy in the next two years, as part of a United Nations-backed initiative to fight poverty. Our clean energy initiative, will expand access to Low-cost, Durable and Portable Solar Lights to low-income communities in 12 African countries (South Africa, Cape Verde, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Botswana, Namibia, Kingdom of Lesotho, Malawi, Uganda, Ghana and Zimbabwe, Kenya); four South Asian countries (Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Nepal); Mexico and the USA.

Instead of importing the lights, our portable solar lights are made locally bringing skills training and jobs to many underserved communities. The women can travel safe, work longer hours, children can study longer hours, small businesses can stay open longer, and there is a reduction in fire accidents caused by candles and wood.

Our clean energy initiative can kick start sustainable development in underdeveloped communities, thereby decreasing poverty. For example, until recently, Soweto situated right in the heart of Johannesburg did not have any basic services – such as schools, health centers, or even energy – connecting the shantytowns to the electricity grid would be extremely time-consuming, and costly. Our partnership with the United Arab Emirates Embassy in Pretoria looks set to change the outlook for Soweto, and, within a matter of months, kickstart sustainable development for the benefit of the thousands of people, and it could herald an improved outlook for other economically disadvantaged parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America in a similar way.

The portable solar lights have low up-​front costs, need little maintenance, and do not pose the risks associated with using energy sources such as kerosene, wood, and candles. Solar products can address both energy poverty and energy sustainability soon. Solar lanterns could replace kerosene lighting, which is still used by an estimated 500 million households, leading to a reduction in emissions, which helps in terms of climate change as well as indoor air pollution.

6. What projects are you working on in 2020?

GIFT reaches about 10,000 children annually in Asia, Africa, Mexico and the USA through various initiatives with a singular mission – empowering the families to prevent exploitation. The three initiatives below hold our attention in 2020 due to the wide range of benefits these projects bring to the impoverished communities.

Sports for Solar - Our single most important project for 2020-21 is the Sports for Solar initiative. We estimate that some $520 million will be saved by consumers by switching from kerosene or biomass fuel to solar energy. In addition, carbon emissions will be reduced considerable. To deliver these clean energy products, we rely on our strong network of volunteers, non-profit partners funded by GIFT and the For-Profit sector to provide the technology influx needed for a project of this scale. Nearly half the world’s population lacks reliable access to modern energy services and more than 20 per cent of the global population – 1.4 billion people – remains without access to electricity. According to a recent UNDP report, household air pollution from the use of biomass fuel is expected to cause more than 1.5 million deaths a year by 2030. The initiative will also help to further the goals of the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, which seeks to ensure universal access to modern energy services, double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency and double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix, all by 2030.

School Sponsorships – Learning and education are at the heart of all development. Our School Sponsorship Initiative aims to ensure that children everywhere -- boys and girls -- will be able to complete a full course of good quality schooling. Real progress simply cannot be achieved without empowering individuals with knowledge and skills to better their lives. School Sponsorship is a unique kind of empowerment program that connects one child in need with one compassionate donor who agrees to pay School Tuition Expenses for a year for the child! Becoming a sponsor means giving children the chance to grow up safe, educated and empowered – forever changing their life and future. When you become a sponsor, GIFT does not give your donation directly to your sponsored child. If you pay School Sponsorship for the entire year, the money is paid to the school for the sponsored child. If you chose to make a partial payment or a smaller amount towards our School Sponsorship Program, we combine your donation with the support of other sponsors to help support educational projects in your sponsored child’s community.

Covid-19 Together – GIFT launched Covid-19 Together to respond to the hunger pandemic due to the economic contagion that is spreading as fast as the Novel Corona Virus itself. The COVID-19 pandemic inflicted high human costs worldwide and protecting lives and allowing health care systems to cope required isolation, lockdowns, and widespread closures to slow the spread of the virus. The health crisis therefore had a severe impact on economic activity. For instance, LA county reported an increase in the homeless count by 12.7% to 66433 people from the last year. Reflecting the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to contain it, the unemployment rate and the number of unemployed persons in the United States went up by 9.8 percentage points and 15.2 million, respectively, since February.

The 43 countries in the world with the highest poverty rates are fragile or conflict-affected situations (FCS) and/or in Sub-Saharan Africa. Access to schools, health care, electricity, and clean water remains elusive for many people. The United States Government provided close to $270 million to help countries across sub-Saharan Africa respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. How much of that money reached the poorest sections of the society is hard to estimate given the levels of corruption and socio-economic factors in developing countries. The 4000 households that we work with in South Africa most definitely did not see a penny of the approximately $2,770,000 sent by the US govt. to South Africa. The World Bank, for instance, approved a $7.5 million International Development Association (IDA) grant to help Sierra Leone respond to the threat posed by the coronavirus outbreak and strengthen national systems for public health preparedness. How much of that trickled down to smaller entities and individuals from poor communities?

GIFT’s Covid-19 together initiative has delivered about 2000 warm meals and food supply to families in the US (Los Angeles), Sierra Leone, Cape Verde, Mexico and South Africa between March 2020-June2020. The Covid-19 Together initiative is here to stay as the world continues to battle the novel corona virus and a resurgence in the cases in the months ahead.

5.  What advice would you give to younger humanitarians interested in aid work? 

Humanitarian aid work is not a job, it is a lifestyle. We count ourselves very blessed to be able to lead a lifestyle that aligns with our values and passion.  Many people make peace with the idea that work is something that is separate from their passions and interests – and what you really want to do happens on the weekend and evenings.

We cannot imagine anything else being as interesting, challenging, exhilarating, and rewarding as empowering families to end exploitation. Working in countries and cultures other than your own can be interesting and challenging. It is quite different from traveling to a country for sightseeing, and lets you get to know a society and understand more about it. There are very few other careers that give you an opportunity to experience cultures and people than humanitarian work. You will see things that no one else will see (not all of them will be good, but they will be fascinating, and present you with opportunities and inspiring examples of people overcoming apparently impossible odds. You will find yourself inspired by the determination, hussle, love, compassion ingenuity and resourcefulness of the people you serve and the ones you work with.

During the winter of 2017 we walked into an 800 household, poverty-stricken, cartel-controlled slum by the US-Mexico border and were shocked by the stark absence of preventive humanitarian aid. Church groups feared the cartel’s presence, they dumped used goods and left without seeing them put to beneficial use. Year after year, the families lived off donations with little to no change in their standard of living. kelly (names changed for privacy) lives in a slum controlled by the Mexican cartels where children & women are sex trafficked, drugs are readily available, and violence is a way of life. She has two children – John (9) and Mary (12). Both children are a result of rape that she endured while out on the streets dealing drugs. When we first met Kelly about 4 years ago, she was too intoxicated to get a word out. We became attuned to how her substance abuse and violent behavior was affecting the children. John was hurting animals and Mary bullying other children. Cultivating intrinsic motivation in people like Kelly, scarred by past traumas and bogged down by their daily grind to survive often requires conscious consistent effort. We started off with weekly visits, bringing gifts for the children, mentoring them, driving them around to show them the world outside the slum, enlisting them to the GIFT pop-up schools to study and socialize together. As the siblings developed an affection for us, Kelly also started showing an affinity for change. Every visit, she seemed more coherent than before and engaged as a parent. Fast forward to today, Kelly has a job as a carpenter, she is clear of drugs and alcohol and the children are in school.

Effective humanitarian organizations believe that “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” That wisdom is the founding principle of GIFT, and this principle has been the single most powerful influence in shaping our programs and initiatives.

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Disclaimer: The views, suggestions and opinions expressed here are the sole responsibility of the experts. No Forbes India journalist was involved in the writing and production of this article.