Written by Jess Fostekew


Working with women and children first

If everything goes to plan, Sally Vivyan will have worked herself out of her job as director of programme funding for Ghana-focused charity, AfriKids by 2018. Jessica Fostekew caught up with her school friend to find out more about its work.

Sally has spent her working life so far, working for AfriKids

I’ve been friends with Sally Vivyan since school. She was always a mega-achiever then, and now she has one of the most interesting and important jobs of anyone I know.

In 2005, she started work for a charity called AfriKids, which is working towards sustainable development in Ghana. She currently lives in Durham (while working between London and Ghana) with her partner and their one-year-old daughter. This is what happened when I asked her lots of questions.

Sal, you’ve been at AfriKids for nine years. How did you get to where you are now?

I started just before I graduated. And I was volunteering one day a week for two years before that. I think my experience was just very lucky.

You’re too humble saying it was luck.

No, I heard Georgie (Fienberg, AfriKids founder) on a radio programme, called her up and asked if there was anything I could do. What are the odds of that?

I was the third member of staff when I joined. There are now 12 in the UK and 150 in Ghana.

I started as a trust fundraiser and developed a fundraising department. I became director of fundraising when our founder went on her first maternity leave. Then in 2010 I moved over to head up Programmes.

Then, I had maternity leave and now I’m director of programme funding.

So, yeah my work journey so far has been AfriKids, AfriKids, AfriKids.

Tell me about AfriKids

It’s a child rights organisation. There are two AfriKids, one in the UK and the delivery partner in Ghana.

In terms of how it compares to charities who work in international crisis management it’s essentially a different strand of the industry. Obviously, God forbid if Ebola or something like that came to us we’d take action, but we’re not like Medicins San Frontiers who work in conflict zones. We work in international development. It’s about creating lasting, self-sustainable change. Not giving hand-outs.

What sets you apart from other similar organisations?

Within that development community, I’d say we’re different in two key ways. The first one is that we have an exit plan for the UK. So we actually want to be made redundant, and when we are, we will close.

But we’ll only pull out once Ghana make us redundant – not before or after. We won’t drag it out and also we won’t just say “programme’s over, bye bye”. We’re going to go once we’re not needed.

Photograph taken by Nick Eastcott

The other way in which we’re quite different for an NGO (non governmental organisation) of our size in that we’re just working in one part of the world.

AfriKids only works in Ghana and with AfriKids Ghana because we believe that’s what’s needed to create sustainable change there.

That means that as long as it’s in northern Ghana, then almost nothing is off our agenda. We want to tackle the problem, we realise it needs to be tackled from all angles and we know development is a long a complicated process.

I don’t know many people who are as passionate about their work as you are. Did you always know you wanted to work in development/ fundraising?

I always wanted to work in development. Oh, actually I think I did want to be a vet, until I realised I’d have to do A-levels in science.

In all seriousness I wanted to work in policy over fundraising, but I started doing fundraising because it was what was needed at AfriKids. Over the years I’ve developed a grudging respect for it. It’s actually very satisfying to raise the money you know is needed to do what needs to be done.

You live in Durham, have a one-year-old child and work in London and Ghana, how does that work?

Well [breaks off from laughing], I’ve only been doing it with a daughter since July so I’m still working it out. But I think it’s about having realistic expectations of what I can offer to all of those roles. And I’m lucky for me that it comes at a time when AfriKids UK have just got a new core leadership team, who are brilliant, so they can just use me now in addition to them where I’m useful.

I’m very fortunate. I’ve been able to come back to part-time role that is useful to the organisation but doesn’t eat into family time too much.

I’ve become really aware, as I’m sure every working mother does, of the challenges of balancing everything. Even if you’re lucky enough for finance not to be the biggest issue, working out what’s right for you, for your own sense of fulfillment can be really tough.

Tell me about AfriKids’ work with women.

AfriKids works pretty extensively with women. The reason it started, and the rationale it comes back to, is that to make it a better place for children to grow up. You need to be working with everyone… but you especially need to be working with mums and with girls.

There’s the Livelihoods Programme which is ongoing and provides micro finance to women in cooperative groups, so they can set up or expand businesses or ‘income generating activities’, to bring cash into the home. There’s very little cash in homes in northern Ghana, it’s very much a subsistence lifestyle, living off the land. But people need cash.

Is there free education?

Yeah, but you have to have a uniform and exercise books which you need cash to pay for. There’s exam fees. There’s also a national health insurance scheme, which is affordable, but you do need some cash for that. So you don’t need loads but you need some.
And it’s really important that it’s the women doing it, because they then have a say about how it is used and they’re more likely to use it for their own and their children’s welfare than anything else. There’s lots of evidence of that from all around the world.

£50 is enough for one woman to completely transform a family’s welfare and once that’s repaid, that goes into another scheme. So the money we first put in is still going round and round.

Amazing. What sort of businesses are these women setting up?

It varies. One thing we’re trying to do is increase the range of things they can do. So a lot of women make shea butter products, a lot of women weave baskets – it helps that there’s a local and an international market for that. Some invest it in farms, in livestock rearing. Some invest it in ‘pito’ which is the local booze.
(I’m not sure how to describe it and I’m not a fan to be honest. You don’t really get it anywhere else that I’m aware of.)

This is a really effective scheme that’s serving about 1,000 women, growing to about 5,000 women and yes, well, we need more money for that, so if anyone wants to give us any…?

We’re also involved in social healthcare. We have a hospital, we have full antenatal care and postnatal services and we’re also getting more and more into sex education. Women are getting more aware of their rights and of their reproductive options and of things like Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and how it doesn’t have to happen.

Is FGM common in Ghana?

It’s affected by it. There was a big awareness campaign about 10 years ago which was successful and it became illegal but it’s driven it underground. So it’s reduced but it still happens.

We’re also just starting to pilot work with pregnant women. Trying to get the whole community to be more supportive and pregnant women to understand they need time out, and healthcare and that they need a break when a child is born.
We’re doing this with the government and with nursing mothers for the first time.

How centralised is the government?

It’s quite decentralised but most of the things we’re piloting are becoming national policy. We have relationships with the ministers in Accra but day to day we work with the regional offices of educational or health welfare. So everything we do is a partnership with the government. Either delivering the good policy ideas they have, but don’t have the resources to make happen, or nudging them along in terms of policies themselves.

So we are looking at women’s needs from all angles and will continue to do so.

That’s loads. What’s next for you and for AfriKids?

AfriKids UK want to not exist by 2018 so we’ve got a lot of work to do. We need to raise the funds to get all those businesses up and running so that Ghana can confidently decide we can say goodbye.

And at that point, for me? I don’t know.

Fair enough.

To read more about the FLISP and for contact details should you wish to contribute go to: http://www.AfriKids.org/family-livelihoods-support-programme

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Written by Jess Fostekew

Jessica Fostekew is a writer, comedian, actor, law degree-waster, sister, daughter and beard-fan with an unabashed food infatuation.