Written by Pamela McLean in 2009
This account is to help the newcomer to Dadamac understand more about John's Dada's work at Fantsuam Foundation (FF), how its various activities have come about, and how they fit together.
A rich mixture of activities
There are facts and figures elsewhere which prove FF's impressive track record and illustrate why it is highly regarded. However, FF is much more than the sum of its parts. To work with FF for any period of time is to get a strong feeling of ‘family’ and community. Once that is understood or experienced, then the whole mixture of activities begins to make sense and certain apparent contradictions fall into place. Many large traditional organisations focus on a particular area of need – schools for education, clinics for health, banks for finance, and so on, yet FF, covers all those and more. The reason is simple - daily life is complex. Even the smallest of families is concerned with the effectiveness of the local infrastructure, (transport, power, water, sanitation and so forth); food security; housing; finance; education; training; employment and all the issues of life and death. All these things are important in family life - and FF is concerned with families.
Not short-term top-down projects
Looked at that way, it makes complete sense that FF, though small by many standards, is active in many areas. If, when you think of FF, you are expecting to find several neat and tidy, top-down, development projects, (each with a two or three year plan, a definite budget and a set of previously defined objectives) then you will be confused by FF. If on the other hand you have been part of a large and loving family (where the shared concerns are whatever is currently most important - a new baby, illness, people taking exams, losing jobs, trying to find somewhere to live, and so) then the complexity of FF will make complete sense (even if some of the details of how on earth it is gong to manage, are a little fuzzy).
How it started
FF was set up by a group of Nigerian professionals. It may be helpful to think of them as a bit like some benevolent uncles, or some older brothers who had left home and made good. Out of the group one was chosen to be the implementer, and that was John Dada, the (voluntary) programmes manager. One of the problems ‘back home’ was lack of money. The need for money was far more than the newly formed FF board could satisfy from their own resources – but it seemed possible that a system of lending money might work, so they decided on a micro-finance programme.
Learning from Mohammad Yunus
Kazanka Comfort was sent to Bangledesh to learn from Muhammad Yunus about micro-finance and the Gramean Bank. Back home again, with the financial help and combined wisdom of the board to help her, Comfort set about the task of establishing a micro-finance programme that would suit the local culture. This micro-finance programme is now well established and makes a profit which is used to benefit the community. Comfort is employed full-time as the General Secretary, overseeing all aspects of its work.
Relationship with clients
For anyone used to the anonymity of city life it is an eye-opener to go around the locality of Fantsuam with Comfort. She is forever saying, ‘Ah, there is one of my clients’ and going over to exchange greetings, ask after the family, and so on. The FF microfinance programme serves a large geographic area, and Comfort leads a staff of administrators at the FF office and a team of field officers who go out to collect the monthly payments from the clients. As the clients are typically working mothers with small businesses (such as petty trading) Comfort has a tremendous grasp of what is going on, and the financial and other pressures that rural families are facing.
Computerisation and ICT training
It is quite a step from financing petty trading to launching a CISCO (ICT training) academy but in the context of Fantsuam Foundation it makes complete sense. FF is an organisation driven by local need and interest, but its vision and ideas are not parochial. The people leading FF are highly educated, with international experience and vision. A successful micro finance organisation needs effective record keeping. It needs to computerise its systems. This may seem obvious to anyone reading this account now. However, the computerisation of the FF microfinance programme was not "here and now" – it was in rural Nigeria and it was around the turn of the century. (To put that in context, at that time the use of computers was rare - it was not surprising to go into a main office of the chief administrators or the head of police in a state capital and find nothing more technical than an old manual typewriter.)
Understandably, when the system at Fantsuam Foundation was computerised, people were intrigued. They wanted to know more, and because FF was set up to help the community, it responded by stopping and listening and answering questions. (A project that was set up only to make loans and to focus only on the business of making loans, would not have that flexibility and responsiveness.)
Refurbished computers and a rural CISCO academy
At this point, the influence of John Dada and his voluntary role as director of programmes comes to the fore. To cut a long story short, the local interest in computers led to FF importing refurbished computers and teaching people how to use them. Refurbished computers break down and FF helped to get them fixed but that involved taking the computers to the nearest city, Jos, a return trip that takes the best part of half a day. Jos has a university. It runs CISCO training. John Dada is at home in universities. He used to be a professor. He is comfortable with ICT. One of his reasons to travel between Fantsuan and Jos was to use the Jos cyber café. Looked at that way it makes perfect sense that Jos university would oversee the setting up of a CISCO academy at Fantsuan (next to the micro finance office) and that part of the compound would be roofed over to house a generator and a computer repair workshop.
Micro-finance and local knowledge
Back to micro-finance: most of the micro finance clients are women and their repayment rate is normally close to 100%. When it drops, Comfort knows that there is a real problem. A drop in repayment rates alerted FF to the problem of HIV/AIDS locally. The clients were facing problems repaying loans because of more illness in their families (or their own illness) and more funerals to pay for.
FF responded in various ways. Within the micro finance programme it adapted the services it was offering to provide more flexibility. Beyond the micro finance programme it looked at the wider issue of health, especially HIV/AIDS. In collaboration with the local doctor it set up a support and training programme called Positive Concern which looked at self-help, especially hygiene and nutrition (ARV drugs can be counter productive if used by HIV/AIDS sufferers who are malnourished). In addition to the study group led by the doctor, Positive Concern has experimented with solar cooking for ‘the positive kitchen’’; promoting the use of nutritional traditional local drinks (rather than ‘aspirational’ coca-cola etc); has involved itself with small scale farming with the ‘Positive Garden’ and ‘Positive Nursery’ and is on a continuing learning curve about fish farming to increase the supply of affordable protein (and to create livelihood opportunities).
More details of present projects are on the Fantsuam Foundation website
Developing in an organic way.
Once this broad picture of FF is understood, the various projects fall into place. FF develops in an organic way. It is a community programme which is concerned with individual and family well-being. It has various funded programmes, like any traditional NGO, but they are all interwoven. There are also other programmes, ones which are not funded in the usual way, but they happen anyway, simply because they must. People with problems come to John Dada asking for help. If he can help under the umbrella of FF then he does. If there is nothing in place through FF then he tries to find a way to help anyhow.
Helping anyhow - and Dadamac helps too
John's philosophy is "leap before you look - because when you land in a hole somehow you manage to dig your way out". Sometimes when there is an urgent need John dips straight into his own pocket, sometimes he goes back to all his friends and family asking for help, sometimes he borrows the necessary money and hopes that somehow he will be able to repay what he has borrowed. Dadamac Foundation aims to help John to do some of the philanthropic projects that do not come under Fantsuam Foundation's funding umbrella, but need doing anyhow. Dadamac Foundation does not have reserves of funds, but it does have an online presence and can use that to help in various ways. However the main purpose behind our collaboration is to do with the creation and sharing of knowledge and information.
This overall view of FF has not covered all its projects, just enough to show something of its breadth and variety. As for who the beneficiaries and stakeholder are, that is a wide group, varying from project to project. A community is iike a very large and complicated family, so it is hard to explain quite where it begins and where it ends. Often FF helps in ways that have nothing to do with money. It helps many people in loving practical ways. It is a community project, not a single issue organisation, and some of its projects cover a wide geographical area. Like a family, it is concerned with everything that relates to daily life. Unlike many community projects it is part of the community that it serves and only does projects that the community wants and needs.