Aniebonam Bonaventure Chika believes deeply in the power of communities to achieve environmental goals. So deeply, in fact, that the 27-year-old has put his money where his mouth is.
In 2015, Aniebonam quit his 10-year career as a travel consultant to set up a platform that he envisions will unite first communities across his native Ghana, then hundreds and thousands of local communities all over Africa to reach communal goals.
“I had spent many years of my life exploring nature, traveling over west African countries on a bicycle, meeting and discussing environmental and agricultural problems with many natives of different communities and working in the travel and tourism sector; I never really found any clear answers to many questions I kept asking myself,” he explains.
A visit to Rwanda in 2015 led to a lightbulb moment.
“I found myself in a country previously devastated by genocide, but which is now a plastic-bag-free country, surrounded by conserved wild forests, clean, refreshing environs, all inspired and sustained through social communal awareness and actions,” he recalls.
He worked alongside local community members during Umuganda, a regular event known as “Community Cleaning” day, during which he constructed a communal drainage channel that was meant to counter possible flood problems.
Back at home in Ghana, he realised that environmental goals could be lived and sustained through active, communal participation— but that this needed to be nurtured and catalysed, or socialised.
Taking the opportunity to explore this concept, Aniebonam found out that communal representaties were selected to conduct and ensure environmental sanitation and other related duties. These representatives were registered with the Rwanda Development Board.
He knew that similar communal action had been adopted in countries like India and Morocco and many developed countries, which made him ask, “what if this strategy could be replicated on a larger scale, adopted across many more communities, over many more countries and among many more people?”
Armed with this idea, Aniebonam assembled a group of friends who shared his conviction and passion, and they started See Everyone’s Action (SE-A). They crafted a strategy to champion linked community action across Africa. Its cornerstone is a unique social platform, ‘SE-A e-World’, that could connect both remote and urban communities in Africa.
The team intends for the platform to replicate and adopt these structures of communal initiatives, unifying and connecting more communities and communes. It is meant to be interlinked with local authorities and law enforcement agencies, potentially serving as an express medium in checking, reporting and redressing cases of social and environmental misconduct on a community to community basis.
Among other functions, the platform intends to enable communities to exchange derivative and innovative ideas, obtain wider opinions, find better solutions, engage in open collective research, and replicate productive strategies.
There were challenges aplenty. Many communities across Africa, particularly those in remote areas, lacked social amenities that could ease communication, such as lack of electricity supply, internet access or mobile networks. Some would need training to use a smartphone or the internet.
“We came up with a platform that can emphatically serve economic, social and environmental needs of developing countries across Africa. This social platform combines internet and face-to-face interaction to reach set goals,” Aniebonam says.
Creative volunteers have optimised and tested ‘SE-A e-World’ among many communities in Ghana, and are still modifying it for optimal performance.
Conversations on the platform would be led by Community Representatives equipped with enabling facilities such as smartphones, bicycles, etc., that would enhance point-to-point information.
And then there were the financial challenges. While the organisation has captured the interest of many students and local communes, who volunteer their work, and attracted the support and sponsorship of a number of businesses, Aniebonam says the team has had to run a tight ship.
“We have narrowed down our concepts to seek other ways of achieving set goals through human resources, partnerships and other voluntary contributions available to us, and have adopted strategies that are more likely to motivate businesses and governments to support our goals,” he explained, though he admits he has had to sell personal belongings to keep the project afloat, expressing deep gratitude to the team, his fiancée and brother for their support and inspiration.
Despite these challenges, the team still expects to get the platform up and running by the second quarter of 2017, optimised for full usage by the first quarter of 2018. He hopes that in future, the platform will be used in promoting trade between communities and growing business partnerships among and beyond them.