Tag Archives: Africa

Life in the Dark: How Africa is Tackling an Energy Crisis to Transform Their Future

Laura Ling is an amazing journalist who has partnered with Discovery Digital Networks and ONE.org to bring awareness to stories and issues from across the globe include this most recent story of the energy crisis happening in Africa. Interestingly enough, with access to cell phones, the middle class has exploded on the continent, but the ability to do simple things like charge a cell phone (much less, have consistent lighting in clinics, businesses or even homes) continue to be a struggle as a result of blackouts, shortages and a reliance on “dirty forms of energy.” 7 out of 10 citizens in sub-Saharan Africa still do not have access to electricity. This means expectant mothers, business owners, students and everyone in between are doing their best to move forward and continue developing thriving communities without being able to simply turn on a light.

I will not let the darkness hold me back
-Hussein Mwende, student

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Sign Language Comes to African Communities

There’s an old adage that talks about how it’s easy to complain about your life until you come across someone who has an obstacle to overcome that you’d never even considered. Those stories add perspective to our own.

This was the case for many upon hearing Patrick’s story. In the US, kids Patrick’s age are becoming more and more independent, making plans, going to parties and getting learner’s permits, dreaming of the future. However, growing up deaf in Sub Saharan Africa, Patrick has never even had a conversation.
Until now: Continue reading

Facing My Ebola Fear

On July 23, gravely ill Liberian-American diplomat Patrick Sawyer flew into Murtala Mohammed Airport. He died at a Lagos hospital four days later, after exposing scores of airline passengers and medical personnel to the Ebola virus.

Ebola had arrived in Nigeria. It has since spread to other areas of the country.

Ebola Virus Particle
Ebola Virus Particle

I live in Lagos but on the day Patrick Sawyer delivered his terrible gift, I was an ocean away. My three children and I were on vacation at my parents’ house in suburban Massachusetts.

It was disconcerting to be far from Lagos when it was in crisis. I read articles about Ebola in the newspaper, watched reports on CNN, and tried to ignore the panicked emails from expat women I know.

My parents urged us not to return to Nigeria. They suggested I enroll the kids in the elementary school down the road, which I attended as a child.

It was tempting. The children could walk to school along the same forest path I had used. My mother would cook delicious Indian meals and my father’s wine cellar would allow me to remain in a continuous state of inebriation. At 41, I would have no responsibilities and could spend my days in the basement hula hooping and taking naps.

My children, however, were sick of America. They missed their father, their friends, and their toys. They were desperate to return. My husband, John, assured us we would stay safe in Lagos, that Ebola in Nigeria could be contained. But it is very unnatural to willingly travel into danger. It takes courage, which I lack.

I couldn’t decide whether to stay or go. And then one day my husband phoned me from Lagos to complain about our housekeeper. He had broached the subject of Ebola with Marie and was annoyed by her response.

“What do you know of Ebola?” John had asked her, intending to discuss precautions to prevent the spread of disease.

“I don’t know him,” Marie replied. “Is he Yoruba?”

“Can you imagine,” John told me, “she thought E. Bola was a man’s name! Has she been living under a rock?”

And that was how I decided it would be safe for us to return to Lagos. If Marie—my barometer for all matters West African—had never heard of Ebola, it must not be a big deal.

The kids and I arrived in Nigeria in mid-August. As we taxied to the gate, the newlyweds beside us slipped on latex gloves.

reaching out for nothing

After deplaning, the passengers queued up in neat lines for body temperature scans. This was the first time I had ever seen thermometers used at an airport or anyone in Nigeria stand in a line without trying to cut to the front.

The ordinarily bustling terminal was silent. It was as unsettling as in the weeks following 9/11 when New Yorkers stopped honking their horns and giving each other the finger. I felt like a cold hand was squeezing my heart. This wasn’t the Lagos I remembered. Was coming back a mistake?

I noticed a number of people pulling out bottles of hand sanitizer and squirting their palms as we cleared customs. Suddenly every surface seemed to be writhing with toxic germs. I wished there was a giant barrel of sanitizer I could dip my children into by the ankles, Achilles-style.

We exited the airport, dropped the suitcases at home then drove around looking for a place to eat. It was 10:00 p.m. on a Saturday night and Lagos was dead. We tried three restaurants but they were all closed.

We ended up at The Radisson, a shiny hotel perched on the lagoon.



I took a seat by the water and waited for my family to join me outside. From my table I had a view of the lobby. I saw a man near the bar lurching back and forth, vomiting. Then his face tipped up and I saw white discharge covering his mouth. At that moment, John and the kids walked by him.

John was stoic. As I saw my husband and children become infected with the Ebola virus, my eyes filled with tears. We had just become a cautionary tale.

My 4 decades on the planet, my 22 year romance with my husband, and my 3 beautiful children were about to be reduced to a handful of hysterical Facebook posts and a few mistakenly pressed thumbs ups.

Then the man straightened and I saw a shiny vacuum in his hand. His back was bucking because he was cleaning. What I had thought was white vomit was a surgical mask over his mouth.

John and the kids joined me at the table. They appeared to be Ebola-free.

Our first week back in Lagos was tense. I considered offering Marie an immediate early retirement because she coughed twice in an afternoon.

Despite my anxiety, we settled back into Nigerian life. My daughter got her hair twisted at the salon. I went grocery shopping. The children spent a happy day at the pool splashing with friends.

My fear began to dissipate. The number of Ebola cases in Nigeria, meanwhile, began dropping.

Aside from the strategically placed dispensers of hand sanitizer that had materialized around Lagos, it was business as usual.

Hand Sanitizer

I had no way to know how severely the Ebola virus would impact our lives when we returned. My decision was a bit impulsive, perhaps, but was borne from a desire to reunite my husband with his children. And I am certain I made the right choice. This is home.

It is in moments of adversity that we see the true worth of a people. Against all odds it seems that this awful virus has been contained here. Nigeria has been tested and I’m proud to say that she has come through with flying colors.

In the end, all I suffered was anxiety, nightmares and sleepless nights. Compared to thousands of our fellow Africans, we got off easy.

photos by: & ,

Intention in Nature

Dear friends,

I am on safari in the Serengeti in Tanzania as I write these words on my iPhone for this week’s newsletter. The power of intention could not be more powerful here where the circle of life plays itself every day. Watching a cheetah scope out its prey, baboons playing in the trees, giraffes elegantly chewing leaves, and elephant leaving behind downtrodden trees as they slowly walk through the bush, a mother lion suckling its young cubs. Such images are nature perfectly, harmoniously, acting out intention in perfect balance. I feel blessed to be here. Here are some photos which I hope give just a hint of the extraordinary magnificence of the gifts of our planet. Enjoy!


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One World: The Art of Impact with Malaria No More’s Ray Chambers

Ray Chambers There aren’t many people who have had more of a dramatic impact on the health and wellbeing of children globally than Ray Chambers. In April 2011 Ray Chambers was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine not for his career in private equity-though he had an illustrious and extremely lucrative career that is worthy of note in and of itself-but rather for his work on behalf of children in the developing world.

Chambers is the founder of the Malaria No More campaign; a campaign built on the simple idea that if children sleep under insecticide treated nets, not only are they protected from the mosquitos that carry the deadly disease but the mosquitos will die from landing on the nets and disrupt the breeding cycle.

The results of his work are significant. As he stated in his ONE WORLD conversation with Deepak: “Over the last seven years,” Ray explains, “we’ve raised over 8 billion dollars, we’ve covered 800 million people with these insecticide treated mosquito nets and the annual death rate has gone from 1.2 million to less than 500 thousand.” These are results that speak for themselves.

It is an extremely effective solution to the malaria epidemic sweeping sub Saharan Africa and it is one of the reasons that in 2008, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon named Ray Chambers as UN Special Envoy for Malaria. In February 2013, Chambers was named Special Envoy for Financing the Health Millennium Development Goals, a position that intersects his business career and his philanthropic endeavors.

Today, one of his most impressive accomplishments remains one of his simplest; by ensuring that children have a mosquito net costing less than $10 to produce, he and his organization Malaria No More have been able to drastically reduce the effects of Malaria on some of the most vulnerable populations in the world. An accomplishment that proves influence is not always about money or power, but rather recognizing need and meeting it head on with compassion and ingenuity.

You can watch Deepak’s full conversation with Ray here.

10 Moving Photos of the Black Rhino, Now Extinct in Western Africa

Credit: NagWolf

Rhinos are some of the most strange and beautiful creatures to inhabit this planet of ours. With its sturdy, two-humped body, a head like a hippo, and horns that conjure tales of unicorns, the rhinoceros is an animal who should inspire awe and respect. Why, then, does it consistently make the “critically endangered” list on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species?

The answer: Poaching. These majestic creatures have been mercilessly pursued by poachers for their precious horns, used both in traditional Chinese medicine as well as for personal adornment in various parts of the world. The population of Black Rhinos, in particular, declined over 97% between 1960 and 1995, and they have been listed as critically endangered since 1996. They are now believed to be entirely extinct in western Africa, with three remaining subspecies tenuously populating eastern and southern parts of the continent.

The natural life expectancy for the Black Rhino ranges from 35 to 50 years, which is fairly long considering their immense size (2,000-3,000 lbs at full maturity.) Despite the intimidating horns, Black Rhinos are herbivores and use their strength primarily in fighting one another. Intra-species violence aside, they have no natural predators and have been pushed to the extinction and near-extinction by human practices, alone.

Here are 10 awe-inspiring photos of the powerful Black Rhino, whose compromised existence is no one’s fault by our own:


Photo credits: NagWolf, Joachim S. Müller, Vincent Catt

How to Move from Innovation to Integration

On my flight home from Seattle tonight, I banged through emails then called up the latest Mission Impossible movie. The opening scene grabs you. A spy walks down a dark alley. His mobile phone, scanning his surroundings to conduct facial recognition, identifies that the woman walking toward him is an assassin and warns him with an alarm. But it’s too late. She has already pulled out a silenced gun and shot him.

If you visit certain villages in Africa, you may be surprised to find the science in that fiction is actually not too far away from reality. A pregnant woman is rushed through the door of the village medical clinic. Something is wrong. She needs a doctor. But the clinic is too remote and poor to have one on hand.

Luckily the nurse on duty has a mobile phone on hand. With a few taps, she has in hand the information she needs to save the pregnant woman and the child.

The miracle of this child’s birth is made possible by a forward-thinking, high-tech social organization called Health eVillages. Founded by Donato Tramuto, CEO of Physicians Interactive, with the support Robert F. Kennedy’s daughter, Kerry Kennedy, Health eVillages is putting the world’s medical knowledge into the hands of healthcare providers throughout the developed world. They’re not distributing textbooks or training. They are delivering the critical information needed to exactly the right place at the right time to save lives.

Tramuto is an example of a new type of inventor. He is a CEO, a philanthropist, an advisor to the governor of Maine, an elected official, a member of several boards, and an overall and inspiring mover and shaker in the world of healthcare. He sees that the face of innovation is changing.

“Everyone wants to be an innovator, and sometimes it’s just good enough to be an integrator,” Tramuto says.

Just as Steve Jobs created miraculous new things by piecing together in new ways technologies that already existed, outthinkers are realizing they don’t have to follow the old “scientist in a garage” model to impact the world. They can work with what is already out there.

Health eVillages has formulated its own unique solution by combining advances in three areas:

  • Platforms that can deliver content on the web and mobile devices more fluidly,
  • The willingness of content owners (e.g., medical textbook publishers) to embrace digital delivery, and
  • SkyScape, a technology firm Tramuto’s holding company owns, that is developing mobile apps already used by over 1 million health professionals.

By mixing into this the energy and expertise of a leading philanthropic organization (The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights), Health eVillages is able to take a meaningful bite out of the social problem of global proportions.

According to Kerry Kennedy, president of the RFK Center of Justice and Human Rights, “Currently, more than one billion people live in rural, underserved areas with inadequate access to healthcare and nearly one third of countries are experiencing critical shortages of skilled healthcare workers.”

If we break down how Tramuto and the RFK foundation are able to use the science fiction of Mission Impossible to solve their own seemingly impossible mission, we see a new innovation pattern, one that defines how outthinkers shape the new economy. It goes like this:

1. Identify a compelling problem (one billion people with inadequate access to healthcare)

2. Scan the environment for resources (technologies, social shifts, regulations that if put together properly could make something possible that had not been possible before)

3. Enroll key stakeholders (for-profit and non-profit actors that rally behind your cause)

4. Mix and apply (bring the pieces together to create a brand new image from existing material)

How can you move from innovation to integration? Ask these four questions:

1. What problem is worth fighting for?

2. What is changing? What new resources/technologies/changes might we bring together to solve the problem?

3. Who (which stakeholders) must we get on board?

4. What mission, cause, and structure would allow these stakeholders to contribute efficiently?


OBene’s founders are getting along just fine traveling together, scouting for beautiful products that will generate contributions to the charities of your chosing.  While we both have a deep connection to Africa and a strong history of building brands and engaging the public in support of causes, James is more keenly focused on digital media trends than on fabric weights, pintucks, and beadwork fashions.  But we both love yoga, so in between excursions to visit design shops and artist studios in Cape Town, we’ve been practicing at a wonderful studio YogaLife.  If you’re ever in Cape Town, looking for a place to play and reground, you’ll feel welcomed into their community.

Over the course of this past week, we’ve come to know Dave and the other amazing instructors well.  Hi Sara!  Today, Lara gave us a terrific tip about a friend of hers who creates witty, cheeky, fabulous fabrics under the name Shine Shine.  We visited Shine Shine designer Tracy Rushmere’s super groovy home this afternoon.  I’m ready to move in.  The views both inside and out where hip and heavenly.  We’ll definitely be placing an order – sling sacs, aprons, cushion covers, wallets – all too fun to pass up.  Even President Obama seems very happy to be hanging with Tracy in her play-filled home with her extraordinary kids.

Enjoy the collage of her creations below and join me in a deep bow to the YogaLife family.  We’ll miss you all very much until next time!

Catching A Wave

It’s Saturday, so I took a break from visiting design studios to marvel at the natural beauty of the Cape’s coastline and dive into the ocean.  The waves at Muizenberg were fun – hip high, speedy, and constant.  What better place to christen our new venture with the blessing of good stoke than in the waters commonly deemed to be the birthplace of South African surfing?!

I took a few photos to commemorate a memorable session in a beautiful spot, but these aren’t the ones I’ll post.  The blogs from this trip are intended to introduce the idea behind OBene.com, so that when we open for business, you’ll know what’s coming.  So in case you’ve missed my earlier missives, OBene is creating a network to promote compelling products from around that world that we think you’ll delight in buying, but the bene bonus is that each sale kicks at least 10 percent of the price to the charity of your choosing.  

Thanks to the technology provided by our friends at Kudyou.com, it’ll be incredibly easy to select or discover the non-profit that you’d like to share in the benefit of your purchase – and to tell all your friends about both the unique item and the unique value proposition of consumer choice in driving more dollars to more causes.  

Therefore, instead of my snaps, I’d like to share some images taken by brilliant photographer Henry Dombey, who is one of the artists to be showcased on OBene.  We’ll have a selection of signed, framed prints from his recent trip to Africa for sale during our launch.  Dombey’s black and white images are like visual poetry – they distill time, place, and experience into portraits that are both personal and universal.  As a preview to what’s in store at OBene, here are two Dombey’s that honor water.  I’ve included his descriptions of the shots for added color.

The ocean hypnotizes me.  It brings on wild mallard thoughts.  I know I'm not alone.

“I had heard about Durban, surfing, and sharks. We were thrown into an incredible bunch of people who acted as ambassadors not only to Durban but to South Africa as a whole. They were not only great surfers but brilliant athletes, adventurers, and hedonists. The problem with South Africans is they tell the best damn stories. It was hard to get a word in edgewise that compared to tales of sharks, surfing, and apartheid. If you grow up in Durban these breaks are a legendary part of your home and history.”

“There are two types of ferries that you can get from Dar Es Salaam (the Tanzanian mainland) to Zanzibar – the slow ferry and the fast ferry. It turns out that both tickets cost the same amount and it’s a total crap shoot as to which ferry you end up on. You would think that buying a ferry ticket for such a popular trip would be a simple procedure. This is not the case. When you arrive at the port it is mayhem as hundreds of hustlers, fixers, and vagabonds rush you with the attempt of guiding you towards the ticket office that they work for. It seems like money runs down hill and the first point of access are the people on the street who attempt to cajole you in their direction. It is a continual and frustrating challenge to move and do business. While we were told that had tickets for the fast ferry, we quickly realized after two hours on the boat, that we were not close to any land. Some two plus hours later we were docked at the industrial port in Zanzibar. One of the first buildings you come to is the bar 'Mercury's' named after Freddie Mercury of Queen, who was apparently born there. There is a huge terrace right on the beach and below you there are all sorts of kids who are playing these gymnastic type games in the setting sun.” 

On the Road with OBene

What more perfect way to end our first day in Cape Town than a lovely dinner with New York-based fashion designer Tina Lunz.  Like many other old friends and colleagues, Tina and her friend Barbara are here to help celebrate Desmond Tutu’s 80th birthday.  Tina’s been traveling the world for the past several months, encountering beautiful design across Africa, Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe.  So, it was a lot of fun talking about OBene’s plan to introduce just such marvels to shoppers in America, who are looking for products with a story, a soul, and a certain sensibility that sets them apart.  And of course, in the cradle of democracy, we’ll be empowering OBene shoppers to designate at least 10 percent of every sale to their favorite charity.  A collective win for global makers, American buyers, and charities across the globe.

We also returned today with the first cache of samples from an amazing local leather goods designer.  We’ll be back at the studio on Tuesday to finalize a larger order, so please let us know if anything in these photos tickles your fancy!  Just post a comment below and we’ve got you covered.  So, start shopping today and start thinking about which non-profit you’d like to have share in the spoils.

Those who know me, are well versed in my affection for poetry, so how could I resist these gorgeously-detailed and whimsical purses, inspired by Edward Lear’s sweet meter and rhyme?  These are perfect for carrying a phone, a lipstick, and as many notes as you’ll need.

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat:
They took some honey, 
and plenty of money
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.

The printing, stitch-work, and detailing on the larger bags that we selected is remarkable.  They are handcrafted here in Cape Town from leather, embroidery, stamped canvas, and other embellishments sourced throughout South Africa.  Each item is a limited run, so it’s essential to carpe diem before they sell through.  That’s why we’re heading back to secure what we can and make it available to you at OBene.com soon. 


Other finds:

  • Long sweeping necklaces with beads, metallic pieces and recycled off-cuts of leather.  Tie me up.
  • Colored leather disguised as oxidized metal.  Light as a feather.  Fierce as a falcon.
  • Life’s a thrilling mystery — every day — with your mask on a chain.  Oh meow.


We’re off to another studio tomorrow, so check back in for updates.  Also coming soon, a preview of OBene’s iconic inaugural partners:

Schier Shoes: unique, custom-made Indigo kudo leather desert boots from Namibia.  Incredibly groovy.

Henry Dombey Photos: striking black and white images from travels in South Africa, Kenya, Zambia, and Tanzania.  Totally transporting.

Indego Africa: gorgeous hand-knit wool & silk scarves from Rwanda.  They’ll warm you in all the good spots.

Watch this space for more updates from the trip.  LIKE and FOLLOW us for photos!

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