Our goals

With financial support from Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and in-kind support from the Vodafone Foundation, in 2011 we (Nikki & Rob Wilson) embarked on a journey from Cape Town to Cairo so we could tell inspirational stories about social entrepreneurs transforming Africa.

On the Up has three key goals…

1. Inspire others to make change – We want others to feel confident that they can play a part in fixing the things that are broken in our world and feel compelled to join the community of people dedicated to doing something about it. We want to leave people inspired and energised to act.

2. Showcase social entrepreneurship – We want to use our stories not only to illustrate what this somewhat ambiguous phrase means but also to showcase the way that social entrepreneurs bring innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social and environment issues. We want to show people what can be achieved.

3. Demonstrate that Africa is ‘on the up’ – The total lack of drama we experienced on our trip challenges those who label Africa a ‘dark and dangerous’ continent. On the Up is our effort to counterbalance the bad press that Africa often receives and show that, despite the challenges, there are a lot of good things to shout about. We want to celebrate the progress that is being made.

Along our journey we blogged about the inspirational people we met – all now featured on this website. These stories have all now been amalgamated into a book.  And during 2012 we are also giving presentations across the UK to share our learnings with others.

What is a ‘social entrepreneur’?

It’s a good question. The term social entrepreneur began to be used in the early noughties with significant influence from organisations like Ashoka.  Now a bit if of a fad with the business school cohort, social entrepreneur is a handy bit of jargon which sums up a lot in two words.

Essentially we define social entrepreneurs as people who bring innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social and environmental challenges. Not limited to using traditional business, charity or institutional structures, they use whatever means possible to achieve their vision. They find creative ways to fundraise and are often unafraid of profit-making schemes. They combine ambition, passion and persistence to drive wide scale change. Our journey included visits to social entrepreneurs who were, for example, seeking new solutions to:

  • Child abuse – Before Betty Makoni brought Girls Clubs to Zimbabwe, the issue of the widespread abuse of girls was not being addressed. Betty found a way to empower girls to stand up to their abusers and take control of their lives.
  • Sanitation – David Kuria has developed a radical, for-profit toilet business which is transforming people’s access to good quality sanitation facilities across Kenya and improving their health as a result.
  • Unemployment – For the first time ever in Egypt, Raghda El Ebrashi has engaged multinational companies in a groundbreaking strategy to train and employ young people from marginalised communities, tackling youth employment head on.

There is an extensive literature which expands upon our own working definition of the social entrepreneur [i] so we’ll leave the academic analysis to other authors and focus on storytelling instead. We want to use inspirational stories to showcase social entrepreneurship in a way that dry definitions cannot. On the Up will share with you all the incredible ways in which social entrepreneurs are changing their communities and countries – many with a vision to change the world.

How did we get our funding?

Supported by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust 

None of this would be possible without the generous support of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust – www.wcmt.org.uk. We were awarded Fellowships from the Trust which has given us the funding and support to carry out our adventure.

The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust was established when Sir Winston Churchill died in 1965. Thousands of people, out of respect for the man and in gratitude for his inspired leadership, gave generously so that a living memorial to the great man could benefit future generations of British people.

Every year the WCMT awards Travelling Fellowships to provide opportunities for British citizens to go abroad on a worthwhile enterprise of their own choosing, with the aim of enriching their lives by their wider experience and, on their return, enhancing the life of their community by their example and the dissemination of the benefit of their travels. If you’ve got a project you’d like to get funded, we would strongly urge you to apply!

Supported by the Vodafone Foundation

On the Up would also like to give a huge thanks to the Vodafone Foundation who gifted us a free mobile internet modem and unlimited connectivity across Africa. They also sponsored our book launch in London.

We first became acquainted with the Vodafone Foundation through one of our previous ventures. They kindly support READ International (www.readinternational.org.uk) via their unique World of Difference programme.

The Vodafone Foundation is committed to investing in the communities in which Vodafone operates. And seeing as their distinctive brand is present throughout many of the countries in Africa we’re passing through, we thought we’d see if they could help us overcome the medieval speed internet we’re facing.

Michael Hastings, one of the Vodafone Foundation international trustees, kindly linked us in with the right people and this week the mobile modem and sim card arrived by special courier from South Africa to our backpackers in Victoria Falls. Hurrah for the big corporates – another good tale of commercialism coming good!

For more information about Vodafone Foundation visit: http://www.vodafone.com/content/index/about/foundation

Our journey

It took us four months to cover the staggering 7890 miles from Cape Town to Cairo. Our journey took us through ten countries and we used every imaginable mode of transport – buses, mini-vans, trains, planes, motorbikes, taxis and bicycles.

We travelled in the daylight and through the dark of night, in dripping hot temperatures and miserable cold rain, through bustling industrial cities and across sparse arid plains. We ate afternoon tea by Victoria Falls, walked with lions in the South Luangwa National Park, went white water rafting on the Nile, and climbed inside Egyptian tombs.

So naturally since coming home we’ve been asked countless times: “What was the highlight of the trip?” In response, we rarely mention the sights, scenes and sounds. Instead we find ourselves talking about the incredible people we met who far surpassed anything on the ‘tourist tick list’.

View On the Up: Cape Town to Cairo in a larger map


[i] See, for example: Alex Nicholls, Social Entrepreneurship: New Models of Sustainable Social Change (Oxford University Press, 2006); David Bornstein, How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas (Oxford University Press, 2007); David Bornstein and Susan David, Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press, 2010)