We all have a responsibility to SEE

Tuesday 19 January 2021
When we first launched Africa Legal, I won’t pretend that rights and well-being of children were at the top of the agenda.  Providing access to more affordable education across Africa and creating jobs - yes, very much so - but trying to address very painful issues of child poverty, exploitation and basic human rights for minors - no, there are much more capable people and organisations out there for that…aren’t there? 
 
Our business, Africa Legal, is an online media platform that shares pan African news and legal insights, online courses and jobs. We wanted to give the African legal community visibility and aid growth.  Our ability to create social impact via training, knowledge sharing and job creation was not hard to see. In part, I would say, we definitely did create positive momentum but I am brave enough to say, as an owner of a business working in Africa, it took a while to understand the responsibility we had to go further. 
 
As a white woman from Liverpool, who has spent the best part of the last 20 years living in London, it would be a lie to say I have suffered real hardship and I feel incredibly privileged to work in Africa. The sky is bigger, the people are brighter, the food is incredible and varied and there is no better sunset than an African sunset.  For years, I enjoyed the best bits of the continent fueled by a strong pound and while I saw the poverty and issues around me, I did not really SEE them.
 
When Scott, my co-founder, joined the African advisory board of Save the Children, I had the opportunity to visit Nosa Early Learning Centre in the Winterveld where Granny Mapula Joyce Morudi is helping to uplift the lives of hundreds of youngsters.  Some are orphans or from single-parent homes. Others do not exist on official paper because their parents are refugees, migrants or unemployed. In addition, because they lack birth certificates or identity documents several have been denied admission to local government schools.  Granny Morudi (Mama) moved to Winterveld nearly 30 years ago and soon noticed many children “just roaming around” because there were no crèches in the area.  She said: “This can’t be right. I have to do something...”
 
So she called a community meeting and set up a small play group which later expanded into a more formal early childhood development centre (crèche), known today as the Nosa Early Learning Centre. The centre now has three elements: a “bridging school” for 231 learners aged between 7 and 20 years old; an early childhood development centre for 92 children for those between three months and seven years, and an aftercare/homework/feeding programme.

Those words from Mama hit me like a ton of bricks.  Here was a woman who did not have great resources. There was no fancy office, no project management team, no government support or financial backing and yet she saw those children and she did something. She did something amazing.  

It’s all too easy for businesses to create a social impact policy (usually generating a tax benefit) and then carry on eating and drinking overpriced sushi and chenin blanc in multi million Rand real estate safe in the knowledge they ‘have done their bit’.  The legal industry is not famed for its generosity, rather an old school profession known for its ability to generate very large bills.  Charity was more often than not a fancy event where more was spent on bubbles than reached the beneficiary. Corporate social responsibility was an annual scrabble to find something to ‘do’ to soften the edges off the corporate machine and justify obscene partner salaries. 
 
So, with Mama’s words resonating so strongly, we started a journey to try to encourage the Africa Legal community to use their powerful positions to face the issues around them - to see them, to own them and then to do something.  There are millions of children on the continent who do not have access to clean water, daily food, an education and do not yet understand their basic right to all of these things and more. 
 
I’m proud as I write to say that many of Africa Legal’s partners and clients are truly understanding the impact they can have.  Law.com welcomed Save the Children as the African Legal Awards charity partner in 2019 and at the 2020 awards, the first ever Children’s Advocate Award will be awarded to a law firm who has focused their energy on projects to enhance the rights of children in sub Saharan Africa. The shortlist includes some of the biggest legal brands including Baker McKenzie, Bowmans, Fasken and Webber Wentzel. Anjarwalla and Khana and Hogan Lovells have hosted events on behalf of Save the Children in Nairobi - and virtually - with partners personally offering their support.   
 
It feels clinched to say that our future lies with our children. But our future does. It is not just the job of a charity, the do-gooders or governments to face the uncomfortable truth about how some of our children have to exist. It is also very much the job of businesses, start-ups, large corporations, one-man bands and anything in between, to see the human on their spreadsheet. We are an early stage business that is growing but not yet in the luxurious position of having cash to spare. That is not an excuse. What are you doing? 

By ​Wendy Bampton, Co-Founder of Africa Legal.