I hate asking people for things, normally. I’d rather sleep out in the cold than knock on a stranger’s door, unless I was seriously concerned about my survival. My diet, when I’m in a financial bind, consists of what’s both cheapest and most nutritionally wholesome: fruit, seeds, nuts. And the very last thing I’d ever ask anyone for is money; I feel I ought to be able to earn what I need. Maybe I’m proud, maybe I’m stubborn, but I only wish to sustain myself in contentedness.
Recently I’ve had to change this mentality somewhat. Working with this community-based organization, PMK Save the Future Generation – Uganda, I’ve learned that one must ask for help in order to receive it. By trying to raise money for my circumnavigation of Lake Victoria, and the subsequent funding of a new community banking program for the organization, I’ve achieved a new level of humility by sending emails to friends, companies, organizations, and family asking for contributions.
Believing your own Shtick
It’s not as humiliating as I had first felt. This is in large part because I believe in what I’m doing. I want to circle the lake, and I know I can do it, period. Furthermore, the program to which this is all tied, Tweyambe Micro Save, is a community savings bank combined with a sort of interest free venture capitalism facilitated by native Ugandans which is aimed at developing their community by promoting financial stability and growth. It’s not a charity which donates food, water, school supplies, gospel, shelter, fuel, or medicine freely. It’s a program to encourage sustainability in the lives of the community members. If that’s not development, I don’t know what is.
I’m part of something I can really stand behind. As such, I’ve never been so comfortable giving speeches or writing letters or asking for help, financially or otherwise. I had never been on the radio before, but I was uncharacteristically at ease blabbing away through a microphone into the homes of hundreds of thousands of people. The organization’s president, Lucky Peter, even forged fantastic letters to Uganda’s president and his First Lady to get their attention. Why not?
It helps that the response has been so great. From friends and family back home, I’ve received more than two thousand dollars in support (thanks!). We have been approached by film students who want to follow me around and make a killer adventure documentary, and who have already raised a great sum from their budding film school. Locally, both the cycling feat and the community bank ideas have been received with praise from all sectors, from mayors and minister-types to company executives to fellow organization leaders to the community members themselves. Support is even extending through the entire east African region, with offers for lodging and media coverage coming in from Kenya and Tanzania.
It’s easy, really. Easy because we truly think that all this will work.
Asking for help becomes easier still when you know that the person you’re asking will benefit from the cooperation. Humans are perhaps most extraordinary for their ability to work together and to come up with win-win situations. Promotions, sponsorships, accreditation, and partnerships are incredible tools that can help those with any foresight to grow and to gain.
For me it was perhaps a bit intimidating to meet with marketing managers for big telecom companies to plea for sponsorship. I hate the corporate scene, defiantly sporting dirty blue jeans and a wrinkled, sweaty button-up among the suited secretaries and bureaucrats who I envy in no way. But this Ring Around Victoria gig has become big enough that it has been featured on three radio stations in Kampala, and will have further press coverage and will be the subject of a documentary. Thus it’s easy to tell a marketing guy that it is he who will miss out if he cannot muster the support in the allotted time. They’re hoping we come back next year.
It was perhaps intimidating to sit down in the expansive, glistening office of Kampala University’s president and ask for support in the making of the documentary. But a solid proposal, good budget estimate, an explanation of the project and its benefit, and the fact that the students are willing to sacrifice their vacation time to shoot the film is easily enough evidence for a smart man to see how it will help. He immediately reached for his checkbook.
I never thought I could do fund raising or PR, but hey, here I am. Somehow it’s working. I never thought that writing proposals could be so rewarding.