Helping dreams come true in Africa

It no longer surprises me when people I know and admire, send me emails about the fantastic charities they are supporting. Lisette van der Ham volunteers at Sypo, a Dutch NGO, which was started in 2003 to support entrepreneurial projects in the Mukono and Buikwe districts in Uganda.

Initially, Sypo worked with a Ugandan partner to give loans to women in Uganda. The non-paternalistic nature of their approach combined with their emphasis on efficiency meant that though the years the focus of the NGO shifted to microfinance; women choose what to do with their loans and repay with interest, instead of having to be thankful for Western-planned handouts.

The NGO now offers low-cost, accessible and transparent loans to rural Ugandan women, tailored to their needs. And, their ambition is to build a microfinance company with a portfolio of 3,000 loans by the end of 2015, whilst maintaining current repayments of over 99%.

Black, white, yellow, brown and all the colours in between; women around the world all have dreams and want similar things; to improve the lives of their families; get an education; enjoy life, often by starting or expanding a simple business.

You can help make a dream come true.

Watch the video
Learn how it works
Review the loans and choose a project to sponsor

Thanks for sharing Lisette!

Pride comes before a fall

Last year I blogged about change and how it’s often the most difficult thing for human beings to go through and late last year I wrote about changing my life and the many things I had changed on the way.

Following ideas with a passion may seem so easy when you start out on your journey, but what do you do when you realise you’re not on the right track, you’ve made some unwise decisions, that you may very well be wrong and the ideas you so passionately embraced are unsustainable. You say you’re wrong of course, or do you? The problem for many is that the second most difficult thing to do, is admitting defeat.

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with a charity I love and supported whilst living in Europe. A charity with a successful concept, great success in Europe and one which they have already rolled out in Hong Kong. The question that the Hong Kong-based arm of the charity had, was why their European success story was not working as successfully in Asia?

After spending an hour walking through business plans, target audience, added value, profitability, etc, we realised a couple of things were different. The charity had not built the network in Asia that they had in Europe and they had become so focused on doing good in the community, that they’d forgotten how to run a profitable business. The charity is now taking some relatively easy steps to ensure a sustainable business model. The first step however was admitting that something was ‘broken’.

What do we do when the passion we had for ideas, people, places or things, wanes? It’s what we do with this knowledge that’s so important. Do we continue arrogantly, holding onto our old ideals, or do we swallow our pride, knowing that ultimately ‘Pride comes before a fall’. Whilst on the surface, it seems that pride doesn’t necessarily hinder success, I maintain that pride is every bit as destructive to anyone’s welfare as the the ancient proverb forewarns.

Doing good at Christmas

If you’re anything like me, Christmas creeps up and takes you by surprise every year. It seems like the months between the long and sultry days of Summer and the cold, rainy and dark days of Winter just fly by. I’m often left wondering where my year has gone. My mother often said that the older one gets, the quicker the years go by. But I believe that the years fly by because I do so much. I don’t believe in getting older. Age is a state mind.

For me, the festive season is not only a time to celebrate with family and friends but also to look back over the year to what I’ve achieved and to figure out what challenge I’ll rise to in the year to come. It’s also the magical time for giving.

This year giving for me took the form of filling 100 ‘Christmas stockings’ for underprivileged children aged 1 to 18 in South Africa. The actual shopping for these gifts took place when I visited Cape Town in October. It was a teriffic activity to be part of. It’s thanks to Amor Strauss from Cordaid Urban Matters in Cape Town that I was able to become involved.

Santa’s Shoebox is the organisation that facilitates the giving experience. They also get schools involved since school children in South Africa are given a social responsibility in the school curriculum. The school children decorate a standardised shoebox as part of their social responsibility project and benefactors buy the contents to fill the boxes. Each box has a unique identification number which relates to a specific child. This ensures that a 16yr old doesn’t receive gifts for a 5yr old. The benefactor is given a specific budget to stay within, which quite honestly, is the biggest challenge of all.

Admittedly Amor and I had loads of fun trying to be as original and smart as possible about buying the gifts on a very strict budget. But I suppose the biggest kick for me, was negotiating loads of ‘freebees’ from many department stores when they heard what we were doing. Many thanks go to the management of Edgars, Truworths and Woolworths in Paarl. I do hope the kids enjoy their Christmas gifts as much as we did buying them.

I wish you perspective and a stress free festive season. Look around you and appreciate what you already have and you may realise that you already have everything your heart desires. Happy holidays!

Daring to Dream

As a little girl, I wore pretty pink party dresses and I was read fairy tales of princesses being rescued by their handsome princes and how they lived happily ever after in their perfect kingdoms. I don’t think I ever challenged this concept. Couldn’t the princess
do the rescuing? How would the kingdom stay perfect if it wasn’t self-sustaining? I know I never had these discussions with my mother and I’m sure she never asked me what I would discuss with the princess when I met her. I only wish she had.

We look to our world leaders or people of great influence to solve our planet’s problems. When, there’s more of a chance that the ‘lowly man on the street’ will solve more problems albeit with a little help of ‘the princess’.

Her Royal Highness Princess Máxima of the Netherlands is a princess on a mission. She has 3 young daughters and she understands more than ever how important education is; the importance of financial literacy; how entrepreneurial children are; and how children can be coached to far greater heights when they are suitably challenged.

This week I met Princess Máxima at an event arranged by MVO Nederland (Dutch site), an organization focused on CSR activities in the Netherlands. Representatives from company foundations, NGOs, funds, business and public sector met to discuss a whole range of topics (Dutch language) including, Reducing the number of drop outs and unemployment; Improving quality of life and safety in communities; Labour market participation; Financial education, etc. All the attendees, myself included, signed a letter of intent, promising to talk less and act more. Coalitions will be formed in the coming months and some very passionate business people, with the support of Princess Máxima, will solve just some of our problems in the Netherlands.

As a child, I never dared imagine that I could ever be in the presence of a Princess. Let’s start re-writing those fairy tales. Nowadays, princesses work alongside you and I, to solve ‘their’ kingdom’s sustainability issues, feeding the poor or improving the economy through education and job creation. Let’s challenge our children to think outside of the square. They’re not made of glass and they need to realise that they can do anything that they put their minds to. They are our future leaders and it’s their ideas that will save the world. Let’s teach our children to ‘Dare to Dream’.

Giving is all we have

My grandmother was born in 1901. As a child, I remember her telling me that there weren’t many men around after World War I and so it was quite a long time before she met my grandfather and started a family. Perhaps this is the reason why she was so hard working and made sacrifices to ensure that her family was always very well cared for. Not only did she care for her own family, she was always looking out for other, less fortunate, people in the community. She was not rich by today’s standards however she had enormous wealth, which she shared with everyone she knew. I’m proud to say that I’ve only ever met people that loved and respected my grandmother. People that have told me stories of how she helped them. People who were happy to call her their Aunt, their Mother or their Grandmother, even though they are in no way related to our family. By the way, my grandmother was no Saint. She had an absolutely wicked sense of humour and with a twinkle in her eye she would regularly remind my grandfather that she’d only married him because of the dire shortage of men after the war. She died when she was 94 and was only ever married once. I guess this says it all. An absolutely remarkable woman!

A few months ago I met Jeroen Timmers during a business meeting. A young man, with a great job and a brilliant career ahead of him. When I launched my blog, Jeroen emailed me and said “When I get back from my travels (which is rather soon as I fly out of San Jose to Amsterdam tomorrow!), I too have some audacious plans within the realm of ´giving´ and ´changing the world.'” A few weeks ago, he launched ‘Giving is all we have’, a platform for everyone that intends transforming our money-based economy to a society that thrives on gifting. Jeroen started the chain by gifting his own Lowlands concert ticket to a complete stranger. Not because he couldn’t attend; he loves Lowlands and never misses a concert; but because he thought it necessary to do so.

If you’re as curious as I am about Jeroen’s activities or you would like to do some gifting of your own, Jeroen is looking for some help with his website. He can be contacted at Or, do you have any ground-breaking ideas on how to change the society we live in? Send your ideas to

What makes individuals like my grandmother, the many people before her and Jeroen and many generations to come, carry out selfless, unconditional acts of charity? If only I could crack this code, I would bottle the DNA and sprinkle it generously around the globe.

Let’s help Jeroen make waves!

A change is as good as a holiday

As soon as you start living your dream, your dreams evolve.
Summer in Europe sees droves of people flocking to warmer climes. Absolutely anywhere is better than the country that they live in. They need a change of environment, a change of culture, a change of language and preferably a major change in temperature. People around me choose hotels and resorts off the web, generally taking total stranger’s word for it that their destination will be just what they want to it be….. Heaven on earth. And if they are lucky and everything has panned out the way they planned, they return after two to three weeks, relaxed, tanned and happy.

This need for change in Summer has always amused me. Not because I’m not in favour of change but, because this need for change generally only occurs around vacation time. At any other time of the year try shouting out the words reorganisation, change management or new strategic vision and the announced change is not embraced in quite the same way. There’s change and there’s ‘change’, if you know what I mean.

Am I the only person that loves change?

My most recent change was to ‘celebrate life’ on my birthday. I’d just not been seeing the necessity of celebrating my birthday. I mean, this phenomenon of becoming a year older sounds as bad to me, as any major company reshuffle does to my colleagues.

The next change was to celebrate life, on the actual day of my birthday, with family, friends, acquaintances and a total stranger. Yes, you read it correctly……..a total stranger.

And, the final change, was to ensure that no one would bring me presents. Any ‘presents’ would be donated to charity.

I had a fantastic time and I know my guests did too, as they are still talking about the ‘life celebration’ amongst themselves. The total stranger I invited presented her company to us; Love, Peace and Chocolate. A company driven to satisfy the sweet tooth of its clients’ whilst supporting SOS Children’s Villages. A deliciously charitable initiative, and, one to make any choc-o-holic smile! 50% of my generous ‘present’ was donated to Pink Ribbon. Did you know that one in eight of the women that you know may develop breast cancer? Therefore, a more than worthy initiative? And the other 50% was donated to my personal favourite, Hope Village.

So, if celebrating yet another birthday sounds as good to you as root canal treatment or a company merger, try arranging a ‘celebration of life’. I can assure you, “a change is as good as a holiday”.