The Real MVP’s in Development :: Learning how the People Who the World Marginalizes Most are its Greatest Assets

13063376_10154068954735883_4410864053823318504_oWhat if the popular narrative surrounding poverty isn’t true? Sure, there’s no denying the validity of statistics that say millions of people survive on a couple of dollars a day, lack access to education, and live in constant threat of violence. But we often forget that while these facts can help us to understand people’s circumstances, they are incapable of painting an accurate reflection of the people themselves. This error leads us to create a group of individuals in our minds, termed “the poor,” who are defined by their economic and social conditions alone and inaccurately portrayed at best as helpless and pitiable, and at worst as lazy and ignorant. However, this narrative could not be further from the truth. Keep reading below to see how I came to realize that the people with the fewest opportunities are actually the ones with the most to offer in international development.

. . .

Bumpy dirt roads. Dull, colorless mud houses that are nearly built on top of one another and present such a stark contrast to the surrounding vibrancy of the surrounding hills. Children with ragged clothing and distended stomachs, the ironic sign that they are not receiving enough food. This is what I saw when I drove into a Congolese refugee camp in northwestern Rwanda. Though these sights, sounds, and smells were somewhat familiar to me at this point since I had already spent a considerable amount of time in the region, all else that I had previously encountered seemed to pale in comparison to the staggering level of human suffering that I was now witnessing.

After arriving at the camp, I became acquainted with several of the refugees who then offered to show me around and tell me their stories. As we walked and shared more about ourselves, it’s difficult to say what was most despairing– the actual tales of violence and persecution that they endured in the Congo, or the heartbreak etched in their faces as they spoke of the homeland they were forced to flee. In the midst of these conversations, a number of questions began to form in my mind, but with very little resolution. Undeniably, though, the most relentless ones were how have we allowed this to happen, and how can we begin to address the factors that have created the problem?

In the months that followed and as I eventually returned home to the United States with these questions and the memories of my Congolese friends still haunting me, I quickly set out for answers. Unfortunately, what I found was a complex web of historical, political, social, and environmental factors, all of which had together created the perfect storm for underdevelopment. Despite my best efforts, I found it impossible to get a firm grip on how exactly each of these factors perpetuated the cycle of the poverty, let alone begin to see any effective strategies for interrupting the cycle. Considering the fact that these issues continue to persist in the Congo, regardless of the tremendous amounts of foreign aid that have been poured into the country in recent decades, it seemed as though I was not the only one to have encountered this difficulty.

Fast forward to this summer as I began my internship with Congo Leadership Initiative. Along with managing CLI’s social media accounts and doing some other marketing-related activities, one of my main responsibilities has been to research and pursue grant opportunities. As I have begun this process, I’ve become very familiar with the in’s and out’s of CLI’s development model because it’s this very model that I am tasked with selling other foundations on. While I’ve always respected CLI’s approach to development in the Congo, the more that I have delved into CLI’s strategic model, the more that I have realized the simplicity and beauty in it.

You see, CLI’s founder and board members reached the same conclusion as I did after looking at the deeply entrenched issues that exist in the Congo: we will never understand them well enough to really make a difference. Rather than turning away in a resigned state of helplessness, though, they turned to the people who already do understand the Congo and the many complexities that exist within it. These people are the Congolese themselves.

For so long, these local experts have been overlooked in the realm of international development. In reality, though, they are the ones who possess the necessary knowledge, networks, and passions to be able to create lasting change in the Congo. The reason? It is their land, their culture, their history, and their communities that are ultimately at stake. As a result, my role as an external agent is not to impose my own less-qualified insights and solutions from afar, but rather to take advantage of the tremendous insights and understandings that they bring, and empower them in the pursuit of the own visions for their communities. It is only through this model, in which the Congolese are not bystanders, but leaders in their country’s development, that sustainable transformation will occur in the Congo.

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The Power of the One

Student & mentorAs a storyteller, I am captivated by the many moments that make up the human experience. Mundane or extraordinary, each one captures a unique glimpse into the life of another person and possesses the potential to create an inexplicable connection between individuals that transcends both time and space. It’s for this reason that the stories of these moments remain one of most compelling tools in the pursuit of justice and transformational development.

Through my internship at CLI this summer, I’ve been able to explore the power of this tool more. One of my main responsibilities is to manage CLI’s social media accounts in order to ignite passion in people about the work that we’re doing in the Congo. This involves sharing interesting material relevant to the Congo or international development, creating original content about our work, and relaying updates from the field. All of this must be done in a manner that is appropriately tailored to our audience’s interests and the particular culture of each social media platform. As I’ve been doing this for the past several weeks, I’ve been able to get a feel for which strategies are most effective. Overwhelmingly, it’s pictures of our young leaders paired with their own stories and testimonies that our audiences seem to respond to most—and it’s no surprise why.

In the Congo, the issues that entrap its people in poverty are numerous and intricately interwoven. A history of poor leadership, violent conflict, and devastating natural disasters have dropped the country to the bottom of the United Nation’s Human Development Index and produced a seemingly never-ending string of statistics about problems across almost every sector. While these facts and figures certainly have their purposes, they alone don’t actually inspire many people to join in the fight against such issues. The reason? These numbers prove to be too abstract for people to really understand, so rather than moving individuals to action, they often create a sense of apathy and helplessness. In doing so, they actually obscure the reality of the issues they are trying to convey.

Stories, on the other hand, do the opposite. Through storytelling, seemingly irrelevant numbers become humanized as they personally communicate the dignity and poverty of individuals. For example, the average Westerner may know that millions of people in the Congo lack access to education, and recognize the injustice of this reality. However, they may not feel connected to and invested in this issue until it becomes not about the millions, but about the one. One person whose name they can learn and into whose eyes they can look and see a reflection of shared humanity.

So that’s what I have learned to do: tell the stories of the one. Sifting through pictures from our staff in the Congo and testimonies from our young leaders, I search until I find the one that will resonate on some fundamental level with our audiences. What I didn’t expect when I began this internship, though, is that through this process of searching for stories to tell our social media audiences, I would end up being equally, if not more, impacted by them. Every hour that I spend on this work, I find myself increasingly captivated by a people whose country I have never even visited because through their stories, I see a people who are not defined by their adversities and poverty, but by their strength and hope. It is this strength and hope to which I am drawn because it gives me a rare glimpse into what humanity has to offer at its best.

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Learning & Reflecting: Introducing CLI’s Newest Intern

Hello everyone! My name is Marina and I am interning with CLI this summer, doing a variety of communications and marketing tasks. In the fall, I will begin my senior year at Houghton College, where I study International Development and Communication, with a minor in French. Based on that information alone, you can probably already begin to piece together why working with CLI captured my interest so much.

Long before I had the terminology to articulate it, I was passionate about justice and seeing each human being given the necessary conditions in order for them to flourish in life. These passions only grew stronger as I had several opportunities to cross cultural, socioeconomic, and national borders in order to meet the faces behind poverty. Along the way, I met a number of Congolese men and women, each of whom had a beautiful strength and resiliency in them that I had rarely seen before and which immediately captivated me.

As I listened to their stories and learned more about the complex conflicts plaguing their homeland, I became increasingly invested in the development of the Congo. I discovered that despite being a land vastly rich in resources, the Congo’s history of poor leadership, violent conflicts, and natural disasters had impoverished its people and caused to the country regularly receive among the worst scores on the United Nation’s Human Development Index. It’s this paradox that CLI speaks of when it describes the Congo as a country of “severe need and tremendous potential.”

With my newfound love for Congolese people and my limited but growing understanding of the country’s various issues, I eventually came across CLI and immediately jumped at the chance to partner with them this summer. Reporting primarily to CLI’s president and founder, Nathaniel Houghton, I am working in a number of different areas, including social media marketing, grant writing, and public relations. As you can see, not only is this internship an incredible opportunity for me to gain firsthand experience in the marketing and communications of a nonprofit, it’s also a chance to be a part of the meaningful work that they’re doing to sustainably address the diverse issues that exist across nearly every sector in the Congo.

So as I progress through this internship this summer, you can expect to see my thoughts and reflections on both the practical skills that I am learning and the ways that this work is shaping my worldview and ever-evolving ideas about development. For now, though, it’s time for me to return to some of those very tasks I listed above. Until next time! –Marina

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Self- Management Discipline support for CLI Young


By Iongwa Mashangao, CLI Partnership Manager

CLI young leaders need to understand the significant role of their healthy lifestyle for them to be more effective in their leadership entrepreneurial journey. A healthy lifestyle entails a healthy body, mind, spirit and community. When you are unhealthy, you end up becoming less effective since the stress affects your health and your ability to cope.

 Physical health

Take care of the following aspects of your physical health:

  1. Have regular health checks so that your doctor and dentist can prevent problems before they interfere.
  1. Take up regular exercise. It is good to join a gym or take up jogging or swimming or a favorite sport so that you keep active. Current research suggests that moderate exercise three or four times a week has very substantial health benefits, including living longer.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Use the stairs instead of the lift.
  • Set a timer to remind you to get up from your desk every half hour or so to do some stretching.
  • Use your muscles and rest your eyes- sitting all day at a computer screen is actually dangerous for your health.
  1. Ensure you stick to a moderate diet- diet can have a substantial effect on alertness and efficiency, as well as health and longevity.
  • Eat moderately i.e. eat small meals more often than huge meals
  • Avoid sugar
  • Prefer less processed food. For example, eat whole wheat instead of white flour; and avoid processed meats and other foods containing too much salt, fats and chemicals.
  • Eat several portions of vegetables and fruit each day
  • Most people should cut down on salt. But this varies according to your body’s requirements – get expert advice if you are not sure.
  1. Enough sleep is also important. If you cut down on sleep you will become less efficient and waste your waking hours. The following are some tips for healthy sleep:
  • Keep to a routine. Going to bed and rising at a set time each day helps set the body’s clock
  • If you have difficulty falling asleep, avoid heavy exercise or intrusive lights (e.g. TV or computer) for two hours before sleeping
  • A warm bath and warm non-caffeinated drink before bed help some people
  • The relaxation exercise in a lesson on stress management would be a good way to start the night
  • If you have the opportunity, a short ten-minute nap in the early afternoon can boost energy.
  1. You should not smoke nor abuse narcotics or drink alcohol except in moderation.

Mental and spiritual health

Keeping your mind healthy is of paramount importance as a leader. Research shows that the capacity to think well grows with practice and the loss of mental functioning associated with aging can to a significant extent be reduced by keeping your mind active with new information, new experiences, learning new skills, and meeting new people.

Spiritual health has to do with meaning and purpose. Spirituality need not be religious, although that is the usual route. Whether or not you are religious, find ways to feed your soul through wonder and appreciation for beauty and majesty in what you see around you through art, music, literature, nature or relationships.  A daily dose of gratitude does wonders for health.

Social health 

Good supportive relationships with those you love provide one the best ways of coping with stress, so block time out for friends who would otherwise be lost in the urgent demands of work.

You can build quality in relationships by attentive listening, by refusing to think ill of others, by taking the initiative to forgive and/or apologise when appropriate, and by taking a few moments each day to consider what you can do to make life more enjoyable and rewarding for those you love.

In your wider circle, having an extensive and supportive network is one of the best predictors of work success.


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Empowering CLI Youth to Track and Monitor their set SMART goals

By Iongwa Mashangao, CLI Partnership Manager

It is essential to equip CLI youth with strategies to help them achieve their SMART goals including setting key milestones, metrics and timelines that they need to stick to. It also covers how to monitor and track progress over the course of their project implementation processes.

Follow the following Strategies to achieve your goals:

1) Get buy in from those involved

As a young leader, you probably rely on your team members to help you achieve the goals you have set. If a goal requires work by subordinates or team members, it is really important to involve them in the planning process as you refine the deliverables and milestones they will be responsible for.

Research has shown that if you get the buy-in of the members involved, and ensure that they understand the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ and agree to the details of the goal, performance will improve significantly and you will be far more likely to achieve the intended result.

Therefore the first strategy to achieving goals is ensure that you get the buy-in of your team members for all those goals that they will have a role in contributing to.

2) Define key metrics and timelines and systems for tracking progress

The second strategy in achieving your goals is to ensure that you have a process and a tool that will help you to measure your progress at key intervals so that you can revise your action plans where necessary throughout the year.

Start by reviewing the key inputs to your goal plan – review the goal, the actions required, and the priority. Make sure you’ve set the time by which you will have accomplished the goal and how you will measure your success. Next, for those goals that require a series of actions to help you achieve them, build out timelines and measurements for each action that will contribute to the goal. This is like creating a small ‘project plan’ for each goal.

Once you’ve established your detailed action plans that will lead to successful goal completion and are sure that they are attainable based on the resources and time you have available then share this plan with others.

3) Share your goals publicly

The third strategy for success with your SMART goals is to make sure that you share your goals publicly.

At CLI you are encouraged to work with your accountability team member (who is a person who will hold you accountable for meeting your goals and help you to assess your progress). Publicly stating your goals and committing to reaching them has been shown to dramatically increase the likelihood that you will do what it takes to reach these goals. This can be as simple as printing your goal plan and posting it in your office and explaining it to a colleague, but, even better, why not share some of your goals in the study group and see what your peers are also committing to?

4) Set periodic reviews

The fourth strategy to help you achieve your SMART goals is to make sure that you set periodic reviews to assess your progress and make any changes required to make sure you are on track. Remember, what gets monitored gets done.

How often you review progress will depend on the timeframes you’ve set. You’ll need to consider which is the most appropriate – weekly, monthly, quarterly – depending on the level of detail of your action plans.

You can review your progress on your own, or with your accountability team member, or facilitator.

Feedback is critical to success- knowing how you are doing will allow you to adjust your goals, level of effort or resources to make sure you are doing what it takes to succeed. Therefore you will need to include your deadlines and milestone goals in your calendar and to review progress at set intervals.

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Why do CLI Youth need to define their Personal and organizational missions and work objectives?

By Iongwa Mashangao, CLI Partnership Manager

CLI youth should identify how their roles and key objectives fit in to the bigger picture of both their small enterprises, organization / projects’ missions and their own personal missions.

A mission is a very broad statement of purpose that doesn’t change often. It states the purpose for why we exist – as an enterprise or as a person.  Mission statements should be concise and memorable. A good mission statement should inspire you to do things that are in line with the organization/enterprise’s direction and away from things that are less important.

Examples Organization/Project mission

Clean Off-Grid Lighting Solutions for BoP customers project (COLS4BC):’’We enable off-grid BoP customers to afford high quality and clean energy products in order to increase and improve their incomes, health and education outcomes, service delivery, and environment.”

Equity Bank in DRC: “We offer inclusive, customer-focused financial services that socially and economically empower our clients and other stakeholders.”

Congo Leadership Initiative (CLI): “to develop the next generation of leaders to be catalysts for peace and prosperity in the Congo.”

 Work objectives

Your work objectives should be in line with your organization’s mission and its strategy – which describes how the organization seeks to fulfill its mission.

Strategies can change from time to time and are usually broken down further into specific objectives for the organization/enterprise as a whole and for various departments.

Individual objectives should align with those of their departments, sections and the organization as a whole.

Personal Mission

A personal mission statement is rather like the organization mission, only applied to your life. It states why you exist and what impact you choose to have.  If your individual, team and organizational values and missions are aligned, it will help you to see how you can add value to your organization. This is very motivating and can impact on the degree of passion that you bring to your enterprise and project.

Writing a personal mission statement helps you to define your purpose in living.  Zaina’s mission statement is: “I exist to make this world a better place by bringing happiness to those I love and everyone I meet. In particular I want to bring the dignity of meaningful work to the poor by contributing to the development of rural development.”

From this statement Zaina realized the following benefits:

  • She was able to understand herself better.
  • She rediscovered the reason she had started her enterprise or joined her organization in the first place.
  • She was able to make changes by being determined, committed and more directly involved in rural development of poor people. She was also able to carry out her duties much more effectively and happily by focusing on the things she loved.

Turning your mission statements in to a set of work objectives

Your objectives as a leader should contribute to the organization/project mission. Therefore you need to understand your organization/enterprise’s mission, current strategy and departmental objectives and ensure that you align your objectives to those of the department/section and the organization as a whole.

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Holding Efficient CLI Meetings

By Iongwa Mashangao, CLI Partnership Manager

People and institutions in Communities around the world have held meetings for centuries. They used to be called gatherings; now in the business environment they are called meetings.

Why do people or institutions spend so much time in meetings? Do these meetings really add value? It is important to maximize time. Meetings are held throughout the day, week, month and year and we need to make them count. How do we avoid wasting time in meetings?

The key to an effective meeting is to set clear objectives. Be clear about the desired outcome of a meeting is it to make a decision or to communicate a particular point?

Here are some tips for helping CLI Youth to hold effective meetings:

Set clear objectives

  • Distribute an agenda ahead of time
  • Allocate and monitor time to ensure all important points are covered and always have a timekeeper
  • Be clear about the decision-making process
  • Generate and agree on action points. Ensure that follow-up actions are taken. Who is responsible for the action by when? Ensure that someone is held accountable for action points. Follow-up with brief a summary of decisions taken and action points.

This a good culture to inculcate among the CLI young leaders.

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To increase Personal Productivity of CLI Youth: Empowering young leaders to Manage priorities

By Iongwa Mashangao, CLI Partnership Manager

Most Professionals, entrepreneurs, managers prefer to start their days with to-do lists that keep them busy throughout the day creating the illusion that everything is important. The observation is that when people approach activities in this way, they sometimes lose focus on the things that matter most, hence the reason why CLI young leaders need to learn to prioritize. Below is the illustration of some tools for sharing the common understanding.

Time matrix

The time matrix is a tool with 4 quadrants that you can use to help you prioritize tasks. It was developed by influential management thinker Stephen Covey. You use each quadrant to organize the tasks you need to do into an order of priority.

Quadrant 1 contains the important and urgent activities. Covey refers to this as the quadrant of necessity. In this quadrant, you should put any activities that first are important, and then need to be taken care of immediately. These are urgent and necessary activities such as a project with an immediate deadline, or a crisis. These activities cannot wait.

Quadrant 2 also called the quadrant of effectiveness contains the important but not urgent activities. This quadrant is typically for tasks and issues centered on planning and preparation, including longer-term strategy, learning, training those who work with you and building relationships with clients and staff. These activities are critical to the organization/team, but are not immediately urgent.

Quadrant 3 is the quadrant where most people end up abusing time. It includes activities that are not important but are urgent. In this quadrant you have activities that have a semblance of importance and prompt immediate reaction when perhaps they are in fact not very important, and could either wait till later, or might not need doing at all.

These are ‘time-pressured distractions’ i.e. tasks that someone else wants done now, but are not important for you.  For example, we often receive emails in our inbox and get drawn into replying to them immediately and interrupting other more important work. This can be very disruptive and can waste a lot of time.  Covey calls this the quadrant of deception.

Quadrant 4 is for activities or tasks that are not important and not urgent. These activities have no value at all and simply waste time. We may begin activities here to give us a break from the more important activities, but then end up spending far too much time on them.

For example, we might do some “research” into a topic we are working on, but end up spending hours surfing the net on distracting topics that do not add value. This is the quadrant of waste.

Using this time matrix helps CLI youth to determine which activities are important and need to be done first. Many people place too much effort on tasks that are in Quadrants 1, 3 and 4, driven largely by urgency and neglect Quadrant 2 activities – important but not urgent.

These are often the critical ones that, when we attend to them first, make sure that all the rest of what we do is aligned with the principles we hold most dear, and sometimes even reduce the urgent and important lists by making us more effective.

A good way of deciding what should go into Quadrant 2 is to identify those tasks that you know that if you did them superbly well and consistently, they would yield excellent results. Those are the tasks that you should attend to first in your planning.


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Enabling CLI Youth to communicate effectively

By Iongwa Mashangao, CLI Partnership Manager

In certain circumstances and in numerous situations people will do what you say without truly agreeing with what you are saying. This creates the need of equipping CLI Youth with effective communication knowledge and skills so that they are able to bring about the desired positive changes in the Congolese communities.

There are two forms of behavior that govern how people communicate; aggressive or assertive behaviors. Aggressive behavior is not ideal while assertive behavior ensures effective communication. These t two components have to do with how we express ourselves. We can either be passive or active in our communication. In any interaction the ideal situation is one where individuals actively communicate. The ultimate goal is that in any form of communication both interacting parties win. This can be done when mangers take into account another person needs so that they can ensure that they are met.

Ultimately it is very important that when we communicate we take into consideration another person’s needs so that in the end both parties win and our communication is effective.

The following key aspects- eye contact, gestures and hierarchy are essential to consider to improve the effective communication.

Eye Contact

Eye contact plays a major role in communication and it is understood differently across cultures. For instance in some people’s culture when children communicate with their mothers they look down and avert their gazes. This is because if they maintain eye contact may be perceived as aggressive behavior. But, in a different culture looking down during an interaction may signal dishonesty. Therefore it is important that you ask yourself the following questions – what is the role of eye contact? What does eye contact mean in this context?


Gestures play an important role in communicating. That is why people possibly believe that actions speak louder than words. That is probably why for instance in certain cultures one can hold your hand or pat your back to emphasize a point. However in some cultures this can pose a problem, especially across genders where such gestures are interpreted as undermining personal space. Therefore care needs to be taken in the use of gestures in communication.


When communicating with someone with a higher authority in some cultures you cannot speak after they have spoken. You might find that in some cultures once someone has spoken you may not challenge what they have said. In an interaction where you might be compelled to challenge an authoritative figure you may be able to communicate your opinion by taking a person on the side and voicing your opinion.

When you are working in a new country or community where you are not necessarily sure of what cultural norms are acceptable, find out. It is important to do research because it helps.

Communication is different in different cultures. Therefore, find out more about the unwritten rules of communication so that you do not offend anyone. Most importantly, in any situation, be sure to ask if you have any doubts on how your communication styles will be perceived.

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Business Design Roadmap for CLI Youth

By Iongwa Mashangao, CLI Partnership Manager

Entrepreneurs tend to launch business and begin developing a product or design a service before creating short and long-term goals and exit strategies. This is mainly because there is so much to do that there is no time to think.

Depending on one’s goal at any given time, the process of planning allows you to adjust and readjust the business dreams and goals. The business process diagram is the essential business planning roadmap. Consider the following steps: i) set a money goal, ii) design the business, iii) determine its financial viability (will it work?), iv) decide to fix it, keep it, or star over.

Business planning starts with one’s vision and the creation of a model that will support that vision and purpose.

To strive in business and not just survive, coach yourself to ask the most important questions:

Who can help me achieve my goal?

What do I need to do in order to make my goal happen?

How can I make this happen?

Who can help me achieve my goals? From whom do I need support? Who is already successful at what I need to accomplish? Who can I partner with to accelerate my success?

How much after-tax income do you want your business to generate per year?

Who can help you achieve your goals is the most strategic question you can ask. If you want to thrive in business and not merely survive, start by asking the right question.

These guiding questions are very helpful for CLI Youth to be more successful in their daily project and business undertakings.

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