Monday, November 24, 2014

No Homework Project Mo

Almost 20 years ago I was involved in a charity that brought together students from the schools of Durban. There were three representatives from about 40 schools and we formed the Durban Youth Council. A shadow council along with town clerks, secretaries, mayors and sub-committees - allowed kids who were now becoming young adults to get actively involved in community service. While there was some adult support, the adults when I was there were just university students and so were learning the ropes themselves. It was a case of figuring it out.

While we also did non-financial community service like spending time in retirement homes and orphanages, a large part of what we did was fund-raising. We spent a lot of time doing raffles, looking for sponsorship, finding where help was needed and telling people about it. This was pre-internet so it required a lot of hustle, creativity and energy. One strong lesson I learnt was when we got towards the end of our time and thought we had done a pretty good job raising money. I can't remember the exact amount, but it was in the region of R10,000. A few of us met up in Johannesburg with some equivalent youth councillors from around the country to share ideas. It was there that I heard of the Joburg team's 'No Homework Day'. They had co-ordinated with the schools who had agreed to let every child who gave R5 do what the name of the day implies - have fun. This simple project had raised 10X what we in Durban had in a year full of events. Ouch.

Yes, Durban is sleepy relative to Joburg. Yes, Joburg has more money than Durban. The lesson I learnt though was the power of simple, catchy ideas and the power of networks. Joburg seemed more connected. People knew each other and it was easier to get the ideas out. This was a time when we either spoke once a week or had to make use of 'telephone pyramids'. Remember those? Each person calls three people who call three people spreading the broken telephone message. No smsses. No promise the person will be there to hear the phone ring. Joburg seemed better at that.

Fast forward 15 odd years (a very suitable summary), and I decided to get involved in Movember. I had heard of it but hadn't got involved because I was involved in marketing and was client facing. Looking the part is as John Cleese would say, very very very important. Despite his extraordinary level of importantness as a person, Cleese also has a moustache. I figured that since it was going to be a quiet month and the one meeting I had lined up was with a client with a moustache, I would give it a go. Towards the end of the month, a colleague challenged me to agree to dress as Charlie Chaplin to our end-of-year party if I could raise £1,000. I agreed. At the time this £1,000 was roughly equivalent to the R10,000ish I had been involved in raising with the Durban Youth Council. I did it. This freaked me out a little. How did growing some facial hair and being prepared to be a little silly (I am always prepared to be a little silly) allow me to raise more than a big group of us with huge amounts of energy? This was a 'no Homework project'. The guys who came up with Movember, had come up with something that could spread - It was fun, it was easy and it was a great cause. With the internet, you can get full transparency into how well they are spending the money, and what impact they are having. They publish a report card on the 832 projects in 21 countries in which they are involved with a primary focus on cancer and mental health. The focus of the energy can be on doing good work rather than on raising money.

The primary aim of the Durban Youth Council was not simply fundraising. I learnt a lot about working in volunteer organisations. We made some great friends and did a lot of non-financial community work. It is almost 50 years old now and from the snippets of news (and fancy website) they seem to be doing great work. The internet has helped everyone get better at connecting, and if we can stir up some community spirit with fun 'no homework project' ideas, it becomes easier to target our collective guns at the challenges we face.

Exciting times.

If you would like to contribute to my Mo Homework: I thought I would add a little fro to my mo this year.

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