History and Approach
OUR HISTORY: We are a Product of Bottom Up Innovation
Our history is an interesting one: we started in Sub-Saharah Africa as AGEN and then we developed to become AGEN-USA Inc. in America.
We are a product of innovation in that Affirmative action on Gender Equality Network (AGEN), initially known as Africa Grassroots Gender Empowerment Network (AGGEN) was established de facto in 2008 when its initial founders, Tanzania's Fulbrighters, were brought together by Ms. Diana A. Carvalho. This lady was the Coordinator at the Dar es Salaam U.S Embassy overseeing U.S. Department of State Fulbright and Humphrey Alumni programs in Tanzania. While Ms. Carvalho brought together the Fulbright alumni as part of her job description, she always went an extra mile, by creating and strengthening relationship, firstly between her and the alumni and secondly, among alumni themselves. Through that relationship the idea of establishing AGEN and AGEN-USA Inc. emerged. The initial driving force for AGEN establishment was to foster cooperation among U.S Department of State Alumni in Tanzania and beyond and make change to the society. During the course of implementation we grew to cover the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa and New York in the United States of America.
Specifically, AGEN and AGEN-USA Inc. founders made use of a call by the United States of America Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF) of the US Department of State to come up with innovative ideas. The fund was launched on February 16, 2011 by the AEIF State Alumni Team to address global issues on a local, national, regional or international level. Proposals in the following categories or combination thereof were considered: Democracy and human rights; Economic opportunity and prosperity; Food security; Promoting a cleaner environment; Women's empowerment; Global health; and Outreach to marginalized communities.
All alumni members were encouraged to work collaboratively through State Alumni to recruit team members, mentor one another, or comment on posted project ideas. As part of the global community of alumni, members could offer advice and share information with one another to improve submitted project ideas. On April 4, 2011, State Alumni announced the finalists of AEIF. AGEN project was among the 137 finalists of nearly 700 project ideas which were submitted for the first phase of the AEIF. The project idea became the most voted project of all finalist projects submitted in Africa. The project led by a significant huge margin (180 votes by 89 vote of the second most voted project) meaning that it was the most liked project idea in Africa.
On May 23, the project was announced as one of the 38 winners of the AEIF and received an award of $25,000; this award was used to raise more than $300,000 grassroots resources and impacted the lives of 400 rural entrepreneurs and near 125 scholars and activists from across the globe. Our innovation gained its innovative status after going through: a review by regional specialists, feedback from U.S. Missions, voting from State Alumni members, and a final evaluation by a U.S. Department of State review panel. A wide range of factors were considered: the feasibility of the project within the time frame specified, appropriate budget items, and how well a project met the proposed category. Of all the projects that initially suggested the creation of a Grameen Bank-like model for women’s microfinance (or more broadly for microfinance for women, youth, or marginalized communities) that were submitted, or that remained in the final 137, AGEN’s project was the only project that made it to the final round of AEIF. The key difference for the project, as judged by AEIF officials, was the degree of alumni and other team members' involvement in the training of the women entrepreneurs.
At the beginning of AEIF, Rasel Madaha (a Tanzanian PhD student at State University of New York, University at Buffalo, USA) encouraged fellow AGEN team members to expand their collaboration to include other likeminded state alumni scholars from U.S. and Africa to dedicate their expertise and experience to grassroots efforts of women in Tanzania with a hope of expanding to the rest of Sub-Saharan at the end of AEIF. Nevertheless, the initial idea, shaped by all of the team members, evolved into a new more innovative idea dedicated to grassroots women of Tanzania and the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa. Tanzania was selected as a place to launch the first project and NGO to sustain the intervention. For that reason, the initial project was called “Women Empowerment in Rural Tanzania: Poverty and Inequality Challenges, Sustainable Local Grassroots Solutions.” However, the project, following input from AEIF panelists, was changed to, “Women Empowerment in Rural Sub-Saharan Africa through Capacity Building and Training.”
It was expected that the initial project, in Tanzania, would lead to creation of a model which could be used elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa where grassroots women continue to be trapped in extreme poverty despite countless development efforts aimed at uplifting them out of the cycle. It was believed by the founders that in order to successfully share success from the Tanzanian project to those elsewhere in Africa, creation of NGO was of great importance. As a result, the founders formed and named the NGO “Africa Grassroots Gender Empowerment Network” abbreviated as AGGEN. At the beginning of June, 2011, members decided to change the name from Africa Grassroots Gender Network (AGGEN) to Affirmative action on Gender Equality Network (AGEN) after it was discovered in the process of registration, that the name ‘Gender Empowerment Network’ had been taken by another NGO in Tanzania. It was wisely thought that it is necessary to come up with a name that clearly reflect who we are. Affirmative action on Gender Equality Network was selected because of the dedication of members towards addressing existing sexual inequalities. Often times, abbreviations stand for key words or phrases only. Affirmative action (A) refers to member’s commitment to advocate for policies and actions that take into account equalities of all people regardless of their sex, race, color, religion, national origin and all other basis of discrimination. But our emphasis is to dedicate all our actions and interventions to ensure women empowerment as a means to counter the effects of a history of women's discrimination. "Affirmative action" is one key inseparable phrase which was used for the first time in the U.S by President Kennedy to rectify inequalities in 1960s. The word Gender (G) refers to members’ commitment to improve relationship between men and women. Equality (E) refers to members’ commitment to ensure equality in all aspects of live and finally, Network (N) refers to members’ commitment to networking with people with like mind whether they are individuals, groups or institutions across the globe.
One month after AGEN team won the AEIF grant and three years after conceiving an idea of registering an NGO, members managed to officially register their NGO- AGEN on June 22, 2011 with registration number 000NGO/00004708. Members acknowledge the role played by a dedicated member, Mr. James Jesse, a renowned Tanzanian lawyer with expertise in International and Human Rights Law towards his efforts that resulted in the registration of AGEN. Members also acknowledge the role played by Ms. Rehema Monko, Dr. Elinami Swai and Mr. Felix Mlaki who introduced AGEN to Tanzanians through a local Television show in the most watched TV in Tanzania and East Africa, the Independent Television (ITV) in its ‘Uchumi Wetu’ broadcast on June 24, 2011.
We also take pride to state that on July 27, 2011 AGEN achieved another important milestone. AGEN got registered with the US Central Contractor Registration (CCR). That was followed by successfully registration at US Online Representations and Certifications Application (ORCA). The process enables AGEN to apply for farther US federal funding and to be introduced to one of the best system of being monitored for quality assurance. In other words, the process legally binds AGEN, among other things, not to be involved in human oppression (the very thing AGEN works to eliminate). AGEN will not use funds from donors to pay any person for influencing or attempting to influence an officer or employee of any agency, a Member of Congress, an officer or employee of Congress, or an employee of a Member of Congress on its behalf in connection with the awarding of government contracts. Funds given to AGEN will in no way be used to support countries that support terrorism and violations of human rights.
Though the NGO had been registered locally in Tanzania, efforts are already underway to open semi-autonomous NGO branches across Sub-Saharan Africa. Former AEIF competitors have been asked to join AGEN and a significant number of them have joined. To begin with, important contacts have been established in some Sub-Saharan Africa (see countries marked in Red below) such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Cote d'Ivoire, Cameroon, Mozambique, Nigeria, Uganda and South Africa. Many more countries will be included thereafter. It was originally expected that the NGO would first extend its wings to the mentioned countries and gradually extend its services to the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa. However, it was later on agreed that AGEN should expands its services to the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa as soon as possible but with high level of professionalism, effectiveness and efficiency. It was also agreed that affiliated organizations be established in donor countries, mainly USA, for fund raising activities in order to get a big financial support so as to adequately address the needs of Sub-Sahara Africa. Africans in the diaspora and our well-wishers will have to network and eventually reconnecting with their counterparts in Africa in order to serve the grassroots men and women in Sub-Africa. On 2/06/2012 AGEN-USA Inc. was incorporated by a US steering committee led by Rasel Madaha; other members of the steering committee include Divine Maragijimana, Christopher Zambakari, and Prof. Hodan S. Isse. AGEN-USA Inc. is set to become the most reputable international NGO in the world.