The Segal Family Foundation is a young organization that has a common sense approach toward making a difference in the lives and communities of people in Sub Saharan Africa.
We did not begin with an elaborate development strategy and none of us have a development background: My dad, Barry, who started the foundation, wanted to donate a portion of the money he had earned throughout his life toward an area of the world where there was the most need, and then figure out a way to make the most impact.
Sub Saharan Africa seemed a natural place to focus his time, his energies and his philanthropy. In SSA, funds go a lot further than many places. For the past year and a half the core team – executive director Andy Bryant, board member Antoine Chiquet and myself, along with family members Janis Simon, Rich Segal and our founder Barry Segal, have been going around a learning curve to make a sustainable difference in our work.
It has been an adventure and in the past 18 months I have traveled several times to several countries, including Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and Malawi.
Since we have a business background, we adopted a business-like approach to funding and empowering grassroots organizations that have strong skill sets and objectives but may be lacking in certain strengths. We try to invest in smart people and smart ideas and get out of the way- we are listening to those who are more knowledgeable than we are.
We stay within a general mission of supporting basic needs like food and agriculture, health, education, alternative energy and family planning at the community level. The common denominators across projects are dynamic leadership, roots in stable communities, and remote, underserved locales. We also have select partnerships with larger organizations like Planned Parenthood, BRAC and Habitat for Humanity when we feel these larger entities will lend their technical expertise to our grassroots partners.
We try to invest in smart people and smart ideas and get out of the way- we are listening to those who are more knowledgeable than we are.
One lesson we learned early on is that many of these grassroots efforts work independently and don’t do a great job communicating with each other although they may have overlapping skills and needs.
We realized that we can add value by serving as a network facilitator amongst these fragmented efforts to help them develop a more cohesive strategy and become more interdependent. In practical terms, this means that, for example, if a health clinic needs electricity, we will fund that need with a solar power suitcase from another organization that specializes in solar power. Or perhaps when an organization specializing in school food security needs partners, we will link them with our education partners for joint projects.
One of the advantages of having a business background is that we are sometimes willing to take informed and calculated risks. We receive a lot of proposals all the time on social media like Facebook.
One time, we had a group of pastors in eastern Uganda ask us for some money, we worked with them on their proposal and decided to give them a few thousand dollars. It was site unseen, and yes, it was a risk.
On a subsequent trip to Uganda, my team and I were gratified to see what these pastors had turned our funding into: they had built an orphanage and a school both of which were thriving! So, it’s a learning curve: you try things, you make informed decisions, you take sensible risks and sometimes, the unexpected happens.
We have found a common sense approach that works well for us and we are looking in the future to build on this. Last year, we worked with about 130 different grassroots organizations within several Sub Saharan countries. We invited about 90 different representatives to our annual meeting in New York, and this year, we expect representatives from 120 partners. Slowly but surely, we are expanding our network, strengthening our impact in communities on the ground, and learning valuable lessons along the way.
Martin Segal, is the Managing Director of the Segal Family Foundation.
The Segal foundation is not accepting donations, as it states on their website in this quote from Barry Segal, the founder:
“The foundation is currently healthy and is not in need of external funds. If you are inspired by the things the Segal Foundation is doing, you can use our website to help you learn more about the issues, causes, and people that are making a difference in Sub Saharan Africa”.