Looking to support an impactful non profit? Meet IVY Member Alexandra Sutton, the fearless leader of Kedge, an enterprise dedicated to empowering high potential but underserved African communities. As a “mobile business incubator,” Kedge does not provide charity; instead, it trains locals to grow a healthy local economy while also teaching them to train their peers in sustainability and business essentials. Connect with Alexa on IVY to join the cause!

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Alexa and Kedge staffer Kelly with the Nambia class.

What does Kedge do?

We’re an adult education program that works with rural communities in East and Southern Africa, looking to improve people’s quality of life and reduce the reliance on local and natural resources. We want to give people economic alternatives to making a profit on poaching and deforestation. We do that by targeting three things: business, environment, and health.

On the business side, we look at microbusiness development and personal finance. We try to link rural people with opportunities to use financial tools. So we teach basic things like having a savings account and how to use the bank. Then we look at long-term economic opportunities. A lot of work in rural communities is very seasonal. What do you do in those off months? What are the ways you can run small microbusiness, whether it’s providing water tanks to neighboring villages or building bikes? We give locals the tools to come up with an idea, then turn that idea into action. Then we help give them access to capital. We’re trying to develop closer relationships with national banks and non-profit organizations like Kiva.

On the environmental side, we focus on improving environmental literacy, awareness, and understanding. Even when people live close to the land, they don’t always understand the intricacies of the ecological relationships around them. So we try to make them more aware. We teach people about the soil and the geology of the region and then help them see how it relates to their lives. What wildlife exists in your area? Which species? What’s underneath the grass that your cattle eat? We want people to connect to the world around them in a different way. We focus on sustainability and stewardship.

On the health side, we focus mostly on safety. My team and I are used to camping out and doing research in the field. We realized that we could be most impactful by transferring skills in wilderness first aid to rural communities. Emergency services are already hard to come by in the developing world, even in a big city, and our communities can be a two-day drive from the nearest major city, so getting health care quickly is almost impossible.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

It was from Guy Neil Goyer, who said that you can gain knowledge from books, but to gain insight you need to get out on the front lines. Get your hands dirty. Get on the ground. You’ll gain better insight than you would anywhere else.

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Kedge students in Kenya observing local fauna.

What is the long-term goal of Kedge?

What we would really love to see down the line is free, adult education to everyone in Africa. That is our massive, massive, massive goal. What we’re working on right now is teaching people to be teachers.

What was your personal impetus?

A portion of my doctoral thesis was done in conjunction with National Geographic’s Big Cat initiative. I was living and working with a community in Southwestern Kenya. The idea for Kedge was something that came about pretty organically. These people were my community. They wanted to know and be taught certain things. I saw a huge need.

1.714285714; font-size: 1rem;">How is Kedge different than other non-profits?

There are a lot of other non-profits and development orgs working on ground that give away everything away for free, which removes the agency of the recipients to take action for their own lives. We are not a charity. We ask something in return for the work we do. We don’t ask for financial support; rather, we’ll ask someone who attended our classes to take some time and tutor someone who couldn’t make it. We focus on building out individual capacity.

1.714285714; font-size: 1rem;">What’s the most surprising thing you’ve seen?

To be honest, I was surprised and humbled by the enthusiasm we received for our classes. Initially, I thought that getting people to come was going to be like pulling teeth. We starting thinking up crazy incentives that we could offer. Would we have to go door to door? Honestly, people were lining up to take our classes. It was impressive, surprising, and kind of awful because I wish there were a million classes we could offer so everyone could be in one.

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Namib Desert

What’s one message you have for the IVY community?

All of this is about relationships. It’s not just about trying to “do something good.” That’s such a nebulous term anyway in the development space. I started doing this because these people are my friends, and I want my friends to have a better life. If people do good with that attitude—“I don’t want bad things to happen to my friends”—we’d see better work in a lot of places.

What are the best ways for members to get involved?

We’re always opening new communities and building new relationships. Reach out to us! We do have some volunteer opportunities. In fact, we’ll be working with Ivy to coordinate a volunteer trip for members next year, which we’re very excited about. But you don’t have to be on the ground with us to make a difference. If people want to be an e-mentor, in email contact, or in SMS contact (they use What’s App) with our field team or our students, that would be helpful. Donating to Kedge is great, too!

Alexandra Sutton is an IVY Member (DC). Connect and collaborate with her on IVY. To learn more about IVY, please visit www.ivy.com.