Nonprofit on the Rocks - Afam Onyema - GEANCO Foundation
Season 3, Episode 1
“It sounds hokey, but my life's mantra is really how can I serve? Everything I do, literally everything I do from this podcast to driving on the 405 freeway to Geanco, I ask myself, how can I serve in this situation?”
Matt talks to Afam Onyema, the founder and CEO of GEANCO, a family foundation, inspired by his father’s promise to improve healthcare and save lives in his homeland, Nigeria.
GEANCO saves and transform lives in Nigeria; fights disease and disability through free complex surgeries and maternal health and safe delivery; fights ignorance and gender inequality through the education and social support of young female victims of terrorism and sexism.
Oh, and Oprah is a donor. Yes, THAT Oprah.
Okay, so a lot of causes in this country, a lot of needs in this country. Looking at Los Angeles alone, there are 90,000 homeless people on the streets that don't have homes. Period. Here in our backyard. Why should I give to your cause that gives to Nigeria and not to my own backyard?
Sure, absolutely. I will preface this by saying I do get that question a lot, but it's amazing how many times I get that question from people who aren't giving in their backyard. I'll be in events. I'll be somewhere and they'll say, "Well, there are a lot of causes here in California or in the US." I'm like, "Oh. Well, what causes do you support here? I'd love to learn more about them. Maybe I can help you." "Well, I don't really... It's just... This country is screwed." "Why would I give to something in that state when I'm here?" So I realized that people who asked that question aren't giving to anything. It's not a question of giving locally or globally. It's the question I don't want to give and this is the reason why I'm not giving to you. So I'll just put that aside.
But if someone honestly asked that question, which is a very valid question. I'll tell people, "Well, it's just... How big a circle do you want to draw around yourself? Because I can then say, I live in West LA. I could care less what's going on in downtown Skid Row." "Why would I care about that?" Or "Why would I care about what's going on with the beaches in Santa Monica and the environment or what have you?" Or "Why should I care about Northern California or the East Coast?"
And so, taking your pen, your marker, how big a circle are you drawing around what you care about? Is it just you? Just your family? Just your city? There are people in this world who have a very big marker and Nigeria is in that circle and they can look at it and say, the fact that girls can be abused and abandoned and not in school... Nigeria has the largest number of girls out of school in the entire world. Almost 11 million girls out of school. The floor for people here in the US could be the high ceiling in Nigeria. People aren't getting pulled off the streets and thrown into child gangs, they aren't being pulled off the streets and married off at 12, they're not being burned alive, they're not being kidnapped until there's...
There is a level of trauma that is unimaginable here. And so, we meet that trauma. If you have a sharp, sharp pain in your hip, for instance, you can go to a free clinic. You can go get a free surgery. There are programs, there are facilities here in the US. The idea that someone would go 50 years with the type of injuries that we see in Nigeria would almost be criminal here. Again, floor to ceiling as the biggest difference.
I tell people, "Listen. If you want to truly meet people in desperation and grab them and help them go to another level, help them have a quality of life that is human dignity, then we'd love to work with you." But I understand that people say it's too far and it's too foreign. I understand that. But then, the question for me is then like, "Okay. Well, tell me where are you drawing your circle?" Also, it could be you really want to focus all your attention on homelessness in LA, like you said. Great. I want to learn more about what you're doing and the impact you're making in that.
Again, I realize that most people, majority of people, are going to care less about GEANCO, are not going to be donors. No matter what I say, no matter how eloquent a speech, no matter how big the celebrity that's standing next to me. My job is just to find those who are interested and build into them and collect them. Build a community and justify their support, justify their faith every single day of my life, every single moment of my life. It's a very quick conversation for me for someone who asked that question because I'm not trying to convince anyone to give. My job is to find people who are inclined, that are leaning in a bit, and then show them why they're worthy to lead... Why it's good for them to lean in more, why this is a home for them.