In April 2017, I decided to start an after-school program. After thinking about the idea for a while, I spoke to my chief advisor and supporter: my husband. Five months later, I have made meaningful progress with the support of many people. I will share some important things we have accomplished so far in establishing African Community Learning Program (ACLP) and ten lessons I have learned along the way.
We have mobilized individuals and groups around ACLP’s cause. African Community Learning Program is partnering with the Blackwell West Philadelphia Regional Library, which supports us with computer access for our students’ “Africa Projects,” provides books on the continent and general resources. I reached out to many individuals and groups at the University of Pennsylvania to inform them about ACLP, to recruit volunteers, or to seek support. We regularly distributed and posted flyers throughout Penn campus. We talked to African parents in West Philadelphia about ACLP and invited them to enroll their children in the program. Also two African bilingual council assistant in the Philadelphia School District have been telling parents about our after-school program. We stopped in African-run businesses in West Philadelphia to post our flyers. We held two volunteer orientations and one back-to-school parent meeting. Many Penn students reached out to me to express their interest in volunteering with ACLP. We are collaborating with Penn Med African Health Interest Group, which has been instrumental in helping us recruit volunteers. I participated in Penn’s Nonprofit Institute, where I gained valuable insight on how to start and run our program. I have joined Wharton Entrepreneurship VIP-C, a community with the purpose of advancing Penn student entrepreneurs’ business goals. We produced a short video aimed at recruiting Penn student volunteers. Penn News Today, Penn LPS News, and The Daily Pennsylvanian published stories about ACLP, and I did a radio interview about our program on WURD’s Radio Xalaat. I frequently posted on my personal Facebook page and twitter account about ACLP. In addition, we created a website, a logo, a Facebook page, and a letterhead for the organization.
ACLP is ready to open its doors. I created a curriculum that focuses on the African continent for both our daily activities and our “Africa Projects.” Our after-school program will run five days a week from 3:30 to 5:30 pm, Monday through Thursday at 5234 Locust Street, and every Friday, ACLP students will be researching and doing their “Africa Projects” at Blackwell Regional Library (125 S 52nd Street). Our readings include Africa is not a Country by Knight, I Lost my Tooth in Africa by Diakite, Emmanuel’s Dream by Thompson, and “Africa my Africa” by Diop. Ten students are currently enrolled in ACLP, and they are connected to Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Eritrea, and Sudan. We have six prospective volunteers (all Penn students except one) who have submitted their interest forms and clearances. Some of our prospective volunteers have direct connections to Africa, and others are interested in the continent, in teaching and mentoring young people, or in entrepreneurship. We will officially launch ACLP on Monday, October 9, 2017.
Also ACLP is now an incorporated business in the state of Pennsylvania and has a bank account. We have advisors in the fields business, education, African history, and international relations.
Ten Lessons Learned
1. Sometimes you may not receive support from the people you counted on most, just as support could come from unexpected places. Regardless of the circumstances, keep moving forward.
2. Whatever the number of challenges you imagined facing in establishing your business, multiply that at least times twenty.There will be many, many aspects of your business that you will have to learn and will only discover how enormous the tasks are once you begin the process.
3. Have a least one person on your corner who understands and supports your vision one-hundred percent. You will need a shoulder to lean on often -- someone to keep you motivated.
4. Being a “people person” will work to your advantage.You will meet and interact with individuals from diverse walks of life. Connect with as many of them as possible.
5. Conversations spark ideas and thus new possibilities. Be willing to personally interact with people anywhere. You never know who is going to end up on your team.
6. Having already built a solid network of people will make your process smoother. Even if the people you already know cannot directly support you, they could point you in the right direction. Also cultivate new relationships that are specific to the different areas where your business needs support.
7. Planning is important, but sometimes be willing to go with the flow. “Life is what happens to you while you are making other plans.”
8. Share your ideas with people you trust; they could help make your process less stressful.
9. Be open to rejection and failure. You will learn and become better prepared for your next experiences.
10. Learn from others’ successful accomplishments and adapt them to your business. There is no need to create things from scratch every time.