José Maria Gomes Lopes is an innovator who secured financing for an income-generating mill for his impoverished community in Cabo Verde, Africa. Lopes, a social activist with more than seven years of experience in the community development sector, had dreams of making a difference.
His dreams were further cemented when, last year, he completed the Mandela Washington Fellowship as part of the White House’s Young African Leaders program. “The Mandela Washington Fellowship program was such an amazing and enriching program that, somehow, gave me a perspective on life. And as a leader, it has made me see new horizons and possibilities,” says Lopes.
Lopes is is the chairman of Associação Para o Desenvolvimento Comunitário de Picos Acima (APDZA), a community-based organization he helped found in 2006. The organization promotes the social, cultural and economic development of Picos Acima, a village of approximately 2,000 people on Santiago Island, Cabo Verde. Through APDZA, Lopes has raised funds for projects in capacity building, life skills, and small business benefiting the people of Picos Acima.
One of the most successful projects APDZA has implemented has been training and a fabrication facility of Cape Verdean traditional cloth called “panu di tera.” Another project was a grinding mill that generates income to cover its operational costs and save some money to be applied on other social projects.
Lopes, who also teaches Business English, is focused on helping create small businesses in rural villages to raise disadvantaged people out of poverty. One of his other focuses is creating a jobs program. “The main reasons why I developed this job program is to help alleviate the miserable life the youth and their dependents in the community live. Unemployment is high, therefore young people face tremendous difficulties to live a decent life,” says Lopes.
But starting the program wasn’t easy. Lopes has had challenges in all of his efforts, but he keeps pushing ahead. “Well, actually it is difficult for a community-based organization to start any significant program due to lack of funding. Right now, the grinding mill project, which employs two people, is running well, despite some stoppages due to electricity cuts,” he says. “The second project, tailoring and shoe-making, which is still waiting for finance, aims to transform the Community of Picos Acima into an unemployment free place. If financed, the project will employ several people directly and many more indirectly. However, the biggest challenge is funding.”
The students will intern at local tailoring companies, but first he has to convince local businesses of this. “In Cabo Verde, it is not easy to get businesses to cooperate with nonprofit organizations. Actually, the grinding mill project was sponsored by an International NGO, Bornfonden. It is hard to get sponsorship from private companies,” explains Lopes.
Lopes has a full plate of projects, all aimed at advancing his community. “Well, for this year, concerning the grinding mill project, the goal is to make it more profitable by attracting more people to require its services. In addition, I expect to make deals with supermarkets to sell our products,” he explains. “My long-term goals for the grinding mill projects is to transform the mill into a bigger factory which will supply ration for animals and foodstuffs to all of the community and neighboring sites.”