Saying goodbye to KickStart Ghana

It’s hard to remember a time when KSG wasn’t part of my life. My first visit to Ghana took place soon after the 2006 World Cup and the concept of KickStart Ghana was born when Dave Thorp and I were staying with Dan Agbogah in early 2008 when we were touring the country for the African Cup of Nations. Looking back now it seems more than a little mad that three young guys would set about forming a Ghanaian NGO and UK charity (I’ll never forget the nerves of our first volunteers heading out to Ghana) and until I stepped down from the UK board last year it was a constant in my life. 13 years on it’s still going strong and continuing to make a difference for young Ghanaians through sport and education.

I’ve often been asked what motivated us to found such an organisation. The simple answer is that we felt the ‘voluntourist’ industry was broken. It was short-changing well-meaning and generous international volunteers and profiteering off the back of local communities. We felt that it could be done better and that it was essential that any organisation that we set up should be a non-profit and have a values-based approach. The fact that KickStart Ghana has largely changed to a local NGO, working with Ghanaian rather than international volunteers, shows the journey completed by both the organisation and our collective understanding of how development should be done but also that we were all prepared to adapt to find the best way to make our desired impact.

Dan and I, 2006
Dave and I, 2006 (no idea about the long sleeve white T-shirts)

So why have I left KickStart Ghana? I can assure you that my passion for KSG’s vision where the people of Ghana can fulfil their potential and have every opportunity to succeed is as strong as it was in 2008. However, I found that I was running low on ideas on how to drive the organisation forward, I had lost motivation for my bits of the work and, basically, KSG deserved someone who would be prepared to put in the hard graft that is needed to run a small NGO. My sabbatical in 2018 was my opportunity to assess several areas in my life and one of the big ones was whether I wanted to continue to play a significant role with KSG. I quite quickly realised that as much as I had truly loved my time with the charity it would be best for all involved for me to move on. From that point onwards it was only a matter of time before I passed the baton on or we would look to close the UK part of the organisation. I was also extremely conscious of ‘founder’s syndrome’ and myself and Dave always said that this wasn’t “our organisation”, we were just it’s current guardians.

Despite it being the right decision it’s still been difficult to say goodbye. I thought about KickStart Ghana’s work every single day for over a decade, spent huge chunks on my annual leave travelling to Ghana, fundraised tens of thousands of pounds and invested a massive amount of emotional energy to try and make the organisation the best it could be. Additionally it was huge fun to be involved and, for large parts, extremely satisfying.

Finding new trustees that we respect and trust has been a big part in being able to move on. Kerry and Katherine were people I knew well and they, firstly, understood what we were trying to do with KickStart Ghana and, just as importantly, are prepared to put in the necessary work. They’ll, undoubtedly, do things differently to how I would have and that’s ok. My promise to them, and myself, is that I won’t be a backseat driver. I’m always just a phone call away but I won’t be interfering in the day to day work. They are also looking for more trustees if you are interested!

So how do I reflect on what I did with KickStart Ghana? To be honest, it’s a mixture of pride and slight embarrassment about the mistakes that we made. Perhaps I’ll write about our errors in the future but here’s a few things that I am really proud of.

  1. The trustee board in Ghana. The organisation became more sustainable, localised and ethical when the local trustee board was created in 2015. Daniel, Coco, Rachel, Divine and Prince are some of the best changemakers I’ve ever met. Every decision they make has local people at it’s heart. The fact that Rachel, Prince and Divine benefitted from KSG programmes when they were in school and then decided they wanted to help the next generation fills me with pride. Alongside all of the other Ghanaian volunteers that have been recruited they’ve made an incredible difference.
  2. The way we portrayed our beneficiaries. Early on we made the decision that we wanted to be the opposite of how traditional development charities showcased the people they were working for; ie. a sense of pity. We wanted to show the teachers, football coaches, Ghanaian volunteers, beneficiaries and the country as a whole in the best possible light. They’re working hard, with or without western charity, to improve their community. If you want to join us it will be in partnership and come from a position of empathy, not sympathy.
  3. The lives we’ve changed. This is obviously the point of any charity. I’m proud of the libraries we’ve filled, the leaking classrooms we’ve fixed, the football teams we’ve supported, the packed out reading clubs and the summer schools providing a filling meal and fantastic extra-curricular activities. We’ve reached thousands of young people and given them educational and sporting opportunities they’ve deserved but might not have received.
(l-r) Prince, Coco, Dan, Rachel and Divine. The KSG board in Ghana.

Obviously the above, and many other successes, wouldn’t have been achieved without working with some incredible people. The names are too long to list here but ‘thank you’ to anyone who has been a trustee, volunteered, fundraised, donated, played softball (!) or quite frankly listened whilst I’ve gone on about KickStart Ghana. By my estimate we’ve worked with at least 300 people over the years and each of them is a part of KSG’s story. It’s amazing what people are prepared to do when you tell them about your work and what you’re trying to achieve. I’d also like to say a huge ‘thank you’ to my family and other loved ones who showed unwavering support. Having both my parents and sister visit Ghana to meet my ‘Ghanaian family’ are special memories that will always stay with me.

My mum and dad meeting my Ghanaian family
My sister, Verity, in Ghana. She also designed our first training pack for volunteers.

The two people that deserve the biggest credit though are Dave and Dan. My first impression of Dave was that despite being 21 he was a grumpy old man. I was on the money with that take but he’s also been the best partner that I could have asked for. Whilst my head would always be in the clouds thinking of new ideas he would ask difficult questions, make sure we planned properly, always had a calm attitude and he’s a whizz with spreadsheets and numbers which has made all the difference! The fact we are here and he’s one of my best mates is a testament to his patience as much as anything else. Some of my happiest memories are ones of him and I on a Ghanaian beach enjoying a ‘Club’ or ‘gin and fantz’ at the end of the day or working with a group of volunteers. I wouldn’t swap those for anything.

Dan is the most inspirational person I’ve ever met. His dedication and passion to improving his community is nothing short of incredible. It’s difficult doing his job, very difficult, but he has vast reserves of energy and self-motivation and is always looking to improve himself. Anyone who is lucky enough to spend time with him comes away a better person and I’m not sure I can give him a bigger compliment than that. Despite the fact he supports Arsenal I consider him to be family.

Although my time with a significant role at KSG is over my hope for the future is that the organisation will continue to grow and make a difference to many more people. I’ll be cheering from the sidelines and offering support where I can. I’m missing being in Ghana a huge amount and I’ve no doubt I’ll be back soon but it’ll be as a tourist to see friends and visit beaches rather than anything else. To be honest, I can’t wait.

If you’d like to support KickStart Ghana’s work then please set up a regular donation.

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