Xima is a staple in Mozambican meals. This pliable paste made by heating cornmeal and water serves as a perfect canvas for rich sauces and vegetable, seafood or meat dishes. For many inhabitants of the Sofala province in central Mozambique, however, xima might be the only food on their plates every day. In Mozambique, it is beloved for its ability to fill stomachs and impart energy for working on farms. Taste, texture, and nutritional value are less pressing concerns.
Our client, Azada Verde, is changing that through their mission to build sustainable local food systems in Mozambique. As part of this mission they seek to diversify meals. Their website asks plaintively, “Would you eat the same thing over and over again, 365 days a year?”
The brief given to our team appeared straightforward at first blush. Azada Verde wanted a three-year sustainability strategy aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We got to work, poring over its website, social media accounts, financial records, and program documentation in search of information that would eventually be organized into a coherent strategy.
The team was fortunate to be in constant and direct contact with Azada Verde’s founder Hugo Dalmau Coll. We interviewed Hugo endlessly, in person and through emails. He remained available for video chats even as Covid-19 forced our team and client into three different time zones.
It was quickly evident to us that Hugo cared deeply for his constituents and was eager to expand and make a greater impact. But the information we studied told of a need for deeper organizational foundations. Azada Verde and their programs appeared to have emerged organically, as needs arose, before Hugo and his partners had time to formalize an overarching organizational strategy or program-specific plans.
Azada Verde is not alone in being galvanized to action faster than one can strategize. Nonprofits come into existence precisely to address problems, often critical ones, that have fallen through gaps in government or business structures. For better or for worse, government and business rules still apply. It is not sufficient for a nonprofit to simply do good. They must also convincingly demonstrate how that good is accomplished. It should also be backed up by rules and systems to ensure that positive impact can be continually achieved.
To that end, the team produced two deliverables. The first is a brochure to introduce Azada Verde to external partners. With the masterful touch of Professor Anne Burt, who teaches a class on communications for Columbia’s Nonprofit Management program, we reformulated Azada Verde’s Mission, Vision, and Values.
The second report was internal. We identified six SDGs to focus on. We critiqued the liberal sprinkling of sustainability buzzwords throughout their content. We suggested a limited pool of stakeholders to engage with. We proposed ways to concretize the nuts and bolts of their existing programs before leaping to expansions and other ambitious endeavors. In short, we were asking our client to not overextend themselves until the basics were indubitable.
Our recommendations, if you will, were serendipitously similar to xima. The seemingly mundane parts of running a nonprofit might not be as appetizing as accomplishing lofty humanitarian goals. But they are part of a solid foundation that needs to be done right for a strong organization to thrive.