What Are You Doing in Africa?

People often ask me this question. Maybe you wonder what you can do. Here’s my story.

Looking out at the Indian Ocean north of Dar-Es-Salam, a late afternoon breeze taking the edge off the heat, I wondered why our young Tanzanian host was living here. He’d studied in London and I supposed he could come and live in the UK. Then it hit me, living here was much better. My love affair with Africa had begun. I had spoken at a conference in Croydon where someone said: “Would you like to come and do this in Tanzania?”

When I got to Dar-Es-Salam airport no-one was there to meet me. Still, even as I waited for hours, I could feel the African vibe. In the following year or two I worked on projects in Nigeria, South Africa and Senegal. A client passed my name to the African Agriculture Technology Foundation and in Kenya and I won an assignment. Arriving in a Nairobi restaurant one evening, I said hello to the only other customer. I had an intention to give a month to a local school and Michael Phillips knew a great if poor school. One morning, having coffee in a café in Thame, England, an idea popped into my mind: take clients to the Kenyan school for a life-changing experience. It felt amazing.

I outlined the idea to the best coach I knew, a man called Jefferson Cann; he stood silently in the corridor for a moment and said “I’m in”. Michael introduced us to James Waithaka, also known as James Ngugi, and husband to Karen Ngugi, retired teachers who had set up a school for orphans north of Thika in rural Kenya. James was also a pastor and Karen had been an inspector of schools.

We flew out on spec. James offered to take us on a tour of the shamba, a Kiswahili word for a small farm or homestead. “Where did you start?” I asked James as we set off, meaning would he show me the buildings in the order they were developed. He paused, looked at me, and said “With vision”. Where else? And James has continued teaching us in his gracious way. Jefferson developed the programme.

“Would you like to come with us on a Leadership Journey to Kenya?” Initially there were no takers. Two coaches, Liz Buckle and Simon Tinkler, and journalist Robert Buckland, gamely came along on a pilot. More clients started to come, and a new client brought the top team of a leading PLC.

Jefferson taught me about a lot of things including giving. We agreed early on that 10% of all relevant fees would go to local schools. Jefferson kept on giving, and he set up XLL Trust with a client, Lucille Weinberger of Livewire, which supports orphans at the school. I found myself joining in a process of giving away thousands of pounds.



It also made a big difference because the school was going through a semi-drought in 2010. Without water, crops failed. With fewer crops, food prices escalated, with higher food prices, poor parents could not afford the tiny fees that non-orphan children needed to pay to meet the teachers’ payroll. We created a bursary programme and a teacher support programme which are still running today.


The biggest threat to Summit School’s existence remained the creaky old well and the 1980’s pump on which pumped water up the hill to the school. We had heard the ideal solution was a bore hole. Apparently there was plenty of water far below. This looked hard. But a reliable supply of water would ensure the school’s future. It would also mean there would be more than enough food growing in the shamba, so a surplus could allow more orphans. Karen Ngugi took me through the banana trees one day and told me of her vision for a fish farm. This made no sense as there is no river nearby and the heat meant rapid evaporation. But Karen is a visionary.

A client called Colin Brown, who was also Engineering Director of a major firm, agreed to come on a journey. He encouraged a key member of his team, Graeme Vousden to come on the next journey. But Colin and Graeme decided to do it and Jefferson and I were happy to support. We formed WellBoring which became a registered charity. Colin led the design of the solution and Graeme delivered it, finally striking water the way others strike oil. There’s some great video at WellBoring. And WellBoring has made a difference to more communities since.


When a new University opened in the nearby town of Thika, and I dropped in one sunny afternoon, and ran we ran some sessions. Once we formed LeadNow, another story, with Todd Eden, we ran a three-day event at Mount Kenya University. Summit Schools really does have a fish farm, with algae grown across the top to reduce evaporation. The school is thriving. New classrooms are being built.

Now with the help of some generous donors, working with local partners like GWAKO, and with the work of our Kenyan engineer Lucy Njoroge, WellBoring is providing water solutions to a series of communities. The picture above shows a new borehole we opened Renja School on Kano plains.

The WellBoring Ball is at Hartham Park on 12th June 2015. Book here. Places subject to availability.

Nigel Linacre


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