Many folks have told me that it’s hard to launch a non-profit. I’d take that idea one step farther and say it’s particularly difficult to do so during a pandemic.
But it is precisely because of the challenges of doing work during the era of COVID-19 that I am filled with respect, admiration and appreciation for the people in our CCIJ network. They are not only producing timely and meaningful work, they are helping to build our community and culture.
Let me give you a couple of recent examples.
I send out a weekly update about activities and goings on within CCIJ. The purpose of the note is to keep people in the loop about what we are doing, to create a transparent environment and to help create a sense of community in our group which has folks in more than 30 countries stretched across five continents.
A couple of weeks ago I sent out a notice about a Solutions Journalism Network (SJN) webinar being held online. We were fortunate to have received SJN support last year that led to Monica Eng’s terrific piece, edited by Jessica Pupovac, about lead pipe replacement that ran on local and national versions of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. Thanks to Freddie Clayton’s intrepid reporting and Yaffa Fredrick’s excellent editing, we’ve got more stories in the pipeline coming soon.
Enter Ruona Meyer, our social media guru from Nigeria who is living in Germany.
As she is wont to do, Ruona capitalized on the opportunity and attended the seminar.
Following the hour-long session, she originally was planning to send a pitch to SJN about mobile, drive through testing in Lagos. She applied solutions journalism principles to provide a nuanced and thoughtful look at the rollout of mobile drive through testing in Lagos, the first such program in West Africa, and comparing with an earlier effort in Germany. It’s important to note that Ruona kept herself safe by applying SJN guidelines of remote reporting. The piece ran in the Premium Times, one of Nigeria’s top newspapers. I’m confident more will follow.
Ruona’s contributions have extended beyond attending seminars, writing strong pieces and designing our social media presence. She’s also been an active recruiter of new members to join our group. She’s brought us Bettie Johnson Mbayo, the head of SheWritesSheLeads. This group of Liberian women are working to gain journalistic skills while reporting and commenting on key issues of the day in the country. A recent piece which I had the good fortune to give some editorial input focused on Liberian President George Weah and whether his actions have lived up to his self-appointed moniker of “Feminist in Chief.”
Ruona’s also brought award-winning Nigerian journalist Tobore Ovourie into the fold. I met Toboroe briefly in 2015 at the annual African Investigative Journalism Conference at Wits University in South Africa, where she presented about her harrowing undercover investigation into human trafficking. Tobore has already made an impact by applying for, and gaining approval, to do a series of stories about COVID-19 and water issues in Lagos for the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism that is ably coordinated by CCIJ Board Member and current Knight Fellow Motunrayo Alaka.
It is worth pointing out that these women are all working and living in situations that are challenging at any point-and even more so during this time of global shutdown and uncertainty.
We’ve got a lot of work to do to solidify our network as well as to establish and solidify ongoing systems, and people like Ruona, Tobore are helping us make that road.
It is indeed tough to start a nonprofit during a pandemic, but people like these women make it a lot easier.
They make it a lot of fun, too.