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How I would improve Cape Verde

I wrote the following piece as an answer to a question I saw on Quora. The question asked was:

How would you improve Cape Verde, if you had enough political power, money, business vision etc.?

This probably is the best Cape Verde related question I have seen on Quora!

It's something I have been thinking about in the last couple of years. Actually, it was one of the reasons for me to come live in Cape Verde. Back in 2013, when I had a conversation with my manager at my old office job, I told her one of my reasons to take on the adventure.

“I want to play a role in the development of my fathers neighborhood...”

I had some ideas at the time. But I didn't know how to make these plans come to life. First thing I needed to do was to get some work. The reason why I always talk about an adventure when I refer to me leaving Rotterdam back in 2013 was because I didn't really know what I was going to do.

I just knew I really wanted to spend much more time in Cape Verde. To really get to know my city, island and country. To find out if what I was thinking and feeling was real. I needed to experience life in Cape Verde to know what it could be. And I knew very well it might not turn out as I thought it would. And that was ok. I could always go back to Rotterdam. Back to my old office job, or find another one. That type of life would always be there if I needed to go back.

Maybe I had a mission without even knowing it. Or maybe I just didn't really believe in it. Sometime the thought of failing in something makes us hold back and not give everything we have. There was a reason my old manager was the only one I had to about my ambition.

I had started Sonvela, my small foundation, at the end of 2010. I was preparing a trip for two to Rocinha, the largest favela of Brazil. The research I did before the trip got me motivated to do something back for the community I was visiting. So I bought some school supplies and had coworkes donate things like old toys and stuff. These would be donated to small local projects.

During this trip I met people who were doing so much good with so little. I got to meet Zezinho, who was working hard and making a difference as a social entrepreneur. That's when I felt it was time to focus on Cape Verde, and what I could to there to help make things a little bit better. That's why Sonvela was a combination of the words Soncent (São Vicente) and favela. A name I came up with while on my bike, on my way to playing a football match.

Since 2014 Sonvela has been able to do some great work in different communities in Mindelo. I was (and am) a member of the board of a football school we set up for the kids in Ilha d'Madeira/Ribeira Bote. We did a fantastic art school for 25 kids in Monte Sossego. And of course we created the Sonvela Arte project, back in 2014 a one of kind Street Art project that started with a € 180 budget!

Ok, back to the question now :) I will leave out political power, because I'm trying to answer from what I'm trying to achieve in the future. In my future I see money, hopefully a lot of great business vision and vision in general, but no political power.

#1 Invest in micro, small & medium businesses inside the communties

One thing we've definitely done in the last couple of years with the Sonvela Arte project is focus on the opportunities the work we've done with the project can create. Knowing the power behind what we started in 2014, we had our eyes on a couple of goals we wanted to achieve. One of these goals was to create a place for touristic activities. Since the community already had an existing Community Tourism Project, it made sense to work together.

This partnership allowed us to integrate our project with the visits taking place in the neighborhood, and provided the project with much needed income. We had achieved partial self-sustainability, which was very exited. This also gave us the opportunity to focus on a new fase of the project, by transforming a new part of the neighborhood.

Also, in 2017 we decided to do things a little different. We had the chance to organize a visit of 33 tourists from England. The street were we had started our project back in 2014 was the centre of this visit. We got a group together that existed out of both the team and other residents. There was food, drinks, music and dance. The visitors also got to see a traditional way of making coffee. The much needed income of this amazing visit was shared by everyone involved.

Now we're looking for a way to create and support sustainable businesses that can provide income for many families. Next to the businesses that are part of the Sonvela Arte project, or within the focus of that project, we're also looking at microfinancing for businesses as a way of community development.

#2 Encourage the diaspora to get involved in Real Estate

Cape Verde has a huge diaspora. The country has about 550.000 habitants, but there are probably a few million (!) Cape Verdeans living abroad. Countries such as the U.S., Angola, Portugal and The Netherlands have large Cape Verdean communities. It is clear that the country would not be what it is today if the diaspora was not there to basically build up the country.

The reason for choosing this as number two is twofold. On one hand the growing foreign investments in the country are both positive and negative. If you look at Sal and Boa Vista and consider the amount of land on these islands in the hands of foreign investors, you can basically conclude that big parts of these islands are owned by foreign investors and therefore controlled by them.

If this continues to evolve, and spreads out to other islands, in the future Cape Verde will be partially 'owned' by foreign investors with Cape Verdeans having little control over these parts and the financial benifits that its ownership brings.

Also, these investments would increase job opportunities for a large group of Cape Verdeans. An option could be to work with people on how to create their own businesses within the space, so that jobs won't be a temporary benifit, and they could be more in control of things and work on long term projects.

#3 Get the future involved in programming

I see a few things happening at the moment when it comes to technological development in Cape Verde. The gouvernment has been focusing on creating opportunities when it comes to tech, such as WebLabs and a Data Center. Also, there are many programs at the moment that focus on the support for (tech) Start-Ups.

All very positive developments, and also logical. The future of a country (and of all our lives in general) will be shaped completely by technology and the ability to produce technological solutions. I would be happy to see us own part of these solutions, and not just be on the consumer side of things.

Another very important thing is the jobs it could create. As a small country without natural resources it makes sense that Cape Verde has a relatively small job market. If people were thaught how to program in school, they could easily work in off-shore programming jobs for techcompanies. This could bring in thousands of new jobs for young people in the entire country, without people having to move to certain locations in order to secure their job.

With people creating real technological solutions for large and small problems, Cape Verde could have an exiting Start Up scene with (private) investors funding young talented entrepreneurs. This would completely change the country, giving thousands of many young people in the nation the tools and opportunity to shape the future of the country.

My name is Freddy Gomes, the founder of Sonvela and creator of Sonvela Arte. I also blog on the MindeloCaboVerde.com website, a project I started to promote local tourism initiatives.

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