Will it make it without you? – Sustainability

As I travel to world events this year and share with other leaders that we will depart Rwanda and Africa in 2019, I am asked this question again and again: “Will Rwanda Taekwondo make it without you?” Boy, I sure pray to God it will!

I really like things that last. As you may know from previous posts in 2017 that I really am proud of my big Toyota 70 series Land Cruiser. It is the type that the United Nations uses for ambulances. It is simple, highly functional and strong. It has seating for 15 and once I even took it on a safari with 14 people and all the camping gear as well! It is a beast and it is resilient. It will last. As now it has been revived from last years’s “death in the river crash”, it seems almost indestructible.

Wouldn’t it be nice if our work in sport development could be that resilient, that it would continue on long after our presence here has ended? First, you initiate a work or project by pouring yourself into it. Then, along the way, you find worthy individuals to invest in through equipping and empowering them to partner with and work alongside you. Eventually, you become so busy, developing, leading, experimenting, and forming as well as trying to pay for it all, that you quickly forget that one day you will be gone, donors will grow weary, and the project, sport, or initiative could come to a very sad and abrupt end.

Sustainability via transference of ownership – The first and most important step in establishing sustainability is the transferring of “ownership” for the project or sport from the developer to the beneficiaries. Hopefully the developer will consider this before initiating the project; clearly establishing that the initiative is not only needed by the potential beneficiaries but is highly desired as well. As local beneficiaries of the initiative are brought on board in the equipping and empowering process, ownership naturally transfers with the entrusting of responsibilities from the developer to the beneficiary leadership. An ownership transference on the intellectual, technical, emotional, and physical levels ensures that longevity will occur.

Sustainability from good governance – Governance, particularly good governance in sport is one of the hottest topics in lectures generated by the International Olympic Committee and the world’s top sport federations. This has occurred mostly because of the plethora of scandals that has rocked the sporting world from embezzlement and bribery to doping in the previous five years. As I personally met several of these scandal ridden leaders in the past few years, I was motivated to assist Rwanda Taekwondo with leadership structures that would result in good governance and ultimately scandal prevention. One of these measures I took was to write a policy and procedures manual that supported their federation constitution statutes. In the manual we attempt to address as many issues of governance as possible in addition to establishing procedures of risk management. These will go a long way to help foster sustainability.

Financial Sustainability specific to sport – Most organizations, when quizzed about the necessary components of sustainability, will begin with their financial concerns. In reality, though, if the controls provided by governance aren’t in place, then no matter how strong the financial investment is, all will be eventually lost and a few people may wind up in jail.

For Rwanda Taekwondo, financial sustainability happens on two levels. The fist level is that of daily operations. This is being established in Rwanda through its building up of a membership system. It will pay for the national staff and coaches as well as seminars and local events. It also highly motivates the national leaders to focus on growth and expansion as their salaries are dependent on that and this in its own way ensures additional sustainability.

The second level is that of high performance. This is the most expensive aspect of a national sport body and for it to occur properly, even for a small sport in a small country like Rwanda it carries a price tag of around one million USD per Olympic 4 year cycle. By the way, that is very inexpensive for such high potential of medals on the Olympic and world levels. This can only occur, in the short term via large private and public sector stakeholder gifts. Ironically, it won’t occur without initial investment and high level performance, which means you may be putting your next world event on your Bank of America credit card and praying hard for a few medals so you’ll get reimbursed when you get home.

The lasting impact of sport – Beyond the governance and fundraising efforts, sport is a living organism that displays great resilience and has the potential for impact on an entire nation. Over the years, I have been amazed by the rapid growth and successes for Rwanda Taekwondo. Here with only one year to go, I am full of hope that it will last beyond me and by God’s grace continue to have a lasting impact on healing Rwanda from the genocide of 1994 as well as helping to write a new story for the Rwandan people.

Embracing: 2010 and 2011

Being recognized –

First International Event in Mombasa, Kenya pictured along with Team Uganda

The first Taekwondo Master (black-belt) Dan certificates arrived from Korea and the Kukkiwon (agency overseeing accreditation for Taekwondo) in November of 2010.  It was a great moment for Rwanda and a great step in our journey.  Until this point, all that had been done with Taekwondo in Rwanda had been on a very small scale.  In fact, if I look back now, this was the moment when the vision for Taekwondo turned from something simple into something very complex and far reaching.

I’ve often thought about that point when I could have just worked and focused on a single club of Taekwondo.  In the more difficult times, especially the expensive ones, I find myself wishing that I had.  In reality, though, God, who knows me better than I know myself, knew that I just wouldn’t be able to do that.  It was the “all in” moment where the dream of impacting Rwanda through the sport of Taekwondo began to emerge.

Participation in All Africa Games 2011 Maputo, Mozambique

I had been advised to meet with KOICA (the Republic of Korea’s International Aid Agency).  I had no idea where they were in Rwanda, but on our first Boy Scout camp out, I just happened to be wearing a Korea Tiger’s soccer shirt, and the head of KOICA was walking out of an office.  In that moment the Republic of Korea entered mine and Rwanda Taekwondo’s lives.  At that time also, we received recognition from the Rwanda National Olympic and Sports Committee.

2011 held many incredible firsts: our first national championships, first international events (there were three), first international medals, first All Africa Games, and our entry into World Taekwondo as a national federation.

Bear with me as I relate that experience:

It was March of 2011 and Rwanda Taekwondo had been invited to join World Taekwondo (the overseeing body for the sport).  Travel would be to Eastern Kenya with our small team for an event and then on to South Korea for the World Championships and the General Assembly where we would become members of the then 187 member nations.  The trip was going to cost about $7000 and in truth we really didn’t have it.  On top of that, we were scheduled to take our family back to Togo that summer and I knew it would cost around $10,000.  So, here I was about to use $7,000 for some crazy trip to South Korea?  I kept thinking as I discussed this with my wife that there would be push-back from her or from others, but everyone just kept giving me the go-ahead.  So, I did.

I packed up our small team and we all struck out for Mombasa, Kenya.  I even road the famous train called the Iron Snake from Nairobi to Mombasa, an experience in and of itself.  We learned so much as a team, won a match, and even got a little trophy (I think for furthest traveled).  While there, though, I was concerned about the money and found myself kneeling in the hotel room, asking for God’s affirmation for this trip through somehow supplying the money needed.  In the middle of the tournament, I received a message.  A church had given an unsolicited gift to our work of, wait for it $16,800.  The exact amount needed to cover both trips!  Affirmation had come.

Myself with now World Taekwondo Secretary General and my dearest of friends Hoss Rafaty
Myself with the President of Iran Taekwondo, two great masters, and World Taekwondo SG

Two days later, I arrived in Seoul, South Korea.  I traveled on to the city hosting the event and waited in my hotel, wondering what next, as I still had three days until the General Assembly.   There I would stand up when Rwanda’s name was announced and then sit right back down.  That would be it.  It seemed so little reward after such a great cost to come.  So, I knelt in the room and prayed.  I was prompted to make my way to the hotel for registration and to get my credentials.  As I waited in the lobby I was prompted, yet again, to introduce myself to a gentleman sitting across from me.  At first, I hesitated, but eventually, I got up and made my way over.  As I presented myself to the gentleman, he became really excited and informed me that he was the head of the expansion committee and they had been trying to initiate the federation in Rwanda for more than five years, unsuccessfully.  Here I was and had done it for them!  Within 36 hours, I had met with the Executive Committee for the world, had been given VIP credentials for the event and dinners, and even began having meetings with vendors.  The rest of the week was spent meeting with the world’s best coaches and directors of all the top programs.  It was a PhD in sport management particular to Taekwondo, compressed into one week.

I see, now, in retrospect, that it had all been by God and for God, for Rwanda.

I am still shocked at the telling of it.

Ephesians 4:20-21    Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Up, running, and even better! 

By His Grace and your generous affection for the work in Rwanda, our work truck, referenced in our previous post, Making Lemonade, has been completely revived.

These true sport utility vehicles are amazingly resilient and strong.  Even after spinning off the road and dropping into a river and remaining in said river for five hours, it was brought back to life.  The chasis was mangled, gear box shattered, engine filled with water, not to mention the damage to the rest of the suspension and the body itself. It had died.

Now, though, with the perseverance of a close friend and our mechanic, Bob, along with your Godly gifts of $6500, it is up and running again complete with stickers and all.  It is ready to transport our teams, officials, mobile venues, etc… It is ready for work.

For the last week we have been sorting out the sounds and rattles and now it is running in stealth mode, more quiet than even when we bought it from a safari company in 2009.  All is well.

Thanks to you all, especially Jennifer and Jason Durand, for making it so!

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.