BizVoiceExtra: Small Indiana Town Helps Villagers Thousands of Miles Away

Toward the end of my telephone interview with Bob Gabrielse for an article in the July-August issue of BizVoice magazine, he politely asked if he could quickly take another call, apologizing for the interruption.

A trucking company was on the other end of the line, hoping to deliver 200 parts about an hour later. The vehicle wasn’t heading to Gabrielse’s law office in DeMotte, but to a production shop where he devotes several hours each week overseeing the work and building hand-pedaled mobility carts through Mobility Ministries (https://mobilityworldwide.org/affiliates/indiana-demotte/our-shop/).

The sturdy three-wheeled carts travel from Indiana to rural areas in Africa where adults and children who can’t walk gain the freedom that comes with independent mobility – the ability to leave a hut or village without relying on another person to carry them. Unlike canes or walkers, these units also have an area for goods or packages.

Since opening the first facility in 2011, DeMotte Mobility Ministries has become a bit of a leader among the affiliate Mobility Worldwide locations, says Gabrielse, who is currently working to develop a prototype that’s lighter than the current model, making it easier to pedal. He and Arla, his wife of 45 years, manage the shop.

Both have played a major role in the DeMotte facility from the start after Bob read about this type of work in a magazine from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, where his kids had gone to school.

He tells me how he got involved, which also reveals a connection to previous overseas charity work.

“I saw an article in there from somebody I had met in Central America who was now retired and living in Florida near Jacksonville, and they had a shop that was building these mobility carts. They had a picture of him in there with one of them, and I thought, ‘You know, this town is small here. We’re not very big in DeMotte, but they (residents) have a good heart. They’re generous people with a good work ethic. We can do that here.’ ”

And they do.

With a schedule of seven or eight units a week, volunteers at the Indiana location now produce 350 to 400 a year in the current 7,200-square-foot production space.

“We have 55 to 60 retirees that volunteer at the shop. They work about four hours a week, and these are people from all over here, not just DeMotte,” he stresses. “They come from 20, 30 miles away to work, and they are very devoted to this. They love the camaraderie that the shop gives to a retiree.”

He adds that the working conditions are nice – cool in the summer and warm in the winter. In addition, “They just really enjoy the ministry.”

It is a ministry, especially for Gabrielse.

“As a Christian, I feel it’s very important that we serve others,” he shares. “We shouldn’t be taking. We should be giving.”

The Indianapolis-based Malawi Project (http://malawiproject.org) is currently the distribution partner for Mobility Worldwide, of which the Indiana Mobility Ministries is one production location. (The nonprofit also worked with the Luke Commission for distribution.)

Reading about and listening to Gabrielse talk about this project spotlighted two points for me:

  1. The latest and greatest technology is not only sometimes unnecessary, it may even be unhelpful.

Not only does it take better infrastructure to support technological solutions, but simpler, cheaper options may be more practical. For example, these basic carts may be more rugged and easier to repair than a motorized chair would be, even if it could withstand the roots and uneven surfaces. It’s a good reminder that when looking for a solution or result, be sure it’s sustainable and suitable.

  1. Don’t underestimate what you – with the support of your community – can do.

In this case, one person read one magazine article that offered a solution to a problem. Through hard work and commitment, that led to a team of retirees joining together to improve the lives of hundreds of others 8,000 miles away. That’s pretty amazing.

For Gabrielse, helping others is a calling, and he also brings that dedication to his legal practice in a small town of 4,000.

He isn’t alone.

The other attorneys I talked to about practicing law in small communities also stressed the ability to help others – especially where they lived – as a gratifying part of their work.

Find out what it’s like to practice law in a small community in the July-August BizVoice article, “Doing What It Takes: Attorneys Serve Community Needs.”

Guest Blog: Reset Africa; Obama Tours the Continent

The following is a guest blog by Asoka Ranaweera, managing partner of Grid2Grid LLC, a company based in Washington, D.C. that advises investors on structuring investments and developing projects in West, East and Central Africa. Ranaweera penned this back in July, and was a source in our upcoming BizVoice story, "Africa Under Construction," set for release in the new edition next week.

I am sitting in a hotel in Dar es Salaam Tanzania. The town is buzzing with anticipation and excitement. Any day now, President Obama will touch down and thousands of Tanzanians will be out to greet him. Everywhere you go and almost everyone you speak to will have something positive to say about our President and Michelle Obama.

By some remarkable coincidence, President George W. Bush and Laura Bush are also in town. President Bush is on a regional tour, and is fondly remembered by many Africans for providing billions of dollars in funding for combating AIDS and for starting the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which has had a significant impact in countries like Tanzania.

As I ponder the countless hours of traffic jams, security roadblocks and searches to come, my attention wanders toward the hotel bar. I see a large group of Chinese businessmen and women enjoying a drink and chatting animatedly. Dar es Salaam is abuzz not just with Obama’s visit, but also by the sounds of an economy growing at an average of 7% per annum.

Wherever you might look in Tanzania, you will find Africans, Chinese, Indians, Malaysians and Arabs vying for a slice of Tanzania’s economic growth and business. Meanwhile, as I left Washington, D.C. for Dar es Salaam, President Obama was getting some flak for embarking on a weeklong tour of Africa at the expense of U.S. taxpayers.

Rather than thinking about Africa as a place where development is now taking place rapidly, many in the American press still view it from a 1980s perspective. Meanwhile, Brazil, Russia, India, China, Turkey and many other countries are increasingly seeing Africa as a land of opportunity, a place to trade, invest and to develop bilateral relations with African people.

Africa is where all the economic action is taking place these days with 15 of the 20 fastest growing economies and approximately 300 million people attaining middle-class status in the last 20 years, according to the African Development Bank (AFDB). It’s possible that in the years to come, Africa will overtake Asia to become the fastest growing region of the world.

In 2009, President Obama visited Africa for about 20 hours. His election at the time energized many Africans into believing that his Kenyan heritage would lead to greater cooperation between Americans and Africans. Unfortunately, that never panned out; President Obama and his administration had huge domestic challenges to overcome such as the global financial crisis, which we are all still recovering from.

As we entered the recession, many Americans realized that Africa — a continent long associated with starving children, conflict diamonds and corrupt dictators — was growing and that altogether a new dynamic was shaping it. And we also came to the understanding that countries such as China had come to have a profound impact on the continent and that Africa was now a destination for business, trade and investment. Thus after more than four years of being primarily absent from the scene directly, President Obama is finally back, and this time his advisors say it is with the intention to “reset relations with Africa."

Afrophiles hope that this could be the beginning of a more concerted and directed engagement with the continent, especially in light of the fact that many people both at home and in Africa believe that this belated engagement has its roots more in economic competition than anything else.

Interestingly enough, from my experience America is more welcomed and viewed in higher terms in Africa than in any other part of the world. Africans feel a strong affinity for all things American and have been yearning for our support and partnerships. Africans in this generation are more likely to ask for investment and trade projects to promote bilateral investment than that dreaded term, "aid." And so the dynamic today is so much more different than it was.

As I get ready to leave the hotel for a meeting downtown, I hear a few Tanzanians discussing what President Obama will be doing in the country. It turns out he will be visiting Symbion, a U.S. company that is playing a significant role in the power generation sector. I am relieved to hear we as American business people are doing something constructive with the Tanzanian people.

As I am being driven through the streets of downtown Dar es Salaam, we almost collide with a high speed convoy. And I am told that we just saw Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse on his way to the statehouse. It turns out this is the first official state visit to Africa by a Sri Lankan leader; times have really changed and I hope we hit that Africa relations reset button sooner rather than later.

Predictions: Focusing the Crystal Ball on 2020

The year 2020 is creeping closer. But if you’re projecting economic forecasts and demographics for eight years from now, it seems like a lifetime away.

Neverthless, the fearless prognosticators at Kiplinger (the authors of weekly management decision-making letters and various other publications and products) consistently weigh in on future conditions. These are a few of their recent insights, in separate reports:

  • Don’t be shocked if inflation doubles, from 2% this year to 4% or a bit more by 2020. Higher interest rates will mean pricier mortages, about 8% compared to 4% now for a 30-year fixed rate loan. The homeownership rate will settle around 66%, higher than now but shy of the peak of 69% in 2006.
  • By 2020, health care will account for nearly one in nine U.S. jobs, adding more than 4 million jobs in the decade. Home health aides will be the fastest growth segment, but there will also be rising demand for registered nurses, physicians and surgeons.
  • Consumer spending in Africa will double by 2020 with the overall economy growing by 5% a year. Joining South Africa as growth hot spots will be Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria and Kenya. Others to watch: Ghana, Tunisia and Botswana (with plenty of minerals and a stable government).
  • Staying global and extending the time out five more years (to 2025) will result in more megacities. Projected to have 20 million people within its borders by that time (no city today has reached that level) are Mexico City; Tokyo; Shanghai; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Sao Paulo, Brazil; and three Indian cities … Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. New York is listed as a possible ninth. Seven more Chinese cities will top 10 million each, according to the forecasters.

We might not remember to pull this or other predictions out eight years from now, but if we do I imagine the experts will be on target more than a few times.

We’re No. 2 … in Economic Ranking

The World Economic Forum takes Geneva over Washington in its latest global competitiveness report. In other words, Switzerland tops the United States in the ranking of world economies. It is the first time out of the No. 1 spot for the U.S. since the rankings were revised in 2004.

Why the downgrade? The report cites banking system troubles, concerns about the "government’s ability to maintain distance from the private sector" and doubts about firms’ auditing and reporting standards.

The Swiss, who also dipped into recession and had to bail out their largest bank (UBS), were lauded for "capacity to innovate, sophisticated business culture, effective public services, excellent infrastructure and well-functioning goods markets."

In the banking category, Canada led the way. The U.S. was 108th (behind Tanzania) and the British 126th.

Public data and an executive opinion survey are used to compile the rankings. Behind the Swiss and the Americans are: Singapore, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Japan, Canada and the Netherlands.

At the bottom were African countries Zimbabwe and Burundi. For Zimbabwe, the report cited "corruption, basic government inefficiency and the complete absence of property rights."