Deadly conflict has unfortunately made the Democratic Republic of Congo’s story one of tragedy and extreme poverty. The Asili project is working to change Congo’s narrative by providing sustainable access to health, agriculture and water.  

In 2012, the American Refugee Committee invited our founder to assist in the creation of this groundbreaking initiative. Greg soon became a trusted advisor on the Asili project and worked closely with ARC, USAID and international partners to deploy Asili in Congo. The experience was challenging at times, but incredibly rewarding. The following is Greg’s account of his time on the project:

“I was shocked by the eastern DRC. I was shocked by its beauty and by its people - who were marvelously articulate and capable, even while facing severe problems across all aspects of life.

Shortly after arriving and getting our bearings, we began the intensive groundwork required to launch Asili. As CEO for The HealthStore Foundation, I was initially responsible for the healthcare component of Asili, but I also ended up playing a key role in the architecture of the idea. Asili was a radical, experimental concept of how to transition an economy from relief--which ARC knows very well how to do efficiently and effectively--to investment, in an economy that virtually everyone else considers too unstable to invest in.

Congo was an exotic environment, but from a systems-level perspective, I understood the dysfunctions. Small changes in conditions can lead to vastly different outcomes in systems. Our job was not to design a bulletproof intervention into a functioning system, but an intervention deftly navigating and gradually ameliorating a profoundly distressed system.

Ultimately, our hard work paid off and Asili launched in 2014. You can learn more about the final product at ARC’s website: arcrelief.org/our-work/asili

I thought Asili was inspiringly ambitious and I loved being a part of it. The environment of co-creation was exhilarating and I enjoyed the lesson in versatility while navigating multi-party, cross-functional environments.

As with any challenging project that I’ve been a part of, I gained an immense respect for everyone involved and was proud to see the initiative launched.”

Others involved in co-creating Asili were:

  • Ward Brehm
  • Ray Menard of Cheetah Development
  • Various USAID officials
  • Abraham Leno and other key ARC staff
  • Paul Polak and his LifeSpring group 
  • IDEO.org CEO Jocelyn Wyatt and her able staff

As a trusted insider and advisor to all parties, Greg:

  • Overhauled the original concept note and coining the phrase “social enterprise zone” to describe it;
  • Traveled to Washington DC to promote the idea to USAID Administrator Raj Shah, invited to do so by the American Refugee Committee’s CEO;
  • Traveled to the DRC to:
    • Visit existing medical facilities in farming communities to inform the design of the initiative;
    • Discuss the idea to government officials;
    • Engage Congolese consultants to help design a healthcare intervention;
    • Discuss the initiative with US-based and DRC-based USAID staff;
  • Acted as the initiative’s healthcare lead in meetings in San Francisco and the DRC with IDEO.org, who were engaged to help design and package the initiative