Washington — Fifty years after the founding of the Peace Corps, a former volunteer is looking to duplicate its success, with a new twist, throughout Africa.
The essential difference with former Peace Corps volunteer Liz Fanning’s nascent organization, which she calls CorpsAfrica, is that its volunteers will come from Africa as well as serve there.
Fanning recalls the chance conversation in a Moroccan café 20 years ago that led her to the idea. She told a Moroccan woman about her experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer. The woman was impressed and asked if she could join the Peace Corps, too. “I had to say no,” Fanning recalls. “That just felt wrong, and that feeling has never left me, all these years later.”
According to Fanning, Peace Corps is a great model for CorpsAfrica because it has been an “amazing” program, not only for the communities it serves, but also for the volunteers, transforming their lives. Similar transformations in the lives of CorpsAfrica volunteers will help them to help their own countries, she said.
CorpsAfrica’s first fundraising effort is in memory of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, a prominent U.S. diplomat who served early in his career as Peace Corps director in Morocco. Fanning said he once called it the best job he ever had, and the money raised in his honor will underwrite CorpsAfrica’s Morocco office. Fanning, a professional fundraiser for many years, said she expects Americans to support CorpsAfrica. “I think they understand the idea of Peace Corps, and I think they would get the idea of passing the baton to the Africans,” she said.
CorpsAfrica is planning to start small in early 2012, recruiting and training 10 volunteers each in Morocco and in Malawi. Fanning said Uganda might also be a 2012 CorpsAfrica country, through a partnership under discussion with the nonprofit group Educate, which trains teenagers for community service. After two years, Fanning hopes to broaden CorpsAfrica so that some volunteers can serve in countries other than their own.
“We’re starting in countries that are relatively stable, but we will be going into [others]. We want to be in every African country,” Fanning said. “I think we can have 250 volunteers in every country in 10 years,” she said, “as a complement to Peace Corps, not instead of it.”
What Fanning believes her organization can do better than Peace Corps is provide volunteers in impoverished areas of their own countries who would have less of a barrier than Americans in dealing with new languages and cultures. Fanning said she expects CorpsAfrica’s alumni to become leaders in nonprofit organizations, business, journalism and government.
CorpsAfrica volunteers would receive three weeks of training and have three-week internships with nonprofit groups before being sent off to work in the field. CorpsAfrica would cover their health care and a monthly stipend for living expenses. Fanning envisions having each volunteer serve for one year, but she said each country’s CorpsAfrica office would be “95 percent independent” to decide such details.
She expects CorpsAfrica offices and volunteers to think independently and work with the people they serve to decide what projects to attempt. “Live as they do in their communities and then talk to them about what they want. That’s the only thing that’s going to work,” she said.
Fanning is determined that CorpsAfrica analyze each of its projects for its benefit to the community so that successes are repeated and failures are not. “We’re going to be a great laboratory” for development in Africa,” she said.