9 min read

Philanthropy from the roots up.

Hello, all! Cristina here. I have a quick and fun interview for you this week. But first, some housekeeping. Last week, I received many messages from people who were worried, anxious, angry, whatever because they thought this newsletter wasn't going to be free anymore.

For the record, I'm still going to provide a lot of free content. But people who pay will receive some exclusive material occasionally. I think it's only fair to provide something extra for people who support me and my work.

If you cannot afford to subscribe and desperately need access to a patrons-only interview, please get in touch so we can get you complimentary access to what you need. If you can afford to support this newsletter and want to do so, that is awesome, and I love you. Please upgrade to a paid subscription below 👇

Upgrade to a premium subscription by Clicking Here.

This week I'm speaking with Ronald Kibirige, a 37-year-old music and dance practitioner from Uganda who holds numerous degrees from universities in France, Hungary, the United Kingdom, and Norway.

Ronald is also the co-founder of The Interoots Initiative, a philanthropic organization that encourages local communities to identify their needs and design their own development and social projects.

Before I went to grad school and started working in journalism, I had a brief career in international development. One of the significant problems in the industry that I (and anyone else who works in NGOs) noticed is that projects and priorities are often determined by large international donors that don't have a direct connection with the affected communities. That's why I was so intrigued by Ronald's roots-up approach.  

It turns out he also has a pretty fascinating life story and a unique perspective on the U.S. role in the world. I love Ronald's story because it shows how life-changing the connections made during international exchanges can be and how much creativity and connection they can foster (*tiny violins*). Here's the interview:

Cristina: So let's start from the beginning. Where are you from originally, and where are you based now?

Ronald: I'm Ugandan. I grew up in Uganda, in East Africa. I was raised in an orphanage, so I grew up with an understanding of how philanthropy works.

Starting in 1998, I began traveling once or twice a year to the United States as part of a delegation from my orphanage.

The orphanage had a music and dance program, and we would do frequent tours of the United States. I was able to travel to around 36 U.S. states that way.

But in the last nine years, I've been living and working in Norway. I went to Norway to complete my master's in 2012, and I've been living there ever since, so I travel back and forth between Uganda and Norway frequently.

Cristina: What was your impression of the United States when you were a young child traveling the country?

Ronald: I understood the United States to be a supportive country with supportive citizens. We were getting a lot of help from the United States.

We were performing there and talking to people, and people were supporting our lives and the lives of the over 600 children in the orphanage. But the support was also on an international level because USAID was supporting many projects in East Africa.

My perception of the U.S. was that it was a rich country.

I went to New York, I saw skyscrapers, and that was scary but also interesting to look at. I also went to Dallas, Los Angeles, Boston, Houston.

But I think California was great. I went back after I attended university and participated in cultural exchanges there, and that had a profound impact on my life and work.

It inspired me to support communities and make a difference because those communities made a difference in my life when I was still in the orphanage.  

Cristina: Tell me about Interoots. How did you decide to start the organization?

Ronald: I began brainstorming with my friend Scott who lives in Colorado. We first met at a performance at Stanford University in California. I was there as part of an artistic exchange program.

After that, we kept talking and brainstorming for a long time. Scott was an artistic director at Stanford University's choir, and we arranged to bring him on a trip to Africa. During our collaboration, we also recorded an album.

At the time, we were always talking about the challenges we faced, both in the world and personally. We talked about all of the work we do to change our lives, the world around us, and the communities we serve.

Scott came to visit Uganda, and we sat on top of my roof, and that was when we conceptualized Interoots. We thought about the different privileges that different communities have, the equities and inequities that exist.

Cristina: One of your goals is to redefine philanthropy and development work by having communities design their own projects. Can you tell me more about that approach?

Ronald: Scott and I talked about how to make philanthropy better and make the ways of giving and supporting communities better. That's how we came up with the roots-up strategy.

Communities come up with their own projects and identify their needs instead of others identifying their needs for them. Then they have to take charge of their projects and own in. We want there to be a lot of community ownership.

It's a type of philanthropy that doesn't impose anything. Everything comes from the communities and the community members. The community-based organizations that we deal with are sitting at the table and can express themselves. It's a genuine partnership. It's not hierarchical.

Cristina: Are the majority of your projects related to music and art and dance, or do they focus on other topics as well?

Ronald: Most of the work I am involved with relates to the performing arts and how it transforms and uplifts communities. But Interoots is much wider in scope. We do education, culture, environmental, and health projects.

In Uganda specifically, the projects we're focusing on are based on education, culture, and financial literacy. So performing arts is part and parcel of the whole package.

Cristina: Where does your funding come from?

Ronald: Interoots funds the grassroots projects, and our organization receives a mix of grant funding and individual donations.

Our interlocutor, attending an event in Norway last year. 

You can pitch me ideas for who or what to feature in this newsletter or send story tips: c.maza@protonmail.com or cmaza@nationaljournal.com

What I'm writing:

• Advocates are pressing the Biden administration to get tough on Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, who they say is playing a destabilizing role in the Western Balkans.

• I wrote about a Senate bill that sparked panic in Pakistan despite having little chance of being made law.

What I'm reading:

• Hungary's opposition parties banded around a single candidate to try to unseat Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Peter Marki-Zay, a conservative small-town mayor, once considered an outsider, won the primary with 57 percent of the vote in the second round, the Washington Post reports.

• A Polish lawyer launched a plan to support migrants crossing into the country illegally from Belarus by appealing to locals living near the border to switch on a green light to signal they can provide migrants with food and shelter, the BBC reports.

• Poland and Brussels are at loggerheads over the rule of law. Still, the war is unwinnable because legal remedies are "limited, time-consuming, cumbersome, impossible to carry out, or all of the above," Politico Europe reports.

• Nevertheless, European Parliament President David Sassoli said he instructed lawyers to prepare a lawsuit against the European Commission over its failure to act on the rule of law, Politico Europe reports again.

• Politico Europe (are they the only ones covering this?!) obtained a draft resolution from MEPs on "the rule of law crisis in Poland and the primacy of EU law." The MEPs want the European Council and Commission to withdraw EU funding for Poland and trigger Article 7 proceedings to strip the country of its voting rights.

• Romanian President Klaus Iohannis nominated acting Defense Minister Nicolae Ciuca as prime minister in a second bid to end a political stalemate, Radio Free Europe reports.

• The U.S. is extending its security pact with Georgia for six years, the Hill reports.

• Russian mercenaries in the Central African Republic (CAR) are leaving a trail of destruction with reports from villages of looting and torture, killings, and rape, the Financial Times reports.

• The New York Times has a fascinating report from Pevek, Russia, an Arctic town that is revitalizing in preparation for climate change.

• Moldova is negotiating with Russia's Gazprom over rising prices, Balkan Insight reports. "Gazprom is trying to negotiate a price increase. It is unlikely that we will obtain the previous prices,” Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita said.

• NATO has a new master plan for countering Russia.

• Prosecutors in Turkey ordered the arrest of 158 suspects, including 33 soldiers, in an operation targeting people allegedly linked to the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey claims were behind the failed coup in 2016, Reuters reports.

• The New York Times reports on police in India evicting legal residents from their homes just because they are Muslim.

• Bangladesh arrested 450 people for attacks and violence against Hindus, Reuters reports. According to Al Jazeera, hundreds of people have protested in Bangladesh's capital Dhaka, calling for an end to religious violence.

• An alleged financier to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. and will appear in court. CNN reports that the financier is allegedly behind a corruption network involving a government-subsidized food program that allowed Maduro and his allies to steal hundreds of millions of dollars from the Venezuelan people while using food as a form of social control.

• The Israeli military said it reprimanded an officer found to have used excessive force against protesters in the occupied West Bank, including pushing a 65-year-old Israeli peace activist to the ground, the Associated Press reports.

• Syria accused Israel of assassinating a high-ranking Syrian official. An apparent sniper killed Midhat Saleh while inside Syria near the border with Israel, the New York Times reports.

• Syrian government forces shelled a marketplace and roads in the town of Ariha in the Idlib region, the last major section of Syria still held by rebels, killing at least 13 people, including children, the Wall Street Journal reports.

• Syria's President and the United Arab Emirates’ Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed had a rare telephone call. They discussed strengthening relations and cooperation, the Associated Press reports, quoting Syrian state media.

China tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile that circled the globe before speeding towards its target, the Financial Times reports. The missile missed its mark by about two-dozen miles, but sources said the test showed China's progress on hypersonic weapons was far more advanced than U.S. officials previously realized.

• Hundreds of pro-military protestors arrived in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, over the weekend. The post-dictatorship interim government is facing dwindling support due to IMF-backed economic reforms, and the government already thwarted one coup in September, Agence France-Presse reports.

• Thousands of supporters of Sudan’s transitional government also took to the streets of Khartoum. At the same time, rival pro-military protesters have held a sit-in outside the presidential palace, Al Jazeera reports.

• Thousands of people in El Salvador are protesting President Nayib Bukele’s government, including his decision to adopt cryptocurrency and the firing of Supreme Court justices, Reuters reports.

Iran and Venezuela announced plans to sign a 20-year cooperation agreement when Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro visits Tehran in the coming months, Al Jazeera reports.

• Rebel forces in Tigray accused the Ethiopian government of launching airstrikes on the Tigrayan city of Mekelle, Reuters reports.

• In a potential turning point in U.S. foreign policy, the Biden administration plans to limit the use of economic and financial sanctions so that they are better calibrated and have more impact, the Wall Street Journal.

• The FBI searched two homes linked to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, one in New York’s Greenwich Village and another in Washington’s Embassy Row. The searches were part of an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, the New York Times reports.

• The U.S. and other nations conducted a joint operation hacked and forced offline the REvil cybercriminal group, Reuters reports, citing private sector cyber experts and one former official. The FBI, U.S. Cyber Command, the Secret Service, and the governments of other unnamed nations were reportedly involved in the operation.


Upgrade to a premium subscription by Clicking Here.

You can also contact me for any reason at all by writing to c.maza@protonmail.com.