Founded in 2001, Empowerment Works! (EW) is the brainchild of its Executive Director who recognized a common strategy for harnessing local assets to meet local needs in two unique world regions of Africa facing very different challenges: Senegal - facing threats of food security, conflict and desertification; and Zimbabwe - facing the spread of AIDS and economic collapse.
In 1999, while conducting human security research in the war-torn Casamance Region in Senegal, EW's founder identified medicinal plants, textiles and music as economic opportunities. Uniting like-minded social entrepreneurs, local organizations and artists, EW produced an awareness and fund-raising compilation CD, Music of the Diola, supporting the development of local initiatives to preserve both the rain forest and their indigenous Diola culture.
And in Zimbabwe, while on a sustainable development seminar in 2000, EW's founder met a group of young Zimbabwean artists working to provide HIV services in their high-density township of Mbare (with one of the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the world). With decreased tourism and economic collapse, they exported a container of sculpture to the US to raise program funds.
Through this collaboration, individuals and organizations across multiple sectors of society mobilized to tackle a complex web of challenges in one community. Zimbabwean artists, doctors, community organizations, homeless teens, international philanthropists, and arts patrons all worked together in order to see the fruition of this project.
Of all these factors, it was the sheer will of the young artists to take control of their destinies that sparked it all.
By honoring local will, serving as a catalyst for community-led social action, stimulating economic development, and addressing issues and needs identified by those they most affect, the EW model - 7 Stages to Sustainability - was born.