December 9, 2013

SPARK IGNITE: Next Destination, Mali

by Ruud van Soelen

Next destination of SPARK: Republic of Mali.  SPARK is establishing a SPARK-office in Mali, a nation struck by conflict. Mali was once a donor darling, an example in Africa of good governance and democracy and where a diversity of peoples from the Sahara, Sahel, nomadic tribes and sub-Saharan Africans lived in harmony together.

Today, Malian society is disrupted by conflict, mistrust between people, weak governance, corruption, lack of rule of law and hardly any perspectives for young Malians. What happened? And what needs to be done in the near future? How can SPARK contribute?

A short update: Kidnapping and smuggling in Mali’s desert north grew worse. It coincided with mounting frustration among northern groups such as Touaregs for allegedly not getting their fair share of the promised ‘peace dividend’ -wealth and power- in order to keep the truce with the south. In 2012, a de facto secession of the north, the so-called Azawad and a military coup provoked an influx of jihadi’s from the region and beyond. They were pushed back by the French army and Minusma now helps stabilising the situation in Mali. But to prevent them from returning it is useful to look beyond the symptom, terrorism, and see the intrinsic problems which led to this crisis: corrupt elites, bad governance, lack of rule of law and poverty leading to structural unemployment. And most relevant in this case, the need for better inclusion of northern groups. There is momentum now with the new president and the Malian government rebuilding the country. The nation is eager to rebuild their conflict-affected society, however basic facilities, state-services and institutions, and the private sector are struggling to recover.

This is where SPARK comes in.

SPARK will settle in Mali and first initiate projects in Ségou, a large town north-east of the capital Bamako. SPARKs main focus will be assisting in strengthening existing (fragile) institutions, mainly for Private Sector Development. By implementing a program on ‘Entrepreneurship’ in the curriculum of the University of Ségou, the entrepreneurial potential of ambitious students will be utilized so they can lead their conflict-affected societies into prosperity. Not only the course on entrepreneurship, but also business plan competitions, coaching of new entrepreneurs and creating favourable credit-facilities are main focus areas of SPARK.

The ‘Summer University’, funded by the Dutch Embassy in Mali, will be the first activity of SPARK in Mali, starting this February. We are currently discussing with various donors and partners for further expansion of activities in 2014 throughout Mali, including the northern parts. The newly appointed Country Manager, Ruud van Soelen, will coordinate the implementation of the ‘Summer University’ in Ségou and will further establish and expand the SPARK-presence in Mali.

*Ruud van Soelen is the Country Manager for SPARK Mali

SPARK IGNITE is SPARK’s blog of stories, updates and opinions by SPARK staff, on relevant topics in the news, stories from the fields, andwhat inspire us to do what we do.  We welcome external contributions; to contribute please contact media[at]