To kick off our new series, humans we admire, the be.come project sat down with Stephanie Kimou, the founder and principal consultant of PopWorks Africa to learn more about what inspired her work supporting innovative African led development solutions on the continent.
jaime: What is your background and what led you to found PopWorks Africa?
steph: I began my career with an internship at the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York; I discovered how family planning and reproductive health were essential to the success of all women, especially in places like my home in Cote D’Ivoire West Africa. This inspired me to dedicate my career to reproductive health, demography, and international development. Three years ago, I decided to strike out on my own, and founded PopWorks Africa, an initiative that focuses on supporting young African advocates to lobby and promote their advocacy. The goal is to improve access to family planning, creating impactful interventions in the 54 nations of Africa.
jaime: Can you tell us a little about PopWorks Africa’s “Decolonizing Development” initiative?
steph: Knowing that international development, namely in Africa, is based on outdated, colonial, racist foundations, I wanted to change that. Following the Berlin Conference in the 1800s, wherein groups of white men sat together and decided how to colonize Africa, the creation of racist structures that ensured black people on the continent were treated as lesser individuals formed in Africa, not unlike the history of race relations in the United States. When these countries eventually gained their independence, they were still operating within these colonial constructs. Western nations started using the fact that they had access through former colonies to infuse certain countries with “aid,” which was given only to benefit their own political agendas. To date, these remnants of the racist colonial regimes mean that international aid organizations are run primarily by white men, and supported primarily by middle management white women.
Decolonizing Development is just like decolonizing education or any sector, including fitness. I see how the be.come project and Bethany are breaking down the white, patriarchal, cis-normative constructs within the fitness industry. The shaming and the sexism in fitness are products of colonization as well — this colonial mindset that beauty looks ‘this’ way. PopWorks Africa’s “Decolonizing Development” initiative aims to dismantle the racist norms that are happening within international development and to ensure that the work that is being done on the continent is being done by African people in service of African people. Essentially, taking the misogyny out of international development, taking the racism out of international development, taking the inequity out of international development, and replacing that with genuine African black leadership and expertise.
jaime: As you say, many social organizations on the continent crop up to exploit the citizens without providing any sustainable solutions. How is PopWorks Africa different?
steph: PopWorks endeavors to provide resources for young Africans who want to make changes in their community. We position ourselves as “resources for genuine African development activity” in an area where the systemic nature of racism has thus far made it so these empowered, young Africans haven’t had access to the resources they need to improve their family planning policies, girl’s education initiatives, or whatever else would benefit the communities.
jaime: How can the be.come project clients get involved? What is the call to action for our community?
steph: If you want to work in Africa’s 54 nations, or you have love for Africa’s 54 nations and you want to contribute to the already very innovative, amazing work being done by African people, it’s important to decolonize yourself. Start reading books by African authors and start absorbing research by African researchers and start listening to African music. We are all conditioned to elevate white male experts and what white people think is the most important thing, so the call to action is to expand your mind in terms of what we take in.
If you want to learn more, visit PopWorksAfrica.org