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James Alexandroff’s Perivoli Foundation aid for Africa

JAMES Alexandroff is the entrepreneur who in 2019 established the Perivoli Foundation, a UK-registered charity with a core focus on Africa.

The foundation’s work in the continent is wide-reaching, focussing on nursery school education, climate change, innovative technologies and academic research.

Many people are surprised to hear James instigated and now oversees these projects from his home in Coleford, Somerset.

“I was lucky enough to co-found an investment firm in Asia, which I managed from Somerset, that turned out, more by luck than judgement, to do quite well. Now I take great pleasure in trying to use the wealth it created in, hopefully, constructive ways,” he said.

“My focus is on Africa, partly because I was born there – my parents happened to be on an assignment in Uganda at the time. But also it’s a Continent that really matters. Population growth is so high there that by 2050 half the world’s youth will be from countries in Africa.

“All our projects are run by people on the ground. There’s only me in the UK. Our fundamental mission is to empower people to take charge of their own destiny. We, in rich countries, must recognise the damage done as a result of colonialisation for sure; but equally that hand-outs to countries in Africa end up over time, arguably, doing more harm than good.”

Activities undertaken by the foundation include a nursery school training programme in Namibia, Malawi, Zambia, Uganda and Botswana; research into, and implementation of, projects to address the implications of global warming; and a pioneering Perivoli Africa Research Centre at the University of Bristol.

The foundation’s best-known scheme is the Perivoli Schools Trust which has created a two-year training programme for nursery school teachers.

Focussed on the importance of play, it has reached over 21,500 teachers and about 875,000 children.

“The simplest way to describe it is like Blue Peter on steroids,” James said.

“Nursery schoolteachers are shown how to organise their classrooms and make classroom activities out of readily available recyclable materials, such as egg trays, used yoghurt cartons and bottle tops. We aim for each classroom to have 12 ‘activity corners’ – from a toy shop to a dressing up box; and a puzzle corner to a pretend kitchen.

“We pay for the trainers and the training is free to the teachers. It’s very good value costing the foundation in effect £3 per child per annum.

“Our goal is to help nursery schoolteachers ready young children for formal education.

“It’s all about the girls. Research shows a girl who reads ends up with two children, but one who doesn’t has on average five, invariably with multiple partners, which makes for a challenging life and a perpetuation of the difficulties.

“Whilst child mortality rates are declining, population growth isn’t. That’s setting us up for a demographic timebomb of disaffected youth with limited employment opportunities.”

Interacting with so many teachers and their trainers in another Continent could clearly present some challenges – so how can James do that in a way that gives him oversight from Somerset?

He said: “Our solution has been to digitalise the programme. This means I can oversee the project remotely and our leadership team, based in Malawi, can direct the trainers to where they are needed most.

“We issue our trainers with inexpensive tablet computers and on top of delivering the 16 training modules to groups of up to 30 at a time we ask them to visit the teachers monthly to help with implementation. They record details of every interaction and the rate, for example, at which the 12 corners are introduced into the classrooms.

“Education is clearly of central importance but, equally, so is helping people to prepare for the implications of global warming. Africa has been responsible for about only two per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions but is likely to be the worst impacted from the resulting droughts and floods as people who live life on the edge have very little to protect them. Very sadly over 440 million people across the Continent still live on less than $2 per day”.

The Perivoli Climate Trust funds research projects at universities in Africa into alternative sustainable agriculture practices with the aim of driving up agricultural yields, produce more balanced diets and higher incomes.

“Through our latest initiative, the Perivoli Rangeland Institute, we are trialling a project to convert the unloved invasive prickly bushes that cover 45million hectares of Namibia – the result of overgrazing for decades – into biochar to feed back into the soil to encourage carbon capture and improved agricultural yields,” added James.

Another initiative is the Perivoli Africa Research Centre at the University of Bristol with a donation of £1million from the foundation and a further £1million pledged.

Its primary aim is to rebalance the way universities in rich countries interact with those in the continent giving the African institution the louder voice so as to direct research they feel really matters and which has a greater chance of being implemented.

All of the Perivoli Foundation’s activities have been funded by the Perivoli Trust, a family trust James created in 2000 when he gifted ownership of his one third share in the investment firm he founded.

Since then, a substantial part of the trust’s assets have been gifted to a separate trust known as Perivoli Innovations, which invests in tech start-ups working to create positive social and environmental impact, mostly in the UK but also in Africa.

The plan is for the proceeds from Perivoli Innovations to fund the Perivoli Foundation in years to come, thereby creating a ‘double positive’ on the journey.

James said: “It remains to be seen how well it works, but it’s fun trying.”

James’s efforts saw him awarded the OBE in January for his services to education in Africa.

Source : County