CSR Q&A: John Melick, Djibouti Data Center – Make Life Better

16 October 2014 |

John Melick, chairman and chief giving officer at Djibouti Data Center, talks to Capacity about the launch of its humanitarian programme.

Why did Djibouti Data Center decide to launch Make Life Better and what are its goals?

Djibouti is a very small country – there’s a total of only 800,000 people and it is very poor. It has just three primary industries: shipping – import and export because of its access to the sea; telecommunications; and also the military, because of its proximity to the Gulf and its anti-piracy efforts.

Our goal as a business operating there is to give something back to the community and help improve quality of life. Our effort primarily is to help children, so we are focussed on donations and services we can provide to orphanages, health clinics and schools across the country.

We also have a partnership in Djibouti with the US Navy chaplains, the religious arm of the US Navy that also happens to spearhead all of the volunteer and grass-roots initiatives provided by the US military in Djibouti. They bring a variety of expertise to the table, including doctors, nurses, engineers and other volunteers with specialised skills, which we can provide to a health clinic or school.

So not only do we donate sponsors – and even non-cash contributions – but we also send doctors and nurses who help with medical treatments, and with training and education of the English language required to carry out medical treatments.

How responsive has Djibouti been to the programme?
I think the government was actually very surprised by our programme, and have been extremely open, optimistic and warm to it. It was very grateful because there are not that many companies that come along and say “we have a social conscience and we want to be good corporate citizens and we want to help the local community”.

We really do want to share our business contributions and improve the quality of life in Djibouti. Military parties from all over the world have a presence in Djibouti, including the US, France, Italy and Spain.

There are multinational forces there that are providing security for the region – but although they do some community work, I am not aware of any other corporate programmes doing what we do, where we do it.

Are you looking to get your customers involved in the programme?
Yes, our customers are very large corporations and they also happen to be very profitable and wealthy companies. In many instances, they already participate in humanitarian and charitable initiatives – maybe not necessarily in Africa, but in other areas that they operate in.

Although certainly not a requirement, our goal and mission is to challenge them to participate and match our contributions, either in cash or non-cash donations, and we want that to have a multiplying effect in terms of the overall contribution to the initiative we undertake. One customer we have approached is Microsoft, which has a number of other humanitarian initiatives in Africa. They are not in Djibouti, but they are in Kenya and several other areas, and are also focussed on education and children.

We approached them and asked them to participate, and the company is now working on the finer details. It may decide to make cash contributions or they may decide to make contributions of computers or software technology to be used in schools and orphanages to help the kids in Djibouti.

Were there any difficulties in rolling out the programme?
Our biggest challenge was finding trusted and reliable partners in Djibouti which could provide the grass-roots support, and one of those drivers was working with the US navy chaplains. They have a number of resources already on the ground with diverse skill sets, as well as a lot of experience in the area, and that was a huge part of creating the initiative.

We wanted to put existing, trusted and experienced skill sets to work and be able to validate and give confidence to all of our contributing partners that their contributions were actually making it to the people in need.

What are the next stages of the project?
Geographically, Djibouti is very small and the population centre is predominantly Djibouti City and its surrounding areas – it does not really have multiple metropolitan areas. Djibouti City is the main business centre, so to speak, so that is where our initiative is largely focussed.

Once the programme has become more established, then we will be looking to expand. As the Djibouti Data Center expands as a company in east Africa, we will be looking at initiatives in other east African nations, and our goal is to expand the programme to those territories as well.

The Capacity Africa 2014 conference concludes today (October 16) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.