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For the children

23 Feb 2006

"Children are the rock on which our future will be built”

- Nelson Mandela

"An evening like this can raise funds for HIV/AIDS medication and care for thousands of children who have been orphaned by this tragic epidemic in South Africa,"

- Mark Beckles, President & CEO, The Nelson Mandela Children''s Fund (Canada)

Next Thursday, November 9th, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre with play host to Canada's key business, social and community leaders as they celebrate the life and work of Nelson Mandela and the Nelson Mandela Children''s Fund (Canada) at the fund’s annual Gala Dinner. The event, hosted by singer and musical guest Jully Black, will feature The Honorable William Jefferson Clinton, 42nd President of the United States, along with Marc & Craig Kielburger, founders of Free The Children.

As the event’s press release indicates: “The Nelson Mandela Children's Fund (Canada) works directly with the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund in South Africa, providing financial assistance and international development capabilities. This year's funds raised by the annual dinner will assist The Nelson Mandela Children's Fund (Canada) to directly support clean water and sanitation initiatives in South Africa and help orphaned children suffering from the affects of HIV and AIDS on a community-to-community level.”

Recently, AfroToronto.com had the opportunity to speak with Mark Beckles, President and CEO of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. A former risk manager who walked away two years ago from the finance world to, in his words “do more with my life”, Beckles demonstrates a genuine concern for the well-being of children and a remarkable drive to positively impact the world. While working with World Vision of Canada, Mark Beckles was presented with the opportunity to head the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and lunged at the opportunity.

The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund was founded in 1998 when Mr Mandela visited Toronto to be part of the “Skydome with the children” event where about 40 thousand school children gathered in what was then the Skydome, along with a number of corporate, communications, civic and political leaders to hear the illustrious South African leader speak. The Nelson Mandela Children's Fund (Canada) is focused on promoting and realizing Nelson Mandela''s global vision of social justice for children.

AfroToronto.com: Nelson Mandela’s goal for the NMCF is primarily focused on the children in South Africa and on doing something about the scourge of HIV/AIDS. Within the NMCF’s Canada arm, is there anything that the fund does for children in Canada as well? Or is it mostly geared towards the South African children?

MB: Primarily, our focus is on South African children. They were and remain the primary beneficiaries of this fund here in Canada. … However, we do [spend time] in the schools and meet with various groups and university students talking about and promoting civic engagement, community leadership, volunteerism and other means [through which students can become involved.]

AfroToronto.com: Earlier in the year, the NMCF (Canada) organized a “Hip Hop for Africa” event featuring performances by Melanie Durrant, Poizunus, Imaan Faith, and others. I see that you are conscious of finding innovative ways to bring your powerful message to Canadian youth.

MB: It was our way also of communicating in a language that young people understand today. It’s not about jazz anymore, it’s not about R&B as much, it’s really about hip hop. [It’s about] starting to develop a message of social consciousness via a medium that they understand. It became a very engaging event and I remain fully convinced that we need to continue this. It brings people together.

AfroToronto.com: How has the corporate sector support been for the Nelson Mandela Children’s fund in Canada?

MB: Canada as a country is notably very charitable. And I think we’re blessed that way as a country. Every strata of our society, whether individual, from corporations or government, this country and its citizens have been [committed to making] the world a better place. I can speak to any segment of our society and regardless of how they think of large corporations, who are often accused of giving money so that they can have their own particular interests or agenda [advanced], that’s not always the case.

There are those corporations that understand the importance of philanthropy in terms of how it effects the lives of marginalized and at-risk communities and a lot of them do their part and do it quietly and are in the process of changing a lot of lives. That does not mean that we as NGOs don’t have a responsibility to develop a compelling case for support from these corporation because they have to report to shareholders and they have to account for how they spend their dollars. But I remain convinced that once we as NGOs can develop our case for support and provide measurable results in terms of the impact of their dollars, they will continue to support us.

AfroToronto.com: Along with people’s concerns about the motives of large corporations, people are also concerned about the destination of the funds which they donate to NGOs. What is your percentage of administrative cost? And how do you monitor how the funds are being used in South Africa?

MB: The organization has a well-developed governance and accountability structure and are committed to keeping our overall administration cost to below 15% of the total funds raised across the organization. So in that regard, we do have a benchmark that we all have to follow and expect of the projects and making sure that the money goes to where it’s supposed to go and those funds are managed properly. That is done by a board of trustees who are hand-picked by Nelson Mandela and who are committed to making sure that the funds go to those projects. And those projects are visited by the trustees. They are also visited and managed by staff of the Nelson Mandela Children’s fund. Each beneficiary organization, that is to say NGOs that actually implement projects on behalf of the Nelson Mandel Children’s Fund, have to meet certain eligibility criteria. Criteria that include physical, technical and financial capacity where they can mobilize those three main areas to ensure that the projects are implemented and undertaken well.

AfroToronto.com: You will be holding your annual event on November 9th, can you tell us a bit about it?

MB: [It’s our annual event] billed as a tribute to Nelson Mandela. As you know, President Clinton and former President Mandela are personal friends and President Clinton has agreed to come in and pay tribute to Nelson Mandela and the work that he is doing and has done both form a political and philanthropic point of view. And we’re also going to have Marc & Craig Kielburger who are known as the founders of an organization called Free the Children and they’re very well-known for the whole issue of corporate social responsibility -- both on a personal and corporate level. I can’t underscore the point that the event is being presented by an organization called Power Within who, as part of their corporate social responsibilities, have chosen the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund as their beneficiary organization. The event is going to be sponsored and undertaken by them. And again, the children of South Africa are going to benefit from this.

For more info about the Nelson Mandel Children’s fund, visit their website at: www.mandela-children.ca. They annual gala will take place on Thursday, November 9 th at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, South Building - 222 Bremner Boulevard 5:30PM - 10:30PM


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