The Uganda Marathon: Bringing people together for a fundraising adventure with a difference.
Everyone deserves the chance to make the best of themselves. By harnessing the power of sport and re-imagining traditional fundraising models, The Uganda Marathon combines a challenging race in a beautiful country, with the determination of changemakers, to build relationships and create lasting positive change.
A community struggling to tackle poverty with limited local resources
In Masaka, Uganda, poverty is deep and ingrained. Services for the local population are minimal, with limited healthcare, education, and infrastructure to provide basic needs.
Many local not-for-profit ventures offer crucial support. However, they are often operating unseen, with scarce resources. A lack of connection and understanding between international fundraising efforts and community needs has meant that local projects have often received little to no support.
A seven-day community festival bringing people to Uganda from all over the world.
The Uganda Marathon works with local people in Masaka, delivering a sports event that sees runners from around the world raise money for local charities that provide crucial services to many people. International runners sponsor places for local people too, which means as many people as possible can participate, creating an event like no other.
Visitors experience local life for a week, shoulder to shoulder with their new Ugandan peers, not as tourists but as friends, experiencing first-hand the challenges and the hopes of the community in Masaka, and seeing exactly where they can provide support.
Improved healthcare, education, human rights and disability services
To date, the Uganda Marathon has brought considerable investment to the Masaka region and beyond, as well as creating many direct jobs and volunteering opportunities for local people.
Over 20 local projects have been directly supported, providing renewable energy, employment opportunities, creative arts, education and sports programmes. This is helping to break the cycle of poverty and improve the lives of many Masaka residents.
The Uganda Marathon is being managed by a growing local team and will be managed entirely by local employees from 2019. This means the event can evolve and best represent and benefit the community as needs change in future.
How did it all start?
The first step was telling the world that the marathon existed and was going to happen. It took a bit of courage to say what we were doing out loud, but immediately after we had done, the ‘universe conspired with us’, as it were. A friend knew the Ugandan High Commissioner in London, and after some wrangling, we found ourselves at the Embassy launching the marathon in front of the Minister for Tourism! After that, we had no choice but to follow through and make the thing a success!
We recruited a team of eight volunteer staff from around the world to help, and began to spread the word to anyone that was interested. Through persistence and blissful ignorance of how hard it would be, we created the first event: 1,000 people took part and we raised £72,000.
What’s been your greatest achievement?
We realised there was serious potential behind this idea; a way to harness the power of sport within a community. Our charitable aims grew from wanting to make change happen, to expanding the project and seeking confirmation from the community that the event was both wanted and helpful.
The growth we saw in our second year proved our hopes to be true. We doubled the number of participants, brought in a larger team, and nearly tripled our fundraising total to £195,000, with incredible feedback from everyone involved. We also gained full support and encouragement from local leaders in Masaka, which was the validation we needed to ensure we could really commit long term.
What was your greatest challenge?
Getting people to understand the actual issues. Many of the international participants contact us prior to the event and ask us what they can bring for the children in Masaka – pens, pencils, sweets, second-hand clothes and such. There is also a common desire to hand out the items in person, ideally to be photographed doing so.
Ideas like this, whilst gratefully received, tend to do more harm than good. Purchasing and importing items readily available in Masaka undermines the local economy. And bringing second-hand clothes encourages the perception that less economically developed countries may be used as a dumping ground for things no longer wanted or needed. Handing gifts out directly, instead of via organisations and teachers, encourages a warped view of foreign visitors and tourists, and tends to undermine people’s belief in their own abilities.
There are better ways to help. What we have done is given project leads a platform to request items and tools that are genuinely useful, such as laptops and very specific items that are either very expensive or not available. We then give visitors who want to buy items the opportunity to spend time with project leads, who explain the need and then guide visitors to the best local outlets to buy from.
What’s next for your project?
Our aim is to turn this organisation into a team-owned co-operative. Many of our Ugandan colleagues see £60 per month as a reasonable salary. We want to give them their true worth, as equals and partners, rather than employees.
The Uganda Marathon has the potential to become Africa’s top fundraising event. A celebration of community, and global citizens working hand in hand. The Uganda Foundation will help runners bring funding and enthusiasm from across the globe, via the marathon and other means, and then let the changemakers in the local community harness that.
What top three things helped your venture succeed?
People. People have been the lifeblood of what we do. The organisation was solely supported financially by runner registration fees for the first two years, and the projects through their fundraising. However, bringing people to Uganda to support our work was only one half of the equation.
Equally important was bringing the right people into the team. We’ve operated on a policy of “trust in people’s attitude over their CV”. This has meant that everyone on the team has, to a certain extent, been under-qualified for their roles but have brought tremendous enthusiasm, youth, and a willingness to learn and grow to the team. We ensured this by conducting ‘run-terviews’ instead of formal interviews to join the team. We guessed that anyone willing to run around Battersea Park with us at 10am on a Sunday as a job interview was likely to be someone that would really throw themselves into organising a social impact event in Uganda!
Understanding. A deep understanding of the community where we work. So many ‘charitable’ ventures, projects and organisations fail because they impose a ‘top-down’ model, with outside funders and outside priorities dictating what a local community needs.
We started from discussions between friends in the UK and Uganda. The needs were highlighted from the very start by Moses and Tom, young Ugandans wanting to make a difference in their own community. Everything we did was on the understanding that there is a veto that can be exercised by the team in Uganda. As we developed, funding needs and priorities have been dictated by our partners, and now our board of trustees, who have final say on which projects are funded. The direction we take is determined by Ugandan citizens.
Without being respectful, constantly mindful and communicative with the partners you are helping empower, you will work at cross-purposes and run the risk of doing more harm than good.
Encouragement. A way to encourage people to fundraise as much as possible. We understood from the start that people don’t sponsor others because of the challenge, they sponsor them for their story and their ‘why’. We needed to provide the best ‘why’.
The ‘why’ we created, alongside the leaders of the projects, was to connect people with the change their actions can bring about. To put them right in the heart of the community and make them as familiar as possible with the challenges and the hopes. We created an atmosphere where they were as likely as possible to ‘get it’, and to buy into the fact that they can make a difference and truly help the people they are befriending and working alongside.
Working together to make a difference
We were delighted to support The Uganda Marathon team. Not only does it deliver exactly what it said it would for the community in the Masaka region of Uganda, it has also helped to expand the work of local organisations and businesses, providing invaluable ideas and resources to the whole area.
The Uganda Marathon has now been handed over to a team of local Ugandan organisers, who understand the issues that Masaka and Uganda face. They're going to be working tirelessly to deliver future events – offering insight, advice and sheer hard work to make life easier for those in need; driving change every day.
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