Making an Impact: Elaine Tymchak, Cultivate International
11 June 2019 - minneapolis

““It is important that our partners are part of the community that they want to help because we believe that the local people are the best ones to know what their community truly needs.”

— Elaine Tymchak, Cultivate International

Elaine Tymchak is the founder and executive director of Cultivate International, a nonprofit that partners with local community leaders to equip them with training and coaching to implement sustainable community development projects. We had the opportunity to chat with Elaine to learn more about her work with Cultivate and how the Impact Hub has made a difference. Here is what she had to say.

Tell me more about what you do?

I am the founder and executive director of Cultivate International. We equip local leaders with comprehensive training and coaching to turn grassroots efforts into thriving community development programs in the developing world and in the United States. We work directly with local leaders who are part of the community and experience the difficulties of poverty and injustice that impacts their community. These leaders have come to a point where they feel they have to do something about it and make a difference. They have an idea for a community project but need a little help. We provide them with the training and skills necessary to succeed.

What are some examples of the issues these leaders are trying to solve? 

Some leaders may want to help others in their community find sustainable employment while others are looking for ways to educate their children, address food shortages or preserve their culture. We help local community leaders take their idea and make it into a reality by coaching and training them on what it means to be a strong leader, what are the best practices in the nonprofit world and how to successfully implement community development programs in their community. We also coach them on how they can take an idea and build a business plan, fundraise and manage finances. Finally, we help them access funds in the US through fiscal sponsorship.

How many communities are you working with?

Currently we are working with 15 communities across the developing world. Right now we have partners in the Philippines, Kenya, Mozambique, Liberia, Zambia, Ghana and India working in education, poverty reduction, youth outreach, cultural preservation and more. We are also offering this program to people in the Twin Cities and the US but it hasn’t taken off yet.

How have you ended up in the places you currently work?

The idea of Cultivate first came to me in 2010 when I was in Nairobi. I had just finished my Masters of International Development and was in deep thought about the difficulties I was seeing in Kenya. I had established relationships with a lot of local leaders there and started with some of these contacts to build Cultivate. I launched Cultivate in 2016 and have grown our partners mostly through word of mouth.

What kind of partners does Cultivate work with?

It is important that our partners are part of the community that they want to help because we believe that the local people are the best ones to know what their community truly needs. This is one of our core values and why I founded Cultivate in the first place. To have the local people help address their own community development needs.

For example, we started working with a young man named Calvin. After completing his education as a teacher, he was placed as a teacher in a rural community in Northern Zambia. The district has 11,000 people and only one primary school for the entire area. Thus there are a lot of kids that can’t go to school as it is either too full or too far of a walk. Calvin wanted to help more kids have the opportunity to learn. He came to Cultivate with his idea for opening his own school and worked with us to build a small, informal community school that serves about 50 kids. He has found people in the community to help as teachers and hopes to expand the school to reach more children within the community. While it may not be a formal school operated by the government, at least he is helping the community by giving kids the chance to go to school. These are the kind of grassroots projects we love to help with.

What are some of the challenges you face? 

The vast majority of people we work with come from Eastern and Western Africa. There is unfortunately a lot of stigma and distrust in the nonprofit world about their work. This is where we come in. Cultivate provides leadership development and assistance on how our partners can gain trust from US funders and become effective project leaders. We teach them a lot about cross-cultural communication and help them “learn the lingo” of the international nonprofit world, which is very specific. We know that they are already excellent leaders with great ideas. We just equip them with the training, skills and knowledge of how to succeed in the nonprofit world.

How does your model differ from other nonprofits? 

We aren’t just coming in and providing charity but empowering local people to be the leaders in their own community and make a difference. A core belief that we have is that communities have the capabilities to address their own problems they just need the knowledge and expertise on how a nonprofit works. That is where we come in with our coaching and training programs. We’re arming them with the skills they need to succeed whether it be project management, fundraising, community development or how to manage a nonprofit.

We help them learn how to be accountable for their work, inspire them to keep going when times get tough and help build confidence that they can succeed.

Paradox has been partnering with Cultivate since early 2016 to support Seed Foundation and its primary school that educates over 100 children in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya.

Why do you do this work?

We see that the system is broken. There are times that community development works so well and it is encouraging. But there are times when you see that whoever holds the money holds the power so foreign funders are deciding what they want to do in these communities, not the local people. Our goal is to challenge this system of foreign aid. To give money to the local community leaders to determine what they need and how they want to change things.

How does this model succeed?  

The local leaders are much more passionate to have their programs succeed as it is their community and it is what they want and need. We are empowering them to take charge of their own future.

How has being part of the Impact Hub helped?

I got connected to the Impact Hub in 2016 as I was just getting started with Cultivate. I met a few people at the hub who really inspired me and connected me with others. It really helped because a lot of people have been in the same position as me and we bounced a ton of ideas off each other.

The hub has also really helped because as a small nonprofit director I have to do a million things and I don’t know how to do it all. It has been amazing having a network of people at the hub to help me out!  Furthermore, the people at the hub are amazing. Everyone is trying to make an impact for humanity. I’ve met a lot of very kind, passionate people.

What is something you have learned through this work?

At Cultivate it is not just the day-to-day coaching and training work we are doing with our partners, but it is more. We are building bridges by connecting people from all around the world. We are opening up people’s minds and hearts to others who are different than us. I believe it makes us all better human beings.

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