Spring 2008 issue of Terry Magazine - (Page 48)
terr ymemo Economics Department African art is an economic engine By Ryan Crowe (ABJ ’01) B en Cobb got interested in Namibia while working there as a non-governmental intern in 2006. When he learned that one of the regions of the African country was well-known for local artists who make beautiful carvings from the soft mapani wood native to that area, he saw the potential for economic development. “These people had little access to markets to sell their crafts,” says Cobb, who will graduate in May with an A.B. in international affairs and an M.A. in economics. “If markets could be found, revenue from selling Namibian art could be used to help fund expansion projects for schools.” To make that happen, Cobb created Cobb is fostering economic development opportunities for the southern Africa country of Namibia by creating a website (www.promoteafrica.org), where local artists, musicians, and writers can sell their goods to world markets. Promote Africa Inc., which supports development projects in Namibia by promoting not just African art, but also music and literature. Fostering economic growth in Africa is a formidable task, but the process is aided, says Cobb, by the lack of red tape. Promote Africa now has its own website (www.promoteafrica.org), enabling local artisans to sell goods to foreign markets. Obtaining technical support and export permit arrangements required Cobb and his small staff to spend the summer of 2007 in Namibia organizing vendors and formal48 • Spring 2008 izing operational agreements to start displaying products on the website. As a Foundation Fellow at UGA, Cobb is allowed a travel stipend, which he used to help finance the trip. Launched in April 2007, the website allows artists to have individual online accounts. “They can log in, load pictures and descriptions of their products, and set their own prices,” says Cobb. “And the quality of the craftsmanship is unbelievable.” Cobb says 90 percent of the proceeds go directly to the artists; the remaining 10 percent covers administrative costs. Anything left over is allocated to community development. He believes the music component of Project Africa could turn out to be huge. “There’s not a good centralized directory of African music online,” says Cobb, who hopes to eventually release and maintain the world’s largest directory of African music online. “You may see 500-600 artists total on a certain website, and maybe only one or two of those will be Namibian. We basically serve as a nonprofit music label targeting underrepresented and unsigned artists.” As for literature, Cobb’s long-term goal is to target a number of African Studies departments in colleges across the U.S., make them aware of the program and its homegrown literature, and ideally get the website on each course syllabus. “That would draw traffic to the web site, where we have links set up so that we retain a referral fee on purchases. If you have to buy a certain book somewhere, why not buy it and have a portion of the proceeds go directly to community and economic development?” That money, says Cobb, is distributed to a number of disadvantaged communities in Namibia in an effort to build more low-income housing and find alternative sources of heating and lighting. For help, Cobb has relied in part on UGA and Terry. “Our university has considerable resources to utilize in helping push this project forward,” he says. “For example, we were able to employ two interns from Terry’s music business program, and I think the experience was extremely advantageous for both parties.” So while many of his fellow graduates will be signing lucrative offer sheets in the coming months, Cobb will be busy applying for large development grants to help bolster the Namibian economy. “I’m hoping to get to a point where I’m able to pay myself $20,000-$30,000 a year,” says Cobb, who expects the website to begin producing steady revenues this year, with additional support coming from grants and private contributors. What motivates him to do all this? “I see the developing world as humanity’s hope,” says Cobb. “In these countries, there are no corporate interests and no extensive bureaucratic structures. What’s important are community values and cultural identities. The personal incentive is that I want to feel as though my life had a meaning.” For thousands of Namibian residents who are benefitting from his outreach efforts, Ben Cobb has already reached that goal. ■ Terry College of speCiaL BuSineSS
If you would like to try to load the digital publication without using Flash Player detection, please click here.