As I travel home, I think about how I’ll report on Challenge Africa. As a journalist, I know I’m meant to share facts and context. As a reader, I know how easy it is to interpret things in different ways. There’s no perfect answer to the question of who can or should help others—nor is there a clear definition of what it actually means to offer help. How do we discern the genuine from the glory-seeking?
Did Fleckney need to run, cycle, and paddle hundreds of kilometers to connect with these communities? Maybe not. But did it lend an undeniable element of interest? Absolutely. I lost count of the laughs and wide-eyed, “Are you out of your mind?” expressions. Cycling along sandy trails marked by lion tracks, and paddling through hippo-infested waters is a conversation starter. Fleckney meant to spark interest and that’s what happened, capturing the attention of social media followers, potential sponsors, and like-minded folks who followed his adventure.
I asked Fleckney if he thought Challenge Africa had “worked.” Fleckney tells me it worked in the sense of building relationships and laying the groundwork for the future, but with the fundraising goal yet to be reached, something he’s continuing to work on, he admits, “In that sense, it hasn’t worked.”
What would he do differently? He says he’d have kept costs even lower and been more hard-hitting in his storytelling, perhaps showing the reality of poaching. “I was trying to do it in a nice way or a happy way rather than harshly,” he says. But he wonders, had people felt closer to the cause, perhaps they’d have been more inclined to donate.
From a personal perspective, centering local voices is what made Challenge Africa feel different to some other fundraisers. Fleckney aligned himself with causes that already exist; he didn’t start a new foundation or define anyone’s goals for them. Instead, he chose projects already improving lives and started by the people who live there, with the organizers determining what these projects want and need. But the driving motivation—rather than fundraising from home—was to meet people and hear their stories; to see how their projects are making a difference and how they can keep doing just that.
The writer traveled with Journeysmiths, organizers of Challenge Africa. Fleckney is planning further fundraising events, and Weightman-Harton is working on a short documentary—clips will premier at Craghoppers’ Edinburgh store during a free Q&A event with Fleckney on Thursday 29 September 2022.