Accenture Attorney Paul Chadha keeps razor-sharp focus on his Awassa Children’s Project in Ethiopia
|There’s no rule against Accenture’s corporate attorneys growing a beard, but Paul Chadha hadn’t shaved in 50 days. And, as a symbolic gesture, he says he won’t shave until he meets his $40,000 fundraising goal for the Awassa Children’s Project in Ethiopia.
Paul has supported the life-altering oasis for Ethiopia’s orphans in just about every way possible over the past 10 years. Now, as Awassa’s president and spokesman, Paul has bold plans to virtually double the size of the orphanage and educational compound located in a remote area of the country’s drought-stricken southern region.
“We’re 33 percent to our fundraising goal,” says Paul from his Chicago office. “I’m hoping I can shave by Christmas.”
He has been raising funds by holding fundraisers, reaching out to friends and family and talking to companies, grantors and foundations.
Paul beams with pride over the advancements at Awassa, which features several houses, a children’s library and theater, a large multi-purpose facility and a vocational center to train adult students in computer science, woodworking, metalworking and electrical work. The entire facility is powered by six solar panels, and an on-site well provides an ample supply of clean water. Awassa just received hi-speed wi-fi internet.
The children, who attend local schools, receive proper nutrition, medical care from an on-site nurse and plenty of adult supervision. Although he cannot travel to Ethiopia as much as he would like, Paul is no less than a father figure to many of the children. He often uses his time in Ethiopia to do parent-teacher conferences with all of the kids and their teachers. He also enjoys keeping in touch with the kids via Facebook, Skype and phone.
“It’s like we’re outsourcing parenting,” Paul says. “It doesn’t feel like we’re in different countries, but in long hallways—something that Accenture does very well that we’ve attempted to replicate in Awassa.”
Meeting challenges with creativity
Despite all the progress, the Awassa Children’s Project faces significant challenges, especially since the day in August when UNICEF and the Ethiopian government arrived at their doorstep with 50 very young, malnourished children, several of whom were HIV-positive.
Awassa was able to accommodate 30 of the children, but they had to get creative. The big house was already at capacity with 15 children, so the older kids were moved to the multi-purpose facility, going from private rooms to bunk beds in a gymnasium. The 30 smaller kids from UNICEF were so tiny they were able to all fit in the big house.
“This is a short-term solution,” Paul says. “These little ones are going to ‘catch up,’ get to where they’re supposed to be at this age. When that happens, we will have to have a home for them to go to.
He expected a backlash from the kids we they to move.
“Not only did they agree to move without complaining, they showed a willingness to help these children, most of whom were two to four years old, crying, sick and confused,” he said. “We pride ourselves on providing superior care for these kids.”
Once the current fundraising goal is met, Awassa can build a new dormitory to house the overflow of children.
Paul hopes the spirit that is alive at Awassa can permeate throughout Africa, describing a dream where the Awassa model is essentially franchised throughout the continent. He notes Awassa’s ultimate achievement: children growing up happy and healthy, going to college, finding good jobs within Ethiopia’s emerging economy and starting families of their own.
“I knew that when I started this it was not a five- or ten-year fix, but a 30-year commitment solving the global poverty issue in this country,” Paul says. “My Accenture experience is certainly a benefit in terms of project management skills and having a grasp of how to deal with an international organization. I also have a deep appreciation for my team’s flexibility when I’m out of the office. A lot of this would not be possible but for the flexible work conditions that Accenture offers.”