On first observation, Stephen Njodzeka Ndzerem appeared to be a quiet man who was totally engaged in learning. Stephen and I, along with 40 leaders from all over the world, were participating in the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program at the University of California, Berkeley – the class of 2010.
Stephen is the General Coordinator and founder for SHUMAS (Strategic Humanitarian Services), an NGO based in the Republic of Cameroon. SHUMAS (www.shumas.org) is involved in a wide range of sustainable development issues aiming to benefit disadvantaged people. During our many conversations, he shared his work’s purpose and how he was eager to bring back all that he learned at Berkeley to the Cameroons. He also became a mentor, encouraging me to pursue my life’s vision. Subsequently, Stephen now serves on the Advisory Board for Envirovisions Institute.
Last September, I was able to have a short conversation with Stephen via Skype. It was a great exchange: he agreed to respond to questions posed by EI NewsJournal International in writing. Envirovisions Institute hopes that you receive good things from his powerful words.
Editor’s Note: The decision was made to do very little editing of Stephen’s written responses; but to share his responses ‘as is’ to our readers. EI NewsJournal International.
EI NewsJournal International: In your opinion, what are the major economic concerns for the Republic of Cameroon?
Stephen N., SHUMAS: Cameroon is often called Africa in miniature because it has five ecological zones, as such almost everything that is found anywhere in Africa is found in Cameroon. In consequence, the country is blessed with lots of natural resources, yet the country and her people remain poor. The country has one of the lowest per capita incomes (158th), has an unemployment rate of almost 40 percent, is one of the heavily indebted poor countries and has one of the lowest growth rates. The irony, however, has dovetailed to the weak capacity and mind set which is characterized by inertia, corruption, nepotism, and tribalism which has put the Cameroon economy on the ground.
There is, however, some light at the end of the tunnel, as President Paul Biya has come up with the 2035 vision that aims to transform Cameroon into an emerging economy. He has hit hard and mercilessly on the above ills within the last couple of years; and quite a lot is changing, with concrete and conspicuous indications that give rise to hope in the days ahead.
EI NewsJournal International: How does the Cameroon’s economy connect to environmental concerns?
Stephen N., SHUMAS: Biodiversity loss and waste management seems to be the main environmental concerns in Cameroon. Of recent, climate change seems to be taking the lead as it is affecting mostly poor peasant farmers whom constitute more than 80 percent of the population. At the global level, the main environmental concern is climate change, whose effects continue to raise its ugly head and stare ferociously at mankind.
EI NewsJournal International: What is one of SHUMAS projects that you would like people around the world to know about.
Stephen N., SHUMAS: SHUMAS’s Integrated Training and Demonstration Organic Center is one of SHUMAS’s projects I would like people to know about. Principally because it is a good illustration of sustainable development, which is easily replicated and scaled up. The center trains unemployed youths (60 percent rate of unemployment) and poor peasant farmers (whom constitute more than 80 percent of our population and are within the bracket of the poorest of the poor) in sustainable agricultural practices that improve greatly on their livelihood but at the same time contributes immensely to fighting against climate change and biodiversity loss. This project impacts positively from multi-dimensional aspects as the livelihood of these peasant farmers is more than 90 percent dovetailed to the ecosystem, which is everything for them. Training is also carried out in simple ways of fabricating local wind turbines, solar and micro hydro systems for their communities and of course household biogas systems. Courses are divided into long, short and medium term courses. Information about this and other SHUMAS programs can be found on our websites www.shumas-cameroon.org or www.shumas.org.
EI NewsJournal International: Your website describes various programs. How could an individual or organization become involved with SHUMAS?
Stephen N., SHUMAS: People can contribute in many ways:
Volunteering in this center
Helping to train an unemployed youth
Sharing about this center to many people in the globe, etc.
Please go to our website for contact information at www.shumas.org.
EI NewsJournal International: You have worked diligently toward fulfilling your professional vision for the Cameroons and its people. What suggestions do you have for other leaders around the world?
Stephen N., SHUMAS: For almost twenty years, I have helped to set up SHUMAS on the ground from scratch, which today is helping millions of Cameroonians to feed and provide for their families but also helping them exploit the fullest of their potentials. Succeeding as such demands some qualities that I am always pleased to share with other aspirants to reach their professional vision.
First and foremost, one must be a visionary and understand that there will always be stumbling blocks – the key thing is to always look for ways of going around it. One of these stumbling blocks are detractors, and you must never give in to them as they are always in their numbers. Your approach must be via systems thinking and holistic. We must not only have a clear vision and believe in it, but we must also have the passion for it at all times, whether during the day or at night!
Planning and hard work are always vital ingredients, as well as remaining focused, keeping an eye open and learning from other people and incorporating what you know. We should never feel we know everything, as individuals are just little dots on the planet. Collaborative leadership and enhancing of bottom to top management is important.
One must accept what I will call simple ‘laws of nature.’ One must understand that we need time for everything and that there is always time to plant, nurture and time to harvest – the duration can never be the same for everything. We must also be results-orientated and understand that results are the sum total of all endeavors, including time. What you harvest to a greater extent is directly linked to what you put in. Luck to me doesn’t have much play.
Finally, regularly taking stock in an objective manner and employing a great deal of auto-criticism is a prime factor for success!
EI NewsJournal International: Thank you, Stephen, for taking the time to share your experiences. We hope that many will benefit from your visionary leadership.
This article is reprinted with permission of EnviroVisions Institute (www.envirovisionsinstitute.org) 2014.
As a short-term measure we embarked on training many target groups to practice organic farming using an integrated farming approach.
 Systems thinking is the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole. In nature, systems thinking examples include ecosystems in which various elements such as air, water, movement, plants, and animals work together to survive or perish. In organizations, systems consist of people, structures, and processes that work together to make an organization healthy or unhealthy. Wikipedia, 2012.