Community Development

Community Development

The Segal Family Foundation is a young organization that has a common sense approach toward making a difference in the lives and communities of people in Sub Saharan Africa.

We did not begin with an elaborate development strategy and none of us have a development background: My dad, Barry, who started the foundation, wanted to donate a portion of the money he had earned throughout his life toward an area of the world where there was the most need, and then figure out a way to make the most impact.


Sub Saharan Africa seemed a natural place to focus his time, his energies and his philanthropy. In SSA, funds go a lot further than many places.  For the past year and a half the core team – executive director Andy Bryant, board member Antoine Chiquet and myself, along with family members Janis Simon, Rich Segal and our founder Barry Segal, have been going around a learning curve to make a sustainable difference in our work.

It has been an adventure and in the past 18 months I have traveled several times to several countries, including Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and Malawi.

Since we have a business background, we adopted a business-like approach to funding and empowering grassroots organizations that have strong skill sets and objectives but may be lacking in certain strengths. We try to invest in smart people and smart ideas and get out of the way- we are listening to those who are more knowledgeable than we are.

We stay within a general mission of supporting basic needs like food and agriculture, health, education, alternative energy and family planning at the community level. The common denominators across projects are dynamic leadership, roots in stable communities, and remote, underserved locales. We also have select partnerships with larger organizations like Planned Parenthood, BRAC and Habitat for Humanity when we feel these larger entities will lend their technical expertise to our grassroots partners.

We try to invest in smart people and smart ideas and get out of the way- we are listening to those who are more knowledgeable than we are.

One lesson we learned early on is that many of these grassroots efforts work independently and don’t do a great job communicating with each other although they may have overlapping skills and needs.

We realized that we can add value by serving as a network facilitator amongst these fragmented efforts to help them develop a more cohesive strategy and become more interdependent. In practical terms, this means that, for example, if a health clinic needs electricity, we will fund that need with a solar power suitcase from another organization that specializes in solar power. Or perhaps when an organization specializing in school food security needs partners, we will link them with our education partners for joint projects.


Segal Family Foundation core team – Antoine, me, Andy

One of the advantages of having a business background is that we are sometimes willing to take informed and calculated risks. We receive a lot of proposals all the time on social media like Facebook.

One time, we had a group of pastors in eastern Uganda ask us for some money, we worked with them on their proposal and decided to give them a few thousand dollars. It was site unseen, and yes, it was a risk.

On a subsequent trip to Uganda, my team and I were gratified to see what these pastors had turned our funding into: they had built an orphanage and a school both of which were thriving! So, it’s a learning curve: you try things, you make informed decisions, you take sensible risks and sometimes, the unexpected happens.

We have found a common sense approach that works well for us and we are looking in the future to build on this. Last year, we worked with about 130 different grassroots organizations within several Sub Saharan countries. We invited about 90 different representatives to our annual meeting in New York, and this year, we expect representatives from 120 partners. Slowly but surely, we are expanding our network, strengthening our impact in communities on the ground, and learning valuable lessons along the way.


Martin Segal, is the Managing Director of the Segal Family Foundation.

The Segal foundation is not accepting donations, as it states on their website in this quote from Barry Segal, the founder:

“The foundation is currently healthy and is not in need of external funds. If you are inspired by the things the Segal Foundation is doing, you can use our website to help you learn more about the issues, causes, and people that are making a difference in Sub Saharan Africa”.


  1. Anjali Daryanani01-09-2012

    Thanks Martin for sharing some important experiences that social change activists and philanthropists can benefit from.

    I’ve volunteered for non-profit organizations in India, Thailand and Vietnam, and have also seen the value of merging initiatives and pooling existing resources to tackle multifaceted issues.

    Here in Washington D.C. itself, I share office space with, an environmental organization that recently joined forces with Tar Sands Action to bring 12,000 people to the White House in a protest against the Keystone XL oil pipeline — an incredibly successful event that couldn’t have been possible without the merging of resources, skills, knowledge and strategies.

    Thanks again for sharing some of your work with 130 grassroots organizations in SSA and looking forward to reading more on

  2. Scott Shigeoka01-11-2012

    Hi Martin,

    I work as a partnership builder, and I think your approach was simple but innovative. It was a very “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts” approach. I also appreciate how you empowered the organizations to make an impact on their community to make it a more sustainable project.

    I especially like your point of:

    “…it’s a learning curve: you try things, you make informed decisions, you take sensible risks and sometimes, the unexpected happens.”

    Sometimes, the most beautiful things happen when you least expect it. You have an intent of doing good, you go in there with knowledge and an open mind, and then something unexpected yet remarkable happens.

    Looking forward to learning more about Segal Family Foundation as well. Cheers from one partnership builder to another.

    Scott Shigeoka
    Partnership Director
    One World Youth Project

  3. Ossob Mohamud01-11-2012

    Hello! I’m Ossob, the Alumni Fellow from One World Youth Project.

    As a native Somali, this story especially speaks to me, and Im absolutely fascinated by the sustainable grassroots initiatives you are carrying out in SSA!

    You are spot on when you say, that a major challenge for local business and organisations in poverty stricken areas is that they do not work together to meet common needs. Creating that network among them is definitely inspiring.

    Additionally, this quote really struck a chord with me, and i believe its the most important: “we are listening to those who are more knowledgeable than we are.” This is where i believe many foreign assistance programs fail, they do not respect the wisdom of the people they are there to help leading to an unequal and condescending donor-recipient relationship.

    Excited to learn more about your important work in Africa!


  4. Jenny Miller01-11-2012

    I really enjoyed reading this and following your journey. Every donor wants to know where their money is going and how it is being used. You provide a candid reflection on the amazing initiatives you have worked with, and illustrated what works and what doesn’t work in development.

  5. Natasha Tang01-11-2012

    It’s great to learn more about the Segal Family Foundation and your work with organizations around the world! Checked out your website and enjoyed reading about your spotlight projects — these groups are doing remarkable things for their surrounding communities.

    Looking forward to learning more.

  6. Grace Lien01-12-2012


    I took an International Development course at the University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign but I got just as much value from this post and from exploring your website as my course. Your knowledge and experience with organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa shines through and I hope that I can read more as the Segal Family Foundation expands and deepens your impact at your current locations.

    Great work!

    Grace Lien
    San Fransisco

  7. Nita Bhagwandas01-13-2012

    Hi Martin!

    I am SUPER impressed with your article!

    I run my own business and just like your Dad, putting money aside from my earnings to support certain causes like IIMPACT for example, which is educating Muslim girls in slums in India.

    Apart from that I train, equip and hire ladies from villages in India to do work for my company, like invoicing, accounting, web design etc for which they earn a good salary. It gives them a great sense of self worth and empowers them.

    I have great respect for what your family is doing in Africa.

    Extremely inspiring!

    Kind Regards,


    We are a Cameroonian-based non-governmental organization working with children, families and impoverished communities living in the English-Speaking Region of Cameroun.
    How can the Segal Family Foundation empower Nsaidze-dze Community Concepts on Human Security Network Foundation to make an impact on our communities to make it more sustainably?
    We have being seeking for Donors and projects funding agencies that could of help to us, and will you be good enough to connect our organization with such organization?

    • Karim03-21-2012

      I would recommend your contacting the Segal director Antoine Chiquet at this email address:

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