via Shannon Sedgwick Davis

"I look at philanthropy the same way I look at my business investments," Muneer Satter, Founder and Chairman of Satter Investment Management, once told me. "I'm looking for exponential returns." In the humanitarian sector where I operate, we've unfortunately grown accustomed to less-than-optimal returns. We do our best to improve security and quality of life for the world's vulnerable populations, but we rarely make a dent in solving the most intractable conflicts or dire emergencies.

As I describe in my book, "To Stop a Warlord," nontraditional partnerships are one strategy that can make the impossible possible. In corporate and nonprofit spaces, and everywhere in between, when we collaborate in unprecedented ways, we buck the status quo and step outside our comfort zones. This retrains us to think without limits and gives us an augmented capacity to make major change in the world.

The results of nontraditional partnerships can be successful in solving problems and lasting in their innovation—and the results can also be surprising. The massive problem we were trying to tackle was to end a long-standing armed conflict in Central Africa where a rebel group called the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) had been terrorizing citizens of four countries for twenty-five years. More than one hundred thousand people had been killed, almost two million innocent civilians displaced, and at least thirty thousand children abducted and forced to become soldiers or sex slaves in what was already Africa's longest-running war.

Ending the LRA conflict seemed like a lost cause. But we set forth on forging an unlikely alliance of private and public entities—including philanthropists, humanitarian organizations, local civil society leaders, and the U.S. and Ugandan militaries—to intervene. By the end of our intervention, many top-tier LRA leaders and at least fourteen percent of the LRA's core fighting force had defected or been captured; and there had been a ninety percent reduction in LRA killings.

There are four major lessons to be drawn from the unparalleled success of this unlikely partnership.

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Africans Take to Social Media to Combat Negative Cultural Stereotypes

#TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou is giving people across the continent a way to share their uplifting stories and images.

Open a paper, turn to the International section, and look under ‘Africa.’ Chances are, you’re highly likely to find images of war, starvation, hunger, or disease. That’s why a group of young Africans on Twitter, organized under the hashtag #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou, got together and started sharing powerful and positive images of their continent. From large stadiums to contemporary architecture to high fashion, the campaign has already earned tens of thousands of tweets, and is adding more by the second.

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Pop Star Akon’s Ambitious Solar Plan Could Revolutionize Africa

The R&B singer’s “Solar Academy” will train engineers to provide clean eco-energy for hundreds of millions.

Image via Flickr user Tony Felguieras

Most people know Akon for his hit singles “I Wanna Love You” or “Smack That,” not his devotion to alternative energy. But just recently, the singer announced that he would be launching a Solar Academy in Bamako, Mali. The Academy will train local African engineers and entrepreneurs in order to teach them how to produce solar power. The initiative, called “Akon Lighting Africa,” aims to bring solar power to over 600 million Africans.

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First African Team to Compete in the Tour de France in 2015

A South African cycling team will be the first from the continent to compete in cycling’s biggest race.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The Tour de France is one of the largest, most prominent cycling competitions in the world, but in over a century of annual races, not a single African team has ever competed. That changes this year: on Wednesday, Tour de France organizers issued one of five wildcard invitations to MTN-Qhubeka, a team from South Africa.

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“Africa Doesn’t Need a Savior, America Does”

A Kenyan activist challenges the motives and methods of Americans who volunteer abroad.

Boniface Mwangi, a Kenyan activist and photographer

An increasing number of Americans are volunteering abroad. The New York Times reports that an estimated 1 million Americans go overseas to volunteer each year, and African countries are the most popular destinations for these trips. Boniface Mwangi, a Kenyan activist profiled in a New York Times Op-Doc video, wants to know: “why?”

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The Standards are Too Damn High

An African leadership prize that frequently has no winners has sparked a debate over whether standards of excellence can turn self-defeating.

Illustration by Tyler Hoehne

Later this year, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation will choose the winner of this year’s Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. Or rather, in keeping with recent tradition, it’s more likely they’ll settle on this year’s lack of a winner. The prize is one of the world’s biggest financial awards attached to a foundation or public honor: Recipients are granted an initial $5 million and then $200,000 a year for the rest of their lives. Not counting two honorary awards to Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the internationally heralded marker of personal service and integrity has only been awarded three times (in 2007, 2008, and 2011) in the seven years since its inception, ostensibly because the committee has been unable to find worthy recipients among eligible African leaders. Now coming up on the prize’s eighth year, many argue that this failure either reflects poor choices and criteria on the part of the prize committee or paints a brutally dim picture of African governance and rulers. But rather than being a terrible thing, the foundation’s reluctance to award a prize may provide room for meaningful dialogue on why no one’s been selected, make the prize really mean something when it’s awarded, and serve as a model for other honors-granting committees all over the world.

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