by Pete Janny & Samantha Walla, Sports Editor & Senior Writer
It’s never the wrong time to start doing philanthropy. Just ask junior Mamady Ballo, the CEO and founder of the non-profit Help Kids in Côte d’Ivoire! whose service work has transcended international borders.
Ballo’s first visit to Ivory Coast came when she was a freshman in high school. At that point, she had never met two of her siblings that continued living there after Ballo’s parents were born and raised in Ivory Coast. But what started as a family reunion morphed into something diplomatic and deeply personal. The preconceived notions that almost every American has about developing nations became real life for Ballo in an earth-shattering way while she was away in Ivory Coast. Stepping away from the familiar and almost bubble-like rhythms of daily life in the United States put everything into perspective for Ballo; she felt called to help those in Ivory Coast who were being left behind.
“They always had to adapt to different things so that made me want to do more and I will always have an attachment to Côte d’Ivoire because my parents were born there,” Ballo said.
After returning to the United States, Ballo wasted no time getting to work.
Initially, she worked with her high school to organize a mission trip to Ivory Coast, but that partnership never came to fruition after a terrorist attack in 2016. Faced with few other alternatives, Ballo turned to a plan B that required some creative thinking. This led to the establishment of Help Kids in Cote d’ivoire!, which has been serving children and their families in Ivory Coast since 2016.
Ballo has come a long way in getting the non-profit to the level it’s at today. The biggest challenge has been finding consistent channels for fundraising because of its grassroots origins. At times, it required a fair share of exhaustion on Ballo’s own bank account to the point of redirecting some of her own work earnings for the sake of the non-profit. The finances are the biggest difference between her work and the efforts of established charities.
“What sets them apart is they have money and I don’t,” Ballo said about the financial pull of larger non-profits.
Without discrediting the good deeds being done by other non-profits, Ballo still feels there’s something to be said about experiencing the end result firsthand.
“They might travel to see the donations to see where it goes but I make sure I travel every year,” Ballo said.
More than four years later, Ballo is still going strong with her efforts. Her latest project was done in anticipation of Ramadan, the Muslim holiday celebrated every year in April, with the sum of the donations capping at over two thousand dollars in just 72 hours. The funds will be put toward helping 50 families in Ivory Coast.
The nonprofit is centered around three different grants, with each addressing a specific need so that Ballo can maximize the outreach of her work.
“I was raising money for a food grant so that people in middle school and high school can have breakfast for free everyday,” Ballo said. “Second was the education grant paying for students’ schooling for the academic year because if you’re doing great in school you get more grants and money. The last one was a safety net so if anything happens with a net profit.”
Ballo cites her greatest achievement as getting certified as a Limited Liability Corporation, which gave the nonprofit greater legitimacy and permanence by not making her personally responsible for any debts or liabilities incurred. As a full-time student with aspirations of becoming a diplomat for Ivory Coast, Ballo is faced with balancing her academic workload with the fundraising and organization of Helping Kids in Côte d’Ivoire!, which feels like a full-time job in its own right.
“No matter how hard it gets and how much I get caught in school, I try to figure out how I can go back to help the non profit,” Ballo said.
To aid her in running the nonprofit, especially when she is not able to travel to Ivory Coast, Ballo has assembled a team of five to keep operations running smoothly. Ballo’s next plan for expansion is to secure an office space in Ivory Coast to further establish its presence.
When reflecting on the past five years as founder and CEO of Helping Kids in Côte d’Ivoire!, Ballo recognizes her own personal growth, something those who know her best would probably acknowledge too. Ballo can recall the invigorating spirit she felt after her first trip to Ivory Coast, which has only intensified the more times she goes back.
“I had the image from that kids like, ‘She’s gonna come back,’ and that stuck with me forever,” said Ballo. “The mission I stand by all the time is helping to build the future back and the children that I invest in are the future.”
There is much more to look forward to, especially when preparing for life after the COVID-19 pandemic. For now, though, Ballo can appreciate the journey she’s been on and the boundless self-discovery it has allowed.
“Every year that I go, I’m scared but happy to go to make change,” Ballo said. “I still have the eagerness to keep the non profit going. It has matured me a lot and has given me so many opportunities to meet with others so a lot of people think that I have changed.”