San Fernando Valley native Daniel Casanova, executive director for the Rohnert Park based nonprofit, Global Partners for Development, is both a globe-trotting lover and a people person with a contagious grin. It is his happy-go-lucky grin and willingness to connect with and aid others that led him to become the head of a nonprofit that is turning the definition on what it means to give back to a community in need. Instead of prescribing an aid such as water or food, Global Partners works with communities in Africa to determine what each village needs the most in terms of educational infrastructure, water and sanitation.
Since the organization’s inception, which started as World Runner’s Club in the early 70s, around 3 million people in rural East Africa are estimated to have been impacted and helped in some way by the groups unique model. And since the start of the community driven education model and the leadership model, around 34,322 people were served with sustainable water systems and around 44,991 people benefited from education infrastructure projects — numbers that the group is proud of.
“What is unique about Global Partners for Development is that the ideas we try to get up are not our own. The ideas come from local people who understand their needs… and it has been pretty successful so far,” says Amy Holter, director of programs and evaluation.
With the new aid model, CDE, villages are able to determine with the help of trained professionals and assessment meetings what their most dire needs are and what sustainable solutions can be used; not just a Band-Aid over the problem, but a way to solve the systemic issues.
The Leadership model is similar and works with local community leaders and local organizations to create individual and sustainable solutions to each communities’ needs. Active projects using the Leadership model are taking place in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
Casanova describes this approach as moving away from a one-size fits all method of aid that many other worldwide organizations, such as the World Bank, still use.
“The work that we do I think is a little more nuanced and authentic in that we actually partner with people and give them capital. It’s those communities that are the drivers of change on the projects.” Casanova explained. “I try to explain it to people, if I go into your office and said, ‘here is a turkey sandwich,’ you might take the turkey sandwich, you might have been hungry, but maybe you’d really like sushi or something else.”
One example of the groups’ sustainable and community driven take on aid was when they supplied a group of women with a grain mill. The mill was able to produce products which paid for much- needed school infrastructure and with the mill still in use after 20 years, it proved to be a sustainable and smart solution for the goal of providing more opportunities for education and impacting youth.
Yet when the organization was newly founded their first goal was a lofty one, to end all hunger by pledge running — an event that started to gain popularity in the late 70s.
“They (World Runners) were the pioneers of pledge running and people around the world wanted to run to end world hunger. These were altruistic people living in a world with all of the early images of children starving and dying in east Africa. They wanted to raise funds that would go to places where people were actually suffering and solve hunger step by step,” Casanova said.
In the mid 80s the group decided they didn’t want to just be a fundraiser, they wanted to shift their efforts to global grassroots efforts. According to Casanova, they started writing grants to women’s groups and hospitals and in 1989 they became branded as Global Partners for Development.
Casanova is now the third generation of executive directors and much of his work with nonprofits and philanthropy comes from the inspiration he had growing up with a dynamic family.
Born and raised in Van Nuys, his father Mark came from a low-income Latino family, while his mother came from a more well-off Jewish family. Both families had a unique influence on him, his mother’s family planting the culture and travel bug into his system and his father encouraging him to help out at shelters and interact with people in a helpful and humble way.
While he was growing up and to this day, Mark is still the executive director of Homeless Healthcare in Los Angeles and continues to be an influence on Daniel in terms of getting into the “family business” of nonprofit work.
“I went to schools in L.A. where kids wanted to make movies or be in the movies and if you had asked me what I wanted to do then I would have said I wanted to be an adventurer and make documentary films,” Casanova mused. And while he may not have become an Indiana Jones type adventurer, he has had many adventures traveling the world and has channeled that adventurous spirit into the effort of helping others. He’s also picked up four languages along the way and is currently learning Swahili and Maasai.
“I was like the young, stupid, machismo guy, I wanted a chip on my shoulder, “Casanova said laughing. “But in terms of my international non-profit work I went to Bangladesh to build a traditional boat and while I was there I started doing work with the U.N. Refugee Agency and a floating river hospital for people who didn’t have access to healthcare. I was there selfishly to be an adventure, but I developed relationships along the way. I think the universe had a plan for me to be in social work.”
If Rohnert Park residents are interested in supporting Global Partners for Development they can make a donation online at https://gpfd.org/donate. Or, if you want to see GPFD at work on the ground, you can sign up for planned trips to Africa, where you can get a glimpse of the current projects in progress and even experience an African Safari. Their next trip is in June of 2019.
They also host the V2V, vineyards to villages event each year, where profits from selling their partnering wine labels goes towards providing clean water in African communities.
For more information on Global Partners for Development, visit gpfd.org or call (707) 588-0550.