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The Nguzo Saba for Nonprofits

by Martha Pritchard Spear, MBA

The Nguzo Saba are the Pan-African-inspired seven principles of the holiday called Kwanzaa. Nguzo is pronounced (nn-GOO-zoh). Kwanzaa occurs between 12/26 and 1/1 every year. People in the USA are the largest group of Kwanzaa celebrants, including my family of three. The holiday was founded in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga.

While the Nguzo Saba were created specifically by and for people of African descent, here I have added an interpretation of Nguzo Saba for the people of the nonprofit community, in all our diversity. The Nguzo Saba is in bold, and my comments are not.

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==> Umoja (oo-MO-jah): Unity. To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.

To strive for and maintain unity in the organization, community, nation and human race. In these times, to work toward building bridges between people of differing ideologies.

==> Kujichagulia (koo-jee-chah-GOO-lee-ah): Self-determination. To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.

“Moral agency.”[1] To define ourselves as people of passion and vision committed to the missions of our organizations.

==> Ujima (oo-JEE-mah): Collective Work and Responsibility. To build and maintain our community together and make our brother's and sister's problems our problems and to solve them together.

It is Ujima that drew for me the Venn diagram of Nonprofit Land and Kwanzaa: collective work and responsibility speak for themselves for career nonprofit workers. Nonprofit people show up and do good work for the greater good.

==> Ujamaa (oo-jah-MAH-ah): Cooperative Economics. To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.

Support the philanthropy of your nonprofit by volunteering, thanking donors, being a citizen fundraiser for the greater good of your organization. If paid, accept your wages with grace knowing that good is being done as a result of your commitment.

==> Nia (NEE-ah): Purpose. To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

To be proud of our nonprofit work, so as to inspire trust and respect in others on behalf of our organizations. To set personal objectives that benefit our nonprofits. “Making collective flourishing our life time common goal.”[1]

==> Kuumba (koo-OOM-bah): Creativity. To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

To work for our non-profits at our highest level of our abilities and generative energy. Let your skills and talents be used for the mission. Let yourself be stretched, be a learner. All for the good of the mission.

==> Imani (ee-MAH-nee): Faith. To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

To believe with all our hearts in our organizations’ mission, vision and core values. To work in collaboration with others on our teams, both paid and volunteer, for the good of our beneficiaries. Be willing to raise money for the cause. Make a donation to your organization. Volunteer at work.

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With humble acknowledgement of the incomparable difference between (a) the historical and current experience of people of the African diaspora, and (b) the nonprofit community of workers both paid and volunteer of all backgrounds and experiences, to whom this essay is addressed, I wish to draw a parallel showing that the nonprofit community, at its best and highest function, has “ubuntu,” a sense of being part of something much bigger (as Beyoncé says.)

As Bishop Desmond Tutu explains, “a person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are.” A person with Ubuntu recognizes that “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours and that we “all belong in a bundle of life.””

Nonprofit people have ubuntu. Maybe not every minute of every day; there are paper cuts and pay cuts, but the nonprofit passion burns deep and bright. Kwanzaa’s 7 principles of Nguzo Saba could be used as a guide for making a life of nonprofit work.

[1] All quotes are from this article: https://catholicethics.com/forum/kwanzaas-nguzo-saba-a-timely-and-much-needed-retrieval-of-afro-ubuntu-ethics-for-enhanced-flourishing-in-the-african-diaspora-and-beyond/

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