Rising above normal causes a changed world
Alan Smith, owner of Alan Smith Pools, knows a lot about building a business, and a lot about building pools, but he’d be the first to tell you that he doesn’t know anything about building an African University except that it starts with building relationships which is another thing he knows a lot about.
Northrise University is a new, Christcentered university in Zambia whose ambition is nothing less than fixing a country, and maybe even a continent. It was founded about 14 years ago by two Zambian Nationals named Moffat and Doreen Zimba, who were living in Costa Mesa, California at the time and attending Grace Fellowship Church, which was where they met Alan Smith.
It was there that the concept of the university was introduced to Smith.
The Zimbas dreamt of starting a Theocentric university that integrates biblical understanding in teaching Zambians how to feed, heal and govern themselves. One day Moffat Zimba shared his vision with his men’s bible study group. They thought he was crazy. They told him his odds of success were about a million to one.
“The God I serve is bigger than those odds,” Zimba replied. Undeterred he continued to ask for their help.
Smith said that he was moved by the man’s conviction, and while Africa had never been on his own radar, Zimba’s request for help hit him in the heart.
“Ok, I’m all in. What do you want me to do?” Smith said.
Zimba asked Smith to develop the agricultural system at the University, and eventually the School of Agriculture. Zambia leads the continent in malnourishment, and consequently, 39 percent of Zambian children under five suffer from physical and mental underdevelopment.
“YouknowI’mapoolguy.Idon’tknow anything about farming,” Smith said.
Zimba said that didn’t matter. “You’re a developer.”
Smith then went to Zambia and took soil samples which he brought back to America for analysis.
At the time, he had been conducting swimming pool plaster research at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and he used his connections there to start the project. Cal Poly’s Dean of Agriculture, Mark Shelton, helped facilitate writing up a farm plan that would guide the University. They began growing bananas and maize, thought to be the best case crops. They constructed buildings for poultry. By the time they were finished, that had four large buildings housing between 2,500 and 3,500 cage-free chickens. Then they started raising cattle.
Smith knew he was in way over his head and needed a lot more help. He conducted research for American Christian Universities interested in assisting in the development of African countries.
Smith and Zimba landed on Dordt University, an agricultural school in Iowa, and they spoke with the Dean of Agriculture, Ron Vos, who said he would be delighted to help. Vos introduced them to the President of Dordt University, Carl Zylstra, who shook their hands, and with tears in his eyes, said, “We’ve been looking for you more than you’ve been looking for us.”
Mary Petterson, then the Associate Dean of Nutritional studies at Cal Poly, had always wanted to help Africa. Cal Poly flew her to Northrise to put her talents to use there.
Northrise also solicited Baylor University, a Baptist school in Texas, and they were quick to agree to help.
They built the school in Ndola, on 640 acres of land that the Zambian government enthusiastically provided, although they’d originally asked for only 40.
Today, the University boasts Schools of Business, Law, Technology and Computer Science, Health and Social Sciences, Education and Theology.
They have a nursing program and a medical center, and the school is 70 percent in-country sustainable. They have no debt, building the university as they raise the money, and their relationships with Dordt and Baylor Universities have grown into thriving sister-schools with student-faculty exchanges between the countries.
Some now consider Northrise to be the Stanford of sub-Saharan Africa.
They have about 700 registered students, and hundreds of graduates, with 99 percent of these remaining in Zambia. They give back to their nation, themselves starting meaningful enterprises in government and business. One of their graduates is building orphanages.
According to Smith, “it has been like throwing a pebble in a still lake – the ripples just go out and out.”
Smith’s own assignment, the School of Agriculture, is just a few years away. They are in the fundraising stage, and Smith has continued to use his connections to raise money for a project where the return on investment could be staggering. Within the pool and spa industry, his friends and acquaintances have donated thousands of dollars to scholarship funds, building and grounds construction, and to individual schools of their preferences.
He says the area could be like the San Joaquin Valley of Africa. They’ve got water, they’ve got land, they’ve got labor, and they’ve got a stable government. They just don’t have the infrastructure, and with a little help, that is exactly what Northrise is creating.
“I’m just throwing the net out there; God will touch the heart,” Smith said.
To donate to Northrise University, visit www.northrise.org and click “donate now”.
Scott Schillings with the Mayor of Ndola ‘Arthur’ Homangga and Alan Smith.
Scott Schillings, Mary Petterson with the Director of Ndola Children’s Hospital, Alan Smith and Ron Voss.