“It’s hard for me to talk about the role my company played in the Macha Conversion Project when my counterparts—Phil Thuma and Gertjan van Stam—are there every day, year after year, providing vital services to the people in Macha,” shares a modest David Millary, president, founder, and CEO of ImageVision.Net, a software development firm in Middletown, Pa. “But I know that the Lord has a plan, using this project to witness how our resources here at home can support our Zambian sisters and brothers.”
David did just that when he partnered with Phil, head doctor at the Malaria Institute at Macha (MIAM) in Zambia, and Gertjan (pronounced “HER-tee-en”), technical director of LinkNet, an organization that provides internet access and computer-based infrastructure to rural areas of the country. Together, despite being separated by a vast ocean, the three initiated the Macha Conversion Project, a venture that provided jobs and helped bring dignity and new hope to traditional villagers in the southern province of Zambia.
Worldwide partnership through the World Wide Web
“The Macha Conversion Project started when Gertjan was hired as technical director of the Macha Malaria Research Institute (MMRI)—the U.S.–based board that supports the work of MIAM—and subsequently built the Vision Community Center in Macha,” David says. In constructing the facility, which housed an internet café, radio station, library, restaurant, and other community services, Gertjan successfully broke down the so-called digital divide between those who have access to the World Wide Web and those who don’t. “Gertjan brought the world to Macha and paved the way for companies like ImageVision.Net to provide work,” he adds.
ImageVision.Net is a labor of love for David, who started the software development and image scanning company several years after earning a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science from Messiah College (Grantham, Pa.). As the company prospered and his reputation as a visionary with solid business acumen grew, David’s involvement at NewCreation, a BIC church plant in Dillsburg, Pa., also increased, leading him to take on the position of church treasurer there. And it was through NewCreation and its parent church, Dillsburg BIC, that David—who grew up in Zambia’s capital city of Lusaka—met Phil, a former BIC missionary who now divides his time between his work as a doctor and researcher at MIAM in Zambia and as the executive director of MMRI at his home in Dillsburg.
“Phil heard that I grew up in Zambia and came over to me at church to say hello. We share a very special relationship. His work at Macha is an effective combination of ministry and medical service that has positively affected generations of people. I can’t say enough about him,” David shares. Phil invited his fellow churchman to join MMRI’s board of directors. Within months, ImageVision began providing server and website hosting for the Institute.
Coming back to serve the Lord
In the spring of 2005, one of ImageVision’s most important clients offered the company a major contract: to electronically record data from 700,000 deeded U.S. land documents via a data entry system. Immediately, David knew that he could not afford to take on a job of this size and be competitive in the U.S. economy. “It wouldn’t be fiscally responsible for my company, nor did I have the staff to take on such a project,” he says. “I realized the Lord was leading me to approach this project in a different manner than traditional methods offered.”
Outsourcing has become a standard practice in the data entry industry, with India and China as dominant market leaders. David explains, however, that members of India’s emerging middle class—with its accompanying higher expectations—may have out-priced themselves except to very large companies. “Many small to mid-size Western firms can no longer afford data entry outsourcing to India,” he notes. “But there are other places in Africa, like Macha, with a sound infrastructure and capable workers, ready for a project. This could become a trend where a few places could turn into many places in the next 10 to 15 years.”
The following March, David made the long journey to Macha. Along the way, he reflected on what it was like to grow up in Zambia. “It was wonderful,” he recalls. “There was so much diversity, which gave me a heightened sense of cultural awareness that I may not have gotten elsewhere. Yet how many times did my family pass that dirt road from Choma to Macha and never thought twice about going there. And still, there I was, coming back home to serve the Lord.”
Arriving at the Vision Community Center’s Internet Café, Millary quickly set out to train employees and launch the project. By then, Phil and Gertjan had successfully navigated the logistical, political, human resource, and infrastructure issues needed to pull off the intercontinental project, which, as David describes, made its ultimate success possible. “Phil is the pulse of Macha,” he observes. “His community connections and insights into the cultural nuances, in addition to Gertjan’s technological expertise and boundless energy, made the data entry project possible.”
Through David, on-site project leader Gregory Mweemba and administrator Dunstan Hamangaba, both lifelong residents of the region, received the application and web-based management computer training needed to make the project successful. “Beyond that, I completely left the project in their hands,” David relates, his confidence in the two workers radiating. “I did not need to micro-manage them at all.”
The Macha Conversion Project kicked off one month later, in April 2006, with five data entry operators soon expanding to twenty—for most, their first working experience. Working in four- to eight-hour shifts, operators processed up to 20,000 documents per day. By June 2007, the assignment ended on a high note: within budget, before deadline, and with few system flaws reported.
Success in numbers
“This project has brought hope and inspiration to the rural village of Macha,” notes Gertjan, whose LinkNet organization has provided 100 computers and trained up to 200 people in computer technologies. “Rural Africa competed with business in other parts of the world and proved its worth as a global market player. The customer was happy, showing quality work can be done in the bush.”
The project’s success is measured not only by the number of documents keyed but also by the number of lives encouraged by the opportunity. In a region in which the average villager expects to make less than $1 a day, in a country in which malaria kills more than 1 million children annually, and in a nation in which those who survive disease live only to an average age of 39, the Macha Conversion Project offered new hope to the people of Macha. Empowered with this hope and greater professional proficiency, they now have better skills to continue to work towards creating a more resilient, sustainable community for themselves and future generations.
Good work in the global market
The future is bright for those at Macha, but more is needed.To David, it’s simple: Take what you have and use it to fulfill God’s plan for your life. “There have been many times in my life that the Lord said to me, ‘Hey, I’m taking you here. Trust me,’ ” he says smilingly. “Sometimes, I have listened and sometimes I have not—it’s always worked best when I have listened!”
Few Americans, according to David, ever get to experience the positive side of participation in the global market—an experience he and his team at ImageVision.Net cherish. “When used appropriately, as in Macha, we can use the global market to do great work,” he observes. “The partnership between ImageVision.Net, the people of Macha, Gertjan and his technology group at LinkNet, and Phil Thuma, all brought different business models to the table. As Americans, Africans, and Netherlanders, we represented a global market. We lived it. We changed lives across the globe, and they changed us.”