By James Clark III & Kate Mulloy
Trinity Church Wall Street

The Anglican Diocese of Swaziland needed a plan.

Eswatini (which until 2018 was the Kingdom of Swaziland) is one of the smallest countries in Africa, at only 6,700 square miles – larger than Connecticut, smaller than New Jersey. The landlocked nation of 1.1 million people is between Mozambique and South Africa.

It faces big challenges. Over 27 percent of Eswatini’s population lives with HIV, economic growth has stalled, and the mountainous kingdom is especially vulnerable to threats posed by climate change, like drought.

The diocese knew that their ministry activities were more critical than ever, but also knew that to maximize impact, financial sustainability would be essential. As the late Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya noted, “God has given us assets and they need to be used for the benefit of the Church.”

The women’s dormitory | Photo: Trinity Wall Street

In 2013 the diocese identified an underutilized asset and a potential opportunity, based on ownership of large tracts of land two to three miles from the growing University of Swaziland’s Luyengo campus. Backed by a detailed feasibility study, the diocese came to Trinity Church Wall Street with a proposal: to build a women’s dormitory, aimed at generating ongoing income.

The diocese also sought to fulfil a missional obligation to promote the welfare of local students. While Eswatini has almost achieved gender parity in primary education, that gap widens significantly by age 20. By that age only 15% of women are still enrolled in school as compared to 45% of men. Providing safe and affordable student housing not only speaks to local market demand and diocesan needs — it also facilitates access to higher education for girls.

Looking Back to Move Forward

In 2018, work on the dormitory began as part of a partnership between the diocese and Trinity’s Mission Real Estate Development (MRED) Initiative. The goal of the initiative is to support dioceses worldwide to become self-sufficient, enabling them to grow their financial capacity and increase the impact of their ministry.

Trinity’s focus on funding real estate developments to support mission started in 2011 with a feasibility study for a commercial development in Lusaka, Zambia. The initiative has grown and changed significantly in the 10 years since. Trinity sought to learn from past and ongoing projects, like the dormitory, before developing a strategy for the next decade of grantmaking for mission real estate.

Using interviews, surveys, and a comprehensive review of all project and workshop documentation, the Mission Real Estate Development team engaged in a retrospective analysis of related grantmaking. They examined everything from the number of total projects (60); to the average return on cost for completed developments (10.2% in 2019); to the most cited project challenge (inflation). We also adapted surveys and interviews to respond to the emerging threat of COVID-19.

The impact of the pandemic was felt almost immediately by Trinity’s partners. In Eswatini, the newly completed dormitory was off to a strong start. Then, in March 2020, the government closed schools nationwide to slow the spread of COVID-19. From April through July the dormitory stood empty. And yet the dormitory fared better than many projects. In September, when the government recalled university students, the dormitory was back to full capacity. Other projects — particularly retail centers and those related to tourism — have yet to fully recover.

The Future of Mission Real Estate Development

Three findings from the MRED retrospective and COVID-19 have influenced Trinity’s future strategy.

First, the retrospective reinforced the benefits of supporting a broad range of projects and programs — everything from community centers to health clinics — in countries worldwide. Diversity in project type and geography helps ensure that some projects will continue to thrive even in the face of unprecedented threats — like COVID-19. This enables the Trinity team to provide increased support to the projects that need it most.

Second, several real estate projects are like the Diocese of Swaziland’s in that they produce a “double bottom line”: they generate income, and they also have a positive impact on their communities. Dioceses want to understand and measure the social impacts of their projects. For example, how many women staying in the Diocese of Swaziland’s dormitory feel safe and supported? How many successfully graduated? Asking and answering such questions helps Trinity understand the full impact of our grantmaking, and supports stronger developments and communities.

Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya

Finally, the retrospective reinforced the value of peer learning and collaboration. With support from Trinity, leaders throughout the Anglican Communion — including Bishop Ellinah — developed workshops to help other dioceses staff and manage their projects. While COVID-19 has underscored the importance of digital resources for learning, it has also highlighted how peer networks can promote more resilient projects and dioceses.

The dormitory is back to full operation. However, Bishop Ellinah recently passed away from COVID-19. She was the first woman to be consecrated an Anglican bishop in Africa. While she can never be replaced, her vision lives on: The diocese notes that they “hope to create a family of strong young women who will be empowered by the bishop’s teachings and leadership.” They also recently announced their intention to build a second women’s dormitory in her honor.

The Rev. James Clark III is Managing Director, Mission Real Estate Development, and Kate Mulloy is Director, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning, both within the Grants and Mission Investing team of Trinity Church Wall Street.