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Tribute to Mark Bennett

February 12, 2015 - 17:20 -- Ingeborg van Schayk

Mark Bennett passed away on 10 February 2015. Mark stood at the cradle of MalariaWorld. He will be missed and remembered.

Read below a tribute to Mark written by Julia Royall. Julia used to be the Director of the communications network of MIM (MIMCom) when she was the Chief, International Programs at NLM/NIH. Mark was appointed as Technical Director of MIMCom and helped 19 malaria research instutes in Africa to get (improved) access to the internet. His efforts have been invaluable to achieving free access to scientific information on malaria for all in need.


I first met Mark in 1991, during the early days of the Internet in Africa.  Mark was Director of the Computer Center at the University of Zambia in Lusaka.  In 1985, he had seen an ad in a London newspaper and moved his wife Jan, daughter Rachel, and newborn Caty from England to Zambia.

In the early 90s, the Internet was still in its infancy in the US, and the new digital world that would be created from social networking, social media, and the cell phone was waiting to be discovered.  Even in the rudimentary environment at that time, Mark saw potential beyond the obvious business in hardware and software.  As he worked on local access for students at the medical library and other central sites, he was downloading messages from a small low earth orbit satellite that passed over twice a day. His campus network ZamNet was one of the first Internet service providers on the African continent. 

By 1997, he had set up his firm AfriConnect in the UK, and in 1998 I recruited Mark to work as technical director for MIMCom – Multilateral Initiative on Malaria Communications Network – at the U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health.  He was the best (and probably the only) person for the job - highly skilled in doing everything with nothing, familiar with the challenges and opportunities of the African landscape, incredibly practical, a “we’ll work with what’s there” attitude, and an unforgettable sense of humor. 

Gradually, access to the Internet and access to medical literature – high on the list of African scientists - was achieved at malaria research centers in cities as well as remote areas in 15 countries across the continent.  These African researchers were not just equipped technically; they could now join and participate in the international scientific community.

By the end of his life, having sold AfriConnect Zambia to the Internet giant Vodafone in 2012, Mark could now invest his substantial funds from that sale in his creative and visionary venture iSchool:  www.ischool.zm.

Last year, Mark and I were discussing by email an article about the Millennium Development Goal of universal education.  In contrasting the other development goals with education, he maintained, “Education is very different. There is no universal panacea. Each child needs to learn (at least initially) in their own language (of which there are tens of thousands!) and in the context of their own culture. You cannot internationalise that. So concepts like throwing the Internet at the problem, which seems to be one of the key things being proposed, may actually make very little difference. You need to change the way that teaching is done, as well as localise it.  But we are trying to make our small contribution”. See video's below.

These days, you can go quickly to Linked In and find out about Mark’s many accomplishments over 30 years of work in Africa. Read Mark Bennetts profile here. What you will not find is what he was too modest to note: that in most phases of his life, he was a pioneer.  He liked to call himself a “serial entrepreneur.”

But his legacy is also people:

My daughter who worked for Mark in the early days of iSchool wrote to Mark’s daughters, “I've spent most of today thinking about your dad and the great impression he made on my life. I feel like I'm a beneficiary of his management, guidance, humor, and faith in me. He taught me so much - in addition to business and development in Africa, he taught me to be more generous: there is always time to listen to those who have something to say, there is always some change to give someone who seeks medicine (or even a sweet). And his strong faith in my capabilities taught me early on that I have the potential to accomplish whatever I set my mind to.”

Mark's deep experience, thoroughness and 24-7 devotion were legendary.  He was also a generous person who was a patient mentor, a hospitable host. 

He played a critical and formidable role in the early, early days of development of the Internet infrastructure in Africa.  He saw that education was a need that could build on that infrastructure - and iSchool holds so much promise for so many.

Julia Royall
Global Health Information Specialist
Washington, DC and Boston
(retired) Chief, International Programs, U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health

Comments

Submitted by Peter Okechukwu on

I am challenged to talk to myself and others after reading the above tribute.
Mark Bennett, indeed lived a well spent life. A life that was not centered on self, but on a dogged pursuit to change the lot of generations for the best. Indeed, he answered God's call into a selfless service.
Great lessons indeed are his lifestyle if we look at today's increasing lifestyle of greed, pride, ungodly pleasure, cheap ego and intimidating selfishness; that have hindered most professionals from seeing their services as a call from God to meet the needs of the masses.
Surely, people like Mark Bennett will stand to condemn us on the day of judgement if we choose not to abandon self and live for others now. "We'll remember Mark. He was a 'giver'; not a 'taker'. He believed in helping people without expecting anything in return. And... that made him happy. I guess a lesson worth noting" (Ingeborg van Schayk, 2015).
I can feel his passion, and I am being driven by that to say that:
1. Every man and woman was created by God to fulfill a divine purpose that is very unique and vital to the programme of God for mankind. Whatever we render as services today becomes very effective and enjoyable as we appreciate God as the source of our wisdom, strength, protection, and all it takes to render such services (Jeremiah 10:23). Though we don’t often seek for a detailed direction before entering into most lucrative vocations, but God who has always looked for a vessel to use in that capacity has always made a way for us to succeed in such vocations so as to use our devotion to meet the needs of others and be richly blessed by Him in return.
2. It is worthy of note that every vocation in life that meets the legitimate need of God’s creation is a calling. Hence, God’s call is an invitation to serve God by meeting the needs of our generation; through the services He renders to His creation, using us as physical instruments by the quickening power of His amazing grace and indwelling gifts. This grace of God has appeared to all men despite their religious background, tribe, location and status (Titus 2:11-13). These gifts of God are without repentance and are irrevocable (Romans 11:29).
3. It is because of this God’s call into a life of selfless service; that divine power, wisdom, favour, mercy, protection, etc; avail for the faithful. It may not always be easy; but, it becomes enjoyable when our willful submission to God and His thrilling presence, bids us to continue in such demanding services as an act of love to Him and His creation.
4. Except individuals begin to use their vocations as an avenue of serving God as they attend to the needs of God’s creation, a lot of legitimate needs of mankind, animals and plants will remain unattended to. All that we have in this life, like knowledge through training and backup certificates, position of responsibility, human connections, material wealth, natural strength and wisdom, etc; that qualify us for one service or the other, are all pointers of God’s call at that point in time.
5. However, man’s lack of true maturity despite all that make us to feel great; have hindered man from accepting the eternal truth of being called by God to meet our individual needs while trying to attend to our collective needs here. This wanton ignorance, through a life of selfishness which many have kept on covering up, has kept many in ignorance of the call of God upon their lives. This is why the issue of God’s calling is still not clear to many, even when this is not supposed to be confusing. Many needs of mankind that have remained unattended to, with resultant disarrays in the society today; couldn’t have been embarrassing us, if only most people have grown up into their callings wherein they will meet these needs.
6. Sequel to this lack of understanding of what God’s definite call upon our individual lives is, the sad consequences of lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6) have not only made many to be watching problems they have been called to solve; but, have denied most people the rewards of a satisfactory answer to God’s call (Isaiah 1:19, 20; Job 36:11, 12). Through this, the favour and mercy of God has not increased in most lives even when we ought to be living in the reality of the later glory of God’s visitation (Haggai 2:6-9).
7. Since most people have refused to mature into the fulfillment of God’s call, their spiritual lives have kept on towing the path of the things that minister temporal joy to their soul and the flesh; without any true personal testimony of spiritual growth. This is why most people have entered into adulthood without any convincing spirituality. Wherein, in their pursuit of materialism, they carry very heavy load of selfish pursuits in their desire for fame and comfort; and become adult crawlers who can never measure up with God’s call upon their lives. In their fame, the world celebrates them as great men and women; but before God, they missed their calling.
8. Maturity and spirituality ought to be signs of true adulthood. However, many adults have not truly grown up: only their ‘toys’ (wants and possessions) have changed with a resultant effect on their physical appearance, thoughts/reasoning, age, status, etc.
Maturity and spirituality are the only things God uses to make life worthwhile. A child can’t truly evaluate life and get the best out of it. He/she is still yet to mature. An adult is expected to have discovered oneself and become the best God can mould one into – that is maturity and spirituality (Hebrews 5:11-14).
9. It is not the things you have, but the kind of person you are that makes life worthwhile. And being the right kind of person God wants is a product of your calling.
You can have all the toys the world is ready to offer to you without getting the best from life. Hence, in our pursuit of materialism, let’s be wise and mature into positively spiritual adults in order to get the best from our sojourn here. The call of God is therefore for all, but into different vocations and in varied capacities.
Mark Bennett has left his godly footprints for all who want to truly serve God by serving their generation to follow. May we be wise to make good choices now, so that posterity will praise God later on our behalf.
May all that this beloved labourer has left behind as friends and relations, bear this loss with fortitude. May we trust God that he has left to eternally benefit from his past labours.
I intend speaking to us more from the life and times of Mark Bennett, and herein leave my contact email address: preciousokee1@yahoo.com & ebeleokee@gmail.com; Tel. +23463561247.
Thanks.
Okechukwu Peter Okee, CMLS, NAUTH Nnewi, Nigeria.