About Practical Small Projects
In The States
Mary Bliss - Executive Director
Mary Graham Bliss is the founder and Executive Director of Practical Small Projects, a 501 (c) (3) organization that creates new health, education, and income-generating opportunities in West Africa through the provision of potable water systems, health care centers, schools, and solar energy. She is also a co-founder of Afriq Power, Africa’s first business to assemble solar panels manually. As featured in Wired magazine, Afriq Power is a sustainable, successful local business in Mali, West Africa.
Bliss is a Fulbright Scholar and a certified mediator with conflict resolution training. As Executive Director of Practical Small Projects, she has been a featured speaker at the World Bank, Millennium Challenge Corporation and various international conferences. Most recently, she has served as a Foreign Service Officer with USAID and was selected by the State Department in 2014 to be featured in the “I Am A Diplomat” exhibit at the U.S. Diplomacy Center. The Center is a museum and will “tell the largely unknown story of U.S. diplomacy.” She was honored to be the only USAID Officer selected.
Bliss has lived and worked over 7 of the last 15 years in a variety of countries including Singapore, China, Mali, Spain, England, France, Haiti, Jamaica, and Nicaragua. Her technical focus and practical experience is in West Africa and international development, business development services, gender mainstreaming and conflict resolution and mediation. She has professional experience in nonprofit management, teaching, program evaluation and assessment of sustainable development projects and practical expertise in micro-enterprise development in Mali.
Bliss holds an MA from Monterey Institute of International Studies, a graduate school of Middlebury College, and a BA in Spanish from Bucknell University. She also holds a TESOL certificate from St. George International in London. She speaks advanced Spanish and French and studied Mandarin Chinese in Shanghai. She was married to award winning singer/songwriter and humanitarian, Evan Bliss, who passed away in 2012.
Bliss is trained in Praying Mantis martial arts and is an avid classical pianist, hiker and snowboarder.
Karen Heston - Director of Communications
Karen Heston is the Director of Communications for Practical Small Projects, a 501 (c) (3) organization that creates new heath, education, and income-generating opportunities in West Africa though the provision of potable water systems, health care centers, schools, and solar energy. Her focus is on creating and disseminating media that ensures that PSP projects are well represented not only to donors, but also in local and national press outlets. Her main showcase of this is the PSP website. Karen and a team of web developers revamped the site to achieve the following goals: increased transparency for the organization; streamline communications with potential donors; and update it with engaging media including video, photo, and social media.
Karen has an extensive background in media and the communication arts, studying photography at Savannah College and Design, she holds a BFA from New York University from the Tisch School of the Arts in Film and Television, and an MFA from the School of Visual Arts in Computer Art. Professionally, she has overseen commercial spots from inception to completion. For the past ten years she has been working with Fortune 500 clients including: ExxonMobil, GE, Pepsi, AT&T, McDonald’s, Macy’s, Cadillac, and Visa; and such beauty clients as: L’Oreal and Maybelline. She has also worked on various feature films including Author Christmas, Green Lantern, OZ the Great and Powerful, Smurfs 2, and Spike Lee's Old Boy. She is the creator of her own visual effects company that encompasses this strong background called Siren Lab, (www.sirenlab.com) positioned in Venice, CA. This background has allowed her to create media that succinctly captures PSP’s value proposition and communicates it to a wide audience in a thoughtful way.
As Director of Communications, Karen has been to Mali on over five different visits, documenting the work of PSP and overseeing the completion of various humanitarian projects and installations.
She is also the founder of Generate.Change (www.generatechange.tv), where she partners with advertising professionals to create engaging content that increases awareness for social and humanitarian causes. Most recently Generate.Change created web and video content to showcase the work of PSP on the ground in Mali, West Africa. Specifically this content highlights the grant from the Addax Petroleum Foundation of Switzerland in which PSP’s work was greatly appreciated in the village of Diban; as seen in the documented in-progress video of children smiling and playing with PSP, and village workers completing the various projects.
After living in New York City for 12 years, she now resides near the beach in Venice, CA. In her spare time she enjoys snowboarding, surfing, hiking, biking, painting and making children’s book illustrations with her fiancé David Peck.
Heather Bessette - Intern
After graduating from Middlebury College with a BA in French with high honors, Heather spent over two years working in France promoting education and sustainability in Paris and the rural south. Currently, Heather is pursuing a Dual Degree- a Masters of Business Administration and a Masters in International Environmental Policy- at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.
Heather specializes in Business, Sustainability and Development with a focus on West Africa. Heather actively promotes sustainability at the Monterey Institute as a team leader of the Student Sustainability Council where she is helping the Institute Achieve Carbon Neutrality by 2020. Heather is proud to work with Practical Small Projects bringing solar energy and sustainability to the people of Mali, Africa.
Loriana Dembélé - Italian consolate to Mali, founder of NGO Ji Duma
Loriana is the president and founder of the non-governmental organization Ji Duma. Ji Duma has been working in Mali for 20 years, bringing over 150 wells to Malian villages. She has an impeccable reputation, due to her extensive experience in Mali and understanding of it's culture. Of all the development projects she has been involved in, none have EVER failed. Collaborating with a woman who has such a depth of local knowledge ensures the success of Practical Small Projects' endeavors.
Daniel Dembélé - co-founder / manager of Afriq Power
Daniel Dembélé was raised and currently lives in Mali near his mother, Loriana Dembélé. Daniel grew up learning about NGO’s by following the projects of his mother and the work implemented by Ji Duma. He was surrounded by a multi-cultural environment, his mother often housing investors and foreign government workers to oversee the humanitarian projects implemented by Ji Duma. Dembélé is fluent in French, Italian, English, Spanish and the local language of Bambara.
Daniel has an abiding interest in development work. He is the co-founder and Director of Afriq Power, which currently employs 7 local Malians. Afriq Power has found innovative ways to fabricate solar panels and develop new products for the ever-changing local industry. Practical Small Projects purchases solar technology from Afriq-Power, which also does the various installations. Having a local company with solar expertise reduces the risk of the solar panels being rendered unusable when something goes wrong, a not uncommon situation with many solar panels that are scattered over Africa.
Daniel’s excellent reputation and work ethic has also led him to provide consultation work for many NGO’s that wish to operate in Mali and throughout Africa. Currently he is working for Barefoot Power and spends a week a month abroad in various countries in Africa (e.g., Mauritania, Ethiopia, and Malawi) training local technicians on how to maintain and operate various solar technology installations.