Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!

I recently came across this TED talk video by seasoned and acclaimed AID protagonist, Ernesto Sirolli. He speaks to an ever more popular perspective on AID in developing countries, one also espoused by 16 year World Bank veteran, Bill Easterly.

The notion is this: after developed countries have spent ver 2.3 Trillion US$ on aid in developing countries of the last 50 years (of which over 1TUS$ was in Africa!), the impact has been minimal to those that the aid targets – the base of the pyramid demographic that lives on less than 3$ per day. Here’s a very informative video interview with Bill on why foreign AID fails to deliver.

The issue seems to be any one or more of corruption, bad stewardship, waste, excess and off course as Ernesto says, the lack of consultation with the targeted populations about what they think they need. In my travels across Eastern Africa in 2010/2011 while searching for a site for our Kudura sustainable development solution demonstration site, I came across a number of “white elephants” – projects that cost a fair penny yet were no longer functioning. At the time I remember asking local community members two questions:

  • who does this project belong too?
  • why is it no longer working?

The answers were consistent: the community hardly ever had a sense of ownership of the project and often the original donors were blamed for the project failure / comments like the following we common:

“the pump stopped working and no one came to fix it”

“we did not ask them for this…”

The issue seems this: given the problems of water quality, energy and poverty seem so well defined, as people living in developed countries, our tendency is to immediately jump to a “solution” within the context of what we know and experience. Often those solutions seems so simple that we cannot imagine they would be hard to implement and that the impact would be hugely positive. The reality, as we have experienced to some extent in Sidonge, is that without a clear, community felt problem that the community wishes to resolve, no amount of money thrown at the problem is going to result in much good. In fact, as Dambisa Moyo, Zambian-born economist and New York Times best-selling author of Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way For Africa puts it, AID has done far more bad than good to the people that it targets.

The Kudura sustainable development approach encapsulates this vision and thinking. In November we identified a young individual in Sidonge, Geoffrey Okumo (video interview with Geoffrey and photo gallery below), who saw an opportunity to start his own business at home providing hair cutting and phone charging services to the community. He had spent much of his post school years travelling to faraway cities like Mombasa to seek work and income. Being from the rural area, he struggled. In this opportunity he saw a way to create jobs and make money, while helping the community. No longer would they have to walk some 7 km’s to a town to charge their phones and get a haircut, meaning they could spend more time working their land and studying. After he approached us to assist him with a small loan (€100), he built his kiosk on our site and we provid him power at a monthly fee. He is now faithfully paying back his loan on terms we agreed and making some money for himself to boot.

This, we believe, is how AID resources should be deployed – help entrepreneurs like Geoffrey to help themselves. Check out the photos below.

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vivian vendeirinho

The Mulli Children's Family. Sustainable development at it's best. The Kudura as a triple-win sustainable development solution