What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say

by oneafrikan on June 4, 2009

Since my days of doing grass diversity research in the communal grazing lands adjacent to the Kruger National Park, I’ve always felt that the world needs top down impetus and proactiveness, but bottom up implementation. So in short, help from the wealthier people at the top, with the doing being done by people on the ground who understand the real issues the community they’re working in face.

Imagine a big truck pulling up and dropping your choice of aid (food, clothing, computers, seeds) to “help”, and the ensuing chaos and strife that would create. Now imagine the local people working with other local people, to grow and sell/barter food in local markets, make clothing, teach people how to use computers, show people who have lost their forefathers knowledge how to plant crops and manage water again… Which of those scenarios has a better longer term, sustainable, future?

So where am I going with this? Why the dramatic title?

Well, today I spent lunch today at the Commonwealth Club close to Embankment Station, with the team from the Ubuntu Education Fund, and a bunch of South Africans living in London, and I’ve come away more inspired and pleasantly surprised than I have ever before, after meeting NGO type people. I’m no NGO guru, so my experience is limited, but I’ve seen and heard enough to know that a lot of aid to the developing world is poorly conceived, misplaced and badly executed.

The people involved just seem to have the ingredients right, and after 10 years of doing this quietly in their own community of Port Elizabeth, they’ve got some impressive stats to show for it, as well as a community that has bought into what they’re doing, and is working with them to improve their lives. It’s awesome to see, and awesome to hear of how they’re being innovative and resourceful to solve problems that seem insurmountable.

They are a true startup success story, except they’re changing people’s lives fundamentally, which in many ways is truly, truly noble.

So in few words, they didn’t need to say much, what they are doing, on the ground, says enough. Hats off. I’ve been looking for an organisation that I could help out in some way, for a long long time, and I’ve always come up short of what I wanted on their side. Now I’ve found it. No need to re-invent the wheel, only to replicate and deploy in time.

;-)

~~~

As an aside, this is what I’ve been thinking the last hour:

  1. get to PE, watch, learn and understand what they do on the ground. Based on that:
  2. make a 1 or 2 week long secondment for everyone in my team, strongly encouraged, every year
  3. mentor a few school leavers to help them get ready for the big wide world
  4. employ the relevant youngsters coming out of university that have the right attitude
  5. grow those youngsters into leaders in their own rights, over a 5 year period, then send them off into the world to be successful for themselves
  6. put % of profit aside, to donate to the fund

All thoughts now, but I’m amped – gonna do this ;-)

2 comments

South Africans and Port Elizabethans especially have an incredible feeling of ‘oneness’ and empathy for their fellow human beings that is aptly described by the word ‘UBUNTU’.

Thanks for taking the time to highlight this fact, Gareth.

by Alan on June 5, 2009 at 7:34 am. Reply #

Good post – totally agree with you. I’m so glad we’re finally making the move from charity to empowerment…

I’ve been getting involved with a great NGO here in the US called One Million Lights (www.onemillionlights.org). They distribute solar-powered lights to rural places to aid school children to complete their studies. We’ve just sent some trial lights to Mozambique, the first African country we’re getting into. Excited to see where that goes.

Keep it up!

by Rian on June 6, 2009 at 7:09 pm. Reply #

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