When we operated in Rwanda, people were chomping at the bit to come and work with us. Why? Rwanda has been a hotbed for conflict (in the past). It’s right next to the DRC, another hot zone. These places are sexy to budding activists. Those that work in these areas are regarded as better, more caring human beings; revolutionaries.
To be a good humanitarian you must sacrifice, suffer and live in a conflict zone.
Or, you could dig a little deeper.
Over the past six years of living in East Africa, I’ve learned that more than anything, Africa wants more business, not more aid. I’ve also learned that attempting to build solid businesses with the poorest of the poor in the middle of a conflict zone is not the most logical path to business development.
Starting with entrepreneurs with the skills, determination and experience to lead thriving businesses has proven to be a much more successful method. As their businesses grow, their “success” tends to trickle down to the poorest of the poor, offering more jobs and infrastructure along the way.
Furthermore, finding these entrepreneurs in the midst of conflict areas is nearly impossible. These people are struggling just to survive, and there’s no infrastructure or resources to support them. Their businesses are sabotaged daily by all sorts of outside forces.
A few years ago we decided to move to Mombasa, Kenya; not necessarily known for conflict. It’s a tourist beach town on the Indian Ocean. It’s beautiful and magical and thousands of tourists flock here annually.
It’s also ripe for business development. The business conditions are far from ideal, but compared to some of the hot zones I’ve lived in, it’s pretty optimal. When we develop a business here, it really has the opportunity to thrive and impact larger communities for the long haul.
But guess what? Many former supporters have turned their attention elsewhere. Interns are not as attracted to our work because life here doesn’t seem sacrificial enough. Nevermind the potential for impact.
When you say you live and work in Africa, people expect you should be dodging hand grenades in order to be effective. Not so. There’s a time and place for that, but it’s not very conducive for business development.
Africa wants business. Business makes the world turn, like it or not. The western/developed world isn’t perfect. But there are a lot fewer people dying of starvation and disease there. And the developed world wasn’t built on aid; it was built on solid businesses.
If you wanted to assemble a football team that would raise up a nation, you’d find the best players in the best area and go for it. Or you could pick the least qualified players in an area with insurmountable obstacles. Doing this may earn you lots of praise, but it’s not likely to produce the desired results.
If the nation is depending on this team, why not put your best foot forward…for the country?
It’s not as likely to earn you accolades, but it might be more impacting. I guess at that point you just have to question your true motivation; impact or accolades?