Fortunately, due to the endless flow of information via the Internet and the ease of travel, the world is becoming more and more aware of the long-term destructive effects of handouts and traditional aid programs. Aid agencies and humanitarians have begun to embrace the concept of “teaching a man to fish”, rather than giving him one. This is certainly a step in the right direction.
But when it comes to teaching methodologies, the debate continues. Traditional education hasn’t work well for America. It’s done more to condition society to conform to the status quo (at all costs), consume excessively, value money over relationships and collect achievements as if they are “life points” in some international personal value contest. I don’t believe this is something worthy of replication.
But I see program after program here in Africa that are founded from the same broken systems. People seem to forget that the problems we’re dealing with today are a result of the systems we used yesterday. Seems elementary, but it’s epidemically overlooked.
People have often asked me what my grand goal for development is for Africa. “What exactly are you trying to do?”
I have no desire to turn Africa into another America. I want to inspire people and liberate their minds so they think differently and gain a broader perspective. Ultimately, I want to foster creativity, uniqueness, soul and art. People need to understand that they do have a choice in how they experience life. When someone has the tools to think and accepts the responsibility of choice, they have the power to deliberately create their reality. My purpose is to help them discover this power within themselves.
The best leaders are not those that demand obedience, but those that inspire and lead by example. Galileo said, “You cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him to find it within himself”.
We do not want to churn out more factory workers in Africa. What a waste. America did that before and is now backtracking. Let’s learn from that. We should be fostering creativity, uniqueness and art. We need to teach people how to think, dream and discover. If we do it well, they won’t need us to do it anymore.
Africa is a beautiful place, with so much deep history and soul. I pray we don’t strip-mine that beauty out of her in the name of “development”. We can do better than that. We have the technology and the knowhow.
And most importantly, the aid community has to embrace and value the power of teaching people to think differently and inspiring them to “find it within themselves”. That takes a lot more dedication, listening and patience, and a lot less money.
And yes, I realize this concept doesn’t work within the current structure of the immediate, tangible results based Aid Industry that relies on billions of donor dollars per year. Perhaps it’s time for a new plan altogether.
And this time, let’s call it a project. Because a project actually has an end to it.