Giving to a charity feels good. If you were raised in America or the UK, you’re likely very comfortable and familiar with giving to various causes. It’s part of the fabric of modern developed society.
We know there is a need for charity work, especially in developing regions like Africa. We need emergency food, access to clean water, health care and better education, for sure. There is a time and a place for aid work, and I’m glad society gives so freely to support that work.
However, over the past few decades, aid organizations have gotten a little too comfortable. When I walk down the street in any East African capital, I see rows and rows of aid organizations, many of which have been there running the same programs for as many as 15 -20 years.
Donors are comfortable donating to them and the agencies are comfortable doing what they do. But is this really in line with what Africa wants and needs? Is this sustainable? If you ask any African on the street if they want more business or more charity, they will all tell you business. If you don’t believe that, I would challenge you to ask around, and truly listen.
People don’t feel comfortable fostering and supporting business development. It’s too involved. There’s a lot more evaluation and commitment needed, and most people just aren’t up for that level of involvement.
Could you imagine if America had more money coming in through aid than through business? Then why is it so easy to think that’s the way it should be for Africa? Why don’t we just focus on creating great products and great businesses in Africa?
Donors and aid agencies typically spend more time trying to keep their organizations running than they do fostering long term solutions (that are a lot more difficult to raise funds for).
Would you support an African entrepreneur that wants to start a micro enterprise like sewing or jewelry making? How about an African businesswoman that wants to start a restaurant? How about a fashion label that is creating jobs and a better image for Africa? How about a new cinema or coffee shop?
At what point in the above questioning did you completely lose interest? Why?
It’s easy to justify giving money to an organization that will help with a micro business, but it’s a lot more difficult to compel people to invest in real businesses that will ultimately serve Africa much more robustly for the long haul.
At some point, the developed world is going to have to let go of its financial dependence on the industry of aid and start fostering real businesses so Africa can rise up on her own.