From the Blog

Posted by brianrants at 4:28 pm

Pastor Eric Musee

A time has come for a paradigm shift. We have seen the mzungu, the white skin, and Africans put out their hands. It is time to think differently, to renew the mind.

Poverty is not a permanent situation. Once someone realizes that, they start creating strategies for walking out of poverty.

Those who work with the poor are not transformers. We are agents of transformation who help those in poverty to create their own strategies and transform their lives and community.

This paradigm shift alone can create sustainable transformation.

- Pastor Eric Musee of Go Ye Africa

Imagine: a single mother brings in her two kids. After the service she’s gone, and her kids are still there. The police ask the church to keep the kids while they look for the mother…who never turns up. This is how REHEMA Daycare and School started, and they’ve provided education to over 600 children!

When I visited Kenya in February I recorded a long interview with Erastus, the founder of REHEMA. Here is a quick clip about those 2 kids.

In international development are we in danger of objectifying the poor? Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of Acumen Fund seems to think so in this absolute must read article.

PND: Much of Acumen’s work and investments around the world are focused on poverty alleviation. Traditionally, that’s been the purview of international aid programs and large NGOs. You’ve been fairly outspoken in your criticism of such approaches. What don’t traditional aid experts get about poverty?

Jacqueline Novogratz: I guess I'd say that too often they see the poor as objects rather than as human beings who want to make their own decisions and control their own destinies. They’re not great at understanding the situation on the ground from the perspective of the poor and then coming up with solutions that allow people to be active participants in improving their own lives.

via PND – Newsmakers — Jacqueline Novogratz, Founder and CEO, Acumen Fund.

In our own society we struggle with “save for it” versus “borrow it.” This debate becomes much more precarious for the poor. Many Micro-Finance Institutions (MFI’s) are looking at adding and even integrating savings to their lending services.

It will take more than good intentions and a recognition that the poor want places to deposit the money they squirrel away to make microsavings work. Part of the problem with trying to mobilise deposits from poor people is simple economics. It is hard to make a profit from customers who make lots of tiny deposits without massively trimming transaction costs.

…Saving…is often “what didn’t happen”—the accumulation of decisions not to consume. Consumption, by contrast, is an active decision to buy something. One product he is testing in India involves collaborating with banking agents to sell “savings cards” in shops, so that saving becomes an active purchase and can compete with other impulse buys.

via Savings and the poor: A better mattress | The Economist.

We had these challenges too

Recently a friend asked about African culture, and specifically our Kenyan Social Entrepreneurs: “does their laid back attitude actually contribute to their poverty?” Now I know this friend well enough to know he was genuinely asking, not trying to pass judgment. In answer to this question, I present to you: a washing machine.

When I see that pile growing in my laundry basket I feel a dread come over me. I will have to budget time to address the burgeoning pile or risk wearing gym shorts as my underpants (not that I’ve ever done that).

I will have to throw the clothes in the washer, be around an hour later to move them to the dryer, and…the part I always screw up…remember to take them out of the dryer before they are a wrinkled mess (sorry honey). Oh ya…and folding. So, all in all about 30-45 minutes of work spread out over a 3 hour period.

Now let’s contrast this process with the work of a prototypical Kenyan social entrepreneur named Joy:

  • Water: the more fortunate might have indoor plumbing which works 3 or 4 days out of the week. The less fortunate go to a community filling center, and can only purchase what they can carry (this is almost certainly a woman doing this work)
  • Bucket or tub: pour the water in the tub
  • Soap: If you’ve ever washed your clothes camping, you know hand washing isn’t glorious. There’s no hand-friendly organic soaps available, and you certainly can’t afford the luxury of gloves
  • Hands: It strips your hands of oils, and getting out those tough spots requires more than a little elbow grease
  • Drying & Folding: Drying is done on outdoor lines, which leaves clothes stiff…not to mention the rain conspires to set back the drying process several days

All in all, I have to guesstimate, a 6-8 hour process spread over 3 days. “Ok,” you say, “they have a harder time washing their clothes.” But this isn’t an isolated incident, this is every basic task of living

  • Without online or telephone banking, going into town to check your bank balance could take 2-4 hours
  • Getting to the market for food could be a 30 minute to 2 hour walk
  • Preparing food over a charcoal fire, with most elements starting from “scratch” could take 1-2 hours
  • If a child gets sick, and you can’t afford health care, everything else could go on hold for days

Now imagine you are trying to run a social venture with the rest of the time you have left? If you are trying to be productive and task-oriented, how long would you last? Is being strictly task-oriented unquestionably a good thing, even in our culture? The fact is, the utter lack of what we would consider “basic infrastructure” conspires to complicate every basic task.

Every time you throw some clothes in a rinse cycle, remember the cycle of poverty and ask yourself how you can responsibly intervene.