If so much of “development” aid has failed (see previous blog entry), representing brilliant minds and billions of dollars spent on causes which often have done more harm than good, what can we do that will actually make the world a better place? And can one person really make a difference?
I’m here in Uganda again, where last summer I encounter several street kids that led to a series of soul-searching questions and valuable insights:
* Mistakes in Aid and Development (in Africa): Wanting to help, but making things worse
* Mistakes in Giving Aid and Development – Part 2
* Mistakes in Giving Aid and Development – Part 3: Rural Africa & Wireless…almost
Being in Uganda again prompts me to seriously ask: What can I do that will actually make a difference in the lives of these kids (and their community) who spend most of their days begging on the streets? Or more generally, how can I do something good in making the world a better place?
Here are five of my own ideas, general guiding principles for how to go about it – and I am very interested in yours.
1. First, we need to challenge the assumptions, labels, and filters we have come to view the world with.
Vasilis posted a great TED talk that helps with this: (Hans Rosling: No more boring data)
Another example of challenging stereotypes was offered in my previous blog entry.
Easterly shared how the traditional media often has incentives to reinforce the stereotype that all Africans are helpless and need us to come to their aid.
For example, from 1990-2005, the average annual percent of the African population affected by famine was in reality only 0.3%! Sometimes the media, NGOs, and people like me (who visit places like Masese) can influence those outside of Africa to think that all of Africa is filled with famine swept refugees hunted by child soldiers with HIV! 🙂
Viewed differently, Africa is one of the richest continents in the world.
So, even well-meaning compassion can lead to stereotypes that often hinder the ability of people to help themselves. To really help, we need to keep challenging the assumptions, labels, and filters we have come to view the world with.
2. Second, just for balance – avoid taking ourselves too seriously. By this, I mean that more resourcefulness and solutions come when we are more playful than remorse. **Reality check: we are not perfect, we are going to make mistakes, we can not do everything by ourselves all at once.
SaraJoy also offered some great perspective by posting a valuable video from Honda on why “failure” is OK and even good:
I’m thankfully at the point in my life that I don’t consider anything a failure. Whatever happens, I just find as much as I can to learn through it, come back from it that much stronger, and leave the rest in God’s hands.
3. Third, ask better questions! So much of our focus, feelings, and even what we are able to see or not see depends on the questions we are asking ourselves.
In this next video I captured William Easterly attempting to help us ask a better question than the one that so many of us ask: “What can we do?”
Really listen to what he says, as the distinctions he makes in what types of questions we ask is really useful.
4. Fourth, focus on your strengths and passions — notice what you are good at and/or love to do, and spend a majority of your time/energy there.
As you will notice when you speak with me, I am often trying to ask questions that help me to know what your strengths are – what are you good at, what are you passionate about? Then frequently I encourage you to do more of those things.
Extensive research done by the Gallup organization showed that the top people in each field (business, sports, education, entertainment, etc) all had one thing in common – they focused most of their time on what they were good at.
Part of the reason for this helping them reach the top is that so much of the quality of our lives is dependent on the emotion we are living in on a regular basis. By focusing on what you are good at, this helps give you the emotional juice to really excel.
5. Fifth, form strategic partnerships. After focusing on what your strengths are, then partner with people who are good at (and even excited about doing) other things you are not as good at, so that together you really can make a powerful team.
You don’t need all the resources or talent to start to do things that you are passionate about. You simply need to be resourceful in forming strategic partnerships that can help get you there. It is way more about how resourceful you are than how many resources you have.
Strategic partnerships are also extremely helpful with point #1 and #3 above, intentionally seeking perspectives which are different from your own, asking good questions and really listening to the responses.
There is so much power in synergy — realizing we can easily creating something better together than any of us could on our own. It is my opinion that most of what we see as competition with others is an illusion. Competition can help stimulate action, but cooperation on a team that really works is indescribably motivating and fulfilling.
For those in the ICT4D Course, you are now working on a question with a partner, where you are trying to find a solution/answer to it that is better than anyone has yet come up with. I hope you will find these thoughts and resources valuable.
I’m not just sharing these with you as “cute” ideas, I’m living it right at the moment — thankful for your part in helping me do that — and excited to report to you the results as they unfold, as well as hear about your experience in also doing so.
Now, again, I’d love to hear your ideas:
* Above are five ideas that I think help answer the question — “how can I make the world a better place?” What are yours ideas?
* Do you really believe you can make the world a better place?
* What are some of your initial ideas regarding what your unique contribution will be?
* Specifically what talents/strengths/skills/ideas can you share which will help those in the world who have the least?