Sunday, April 17, 2011

3rd Quarterly Report

In Thailand!!! LOVING IT.

More to come but for now here is the quarterly report

I cant quite believe this this the 3rd quarterly report!

First a disclaimer, there is no such thing as a silver bullet and quick, wide reaching results is a contradition. This year has become a sort of holy grail hunt for the best type of intervention and what a person needs to do to create such an intervention. I have talked to more people and seen more interventions than I can count and I think I am getting close to finding my own WWSD (What Would Skye Do). Rather than a cut and dry list of steps mine is looking like a general buisiness approach that I believe offers me the most personal fulfillment as well as the greatest potential external impact.

Going in to this year I was all about public health work and the non-profit sector. Surprisingly (or perhaps for you at the Watson HQ unsurprisingly) things have changed. I find myself driven to a different, but definitely related, extreme. I have come to think that big nonprofit work is almost soul sucking; thought of even by many "in the system" as a stepping stone to something better and (usually) higher paying. Living grant to grant, pandering to big government aid orgs and constantly contending with money waste, bureaucracy, and corruption is not for me.

Seeing and hearing about the many problems in the system I initially kept thinking well just get out of the way and let me do it. That mindset, I realize after lots of talk and reflexction, is aking for burn out or worse feelings of resentment towards the beneficiaries I was claiming to help. I truly do believe it is essential to live life with a global consciousness and a desire to do good for others but a person can only live such a life if they have found something that is personally fullfilling. For me working in the big nonprofit sector is not the key. From this shift the logical next question is: what might work for me?

From the work I have seen and the people I have spoken to I think the balance between being selfish and only giving comes in the form of business. I have been raised to value an entrepreneurial spirit and have seen how wonderfully rewarding it can be when a person finds success in something they created.

In my travels the best intervention stories and the seemingly happiest people have been those running businesses integrated with the place and culture they live in. Business with a social conscience. A mountain lodge in Peru that was buying and employing locally, supporting the local school, educating on good eating habits and building a community center; an Organic farm in Tanzania improving the land and teaching organic growing techniques to those interested; a cultural center cum restaurant in Morocco buying and employing locally while promoting local bands and supporting local events like artisans crafts fair; and a "Flower Power" cafe that offered a space for kids and families to interact with nature and attend community building events... these are only a few of the many.

This integrated business/intervention concept really struck home after being in Morocco and seeing what high unemployment has done to the newly educated youth. The protesting of "dissatisfied (ie. unemployed) youth"and the multitudes of men passing time in cafes during the work day rather than in offices. Giving these people a chance to contribute a salary to the family and use their newly acquired skills is a incredible way to elevate a persons sense of self worth, something I have seen lacking in the poorest in every country I have been in. In the words of a Guatamalan social worker I spoke to "what the poor in Guatamala need more than anything is self love (amor de sí mismo) and a feeling of value (sentido de valor)." Motivating people by giving them the chance to earn and take ownership over their well being is such an essential ingredient to finding success in development work. Giving handouts is not a solution.

As important, the people who started these businesses/social enterprises are happy! Perhaps frustrated at times by the same issues that plague NGO work but they are building something that is theirs; they are dealing with the struggles because they want their business to succeed and yes make them money. People I talked to offering consulting advice in Tanzania were in a position where they had to walk away when they came up against the corruption in the system that prevented the organization paying them from listening to their advice. While no one wants to to accept defeat or walk away, the Aid system is designed so that often people have no choice.

People working in their businesses have an autonomy that really appeals to me (that “let me do it myself mentality”). Those I spoke to did not have to walk away, the breaking point for euntrepreneurs is naturally much higher. Yes they complained and hollered and spent money trying to deal with the issues but they did not back down. If they failed, their buisinesses failed their stakes are higher and their motivation to succed is naturally stronger. I like the idea that rather than being a cog in a wheel I can own the wheel.

The added benefit of these intergrated businesses is that people who start them are investing in the long haul. It takes time to make a buisiness work meaning these individuals have time to really get to know the culutral and social realities of the place in which they are working. When the buisiness begins to turn a profit and it comes time to try and improve the quality of life in the town, they have become locals with an important presence and understand the needs and realities of the place in which they live. They additionally have a very personal stake in social improvement. Who could be better equipped to make change in such a location?

This is close to what I see as my holy grail solution but it has the downside of being on such a small scale. Spending time thinking about to scale up and make this something that can be bigger than one buisiness in one small town is challenging. No answer as of yet.

More than anything I realize development is not a one solution for all system it is riddled with unintened consequence and complications. This is just something I see the greatest value in and find most in line with my personal mindset. A first step to maybe thinkin of something bigger.

I hope all is well in America and can’t wait to meet/thank/see you all soon!