Waiting for the Food Trucks

Waiting for the Food Trucks

This post was heavily inspired by this article. We quote it significantly here and wanted to provide some dialog and feedback for you, our tribe.

The goal of foreign aid in the 1950s was to instigate economic development. It wasn’t to save lives after a humanitarian crisis or find cures for disease.

There have been changes of course, and quite remarkable ones. We’ve seen third world countries become second world—Morocco, Botswana, Chile, South Africa, and Indonesia to name a few—at least in terms of big data statistics like GDP per capita.

Yet, aid has resulted in remarkably few significant shifts in economic growth and poverty reduction. The truth is much of aid’s promise has come up empty.

It’s estimated that over 75% of Zimbabweans live in poverty (under $2/day). And those aren’t even the official stats. It could be far more dire.

Now this next one may be a tough quote for us Zimbabweans to swallow, but please hear my heart on this one—I’m not making a colonial case here, my hope is to draw your attention inward. To look at your own heart, your own character.

British development economist Peter Bauer wrote in 1974. "What holds back many poor countries is the people who live there, including their governments. A society which cannot develop without external gifts is altogether unlikely to do so with them.”

As much as we hate to admit this, it’s true. I see this many times as an entrepreneur. When I hire someone who is looking to me to tell them what to do, it’s all wrong from the beginning. There’s no initiative.

And if we are constantly standing with our hand out waiting for someone to bring a bag of rice, or tell me what to do with my life, or tell me if I should get remarried again, then we’ve missed the plot.

It starts within. It starts in our homes. It starts in our companies. Do we see a problem in our neighborhood and solve it?

The guys who are patching the roads with bricks—they are some of my favorite people. Because they see a problem and attack it head on. They should be commended! You should rally your neighbors around this person and employ them to do the full road rebuild in your neighborhood.

Aid has become an industry. We know that. But industries only exist because there are mindsets and markets that allow them to.

We’re still waiting for the rice truck to show up.

We’re kicking off a new project in a slum nearby Harare. The people there have nothing, not even a functional toilet. Yet on the road to the high-density area, there is building after building built by international NGOs and governments.

The best infrastructure with the wrong mindset doesn’t solve problems. It’s just a distraction from the heart of the issue.

Now, I’m all for rice trucks. We fund them, we do them, we feed people regularly through our non-profit work. I think that’s something that all companies, churches, and communities should do.

But when you start profiting from these problems, then that’s when the lines get hairy.

This struck a chord with me. See if this quote from the article rings true to you.

"There are now thousands of ongoing projects that amount to band-aid solutions where the results of ‘our' interventions disappear almost immediately after the departure of our ‘expert' teams in their Land Cruisers:

  • new water wells dug in villages where previous donor-built wells have failed
  • countless capacity-building workshops attended by poor people who are often motivated by the 'sitting allowance'—a cash gift
  • tools given out to farmers who then sell them
  • projects that attempt to convert sex workers into sellers of samosas on the streets of Addis Ababa without realizing that the money they make in the sex trade is far greater than anything else they can do
  • microfinance projects in South Sudan where the economy is so bad that there is no money for anyone to buy what a 'micro-entrepreneur' might have to sell.

There are more ineffective projects like these than ever, all presented as world-changing in the aid agencies’ marketing campaigns."

Now for the politics. :)

I have been asked many times what I think now that Trump is in office, in terms of his policies toward Africa. This sums it up:

"If aid is cut—even for the wrong reasons—to those nations where the evidence of its ineffectiveness goes back decades (almost half of the 48 countries on the UN’s Least Developed Countries list have been on it since the list began in 1971, e.g., Haiti, Malawi, Guinea, Benin, Niger, and others), there is a good chance that at least some of these countries will have a real incentive to take charge of their own future.”

The problem is within. You don’t have to solve a big problem, but if you’re using your life and career in a useful way to your society, then you’re on the right track.

(photo via un—had to use a UN photo!)