Why we cannot eradicate poverty. But they can.
What better day than this one the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, to prod the elephant in the poverty room by suggesting that it’s not our job to eradicate poverty? It’s theirs.
Entitlement may be a better word: we’re not entitled to eradicate their poverty. At least not on our own, not unless we do it in a real and committed partnership with the affected communities.
Local solutions last. But the brutal reality is that those local solutions take longer, cost more, and offer back much less fundable-outputs (though, the transformation does last long after the NGO has left – because it’s locally rooted).
Victor Mughogho has become something of a pioneer of what locally-led eradication of poverty looks like in Malawi. He’s got the bruises from this uncomfortable journey, to prove it.
‘We are living in a world of donations’, he explains. ‘But I have realised that NGOs – local and international – also try to donate solutions.’
This ‘donating of solutions’ is the red line we step over when we try to provide a strategy for eradicating poverty.
‘Doing that,’ says Victor, ‘can make the change that follows, short-lived. You will never sustain development when the answers come from outside, into the community. What we have discovered is that people themselves know their own challenges. All they need to know is, how do we solve our own problems? Our role is to facilitate problem solving.’
You may be a good person, trying desperately to see how to make the pound you give go further. You might be a charity exploring the vast difference between current, accepted approaches and locally-led models of poverty eradication.
Whoever you are – as you mark this International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, know that you have a role, a voice, a part to play, led by those most affected.
These questions will help you evaluate how to best use your power:
1. Do communities you have worked in, or communities you support, offer thanks?
Real locally-led development is owned by the communities. They wouldn’t have reason to thank outsiders for what they’ve done. If they do – why is this?
2. Is the local partner-organisation an implementor, or do they have a seat at the table?
In true partnership work is shaped locally, not at Donor HQ.
3. Who is in the driving seat?
Are local communities in the driving seat? If they are, they will have identified their community needs; developed plans and the charity will be facilitating this. If the charity is in the driving seat, the community will be dancing to an imported tune.
4. How are updates shaped for supporters?
Are they showing a dependency on the input which the donor’s gift has enabled – and thanking those who gave for it? Or are they showing, with pride, the outputs of their own potential?
I met a man in Sierra Leone this month.
He said that if we gave his community a fish, or a fishing rod, or we taught them to fish, it would be short lived: the river may run dry, get fished-clean, or the rod break.
The community, he said, then go straight back to the donor for a new rod (presumably reinforcing to the donor why their role is so critical).
Imagine if the money spent on rods, was invested in facilitating the community to identify their own needs. And find the solutions to these.
On the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, join me in rethinking poverty. And committing to do development differently.