Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology toward the organic, the gentle, the elegant and beautiful.
~ERNST F. SCHUMACHER, author of Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered
When most well-intentioned aid workers hear of a problem they think they can fix, they go to work. This, Ernesto Sirolli suggests, is naïve. In this funny and impassioned talk, he proposes that the first step is to listen to the people you’re trying to help, and tap into their own entrepreneurial spirit. His advice on what works will help any entrepreneur.
Everything we touched we killed
Our first project, the one that has inspired my first book, “Ripples from the Zambezi,”was a project where we Italians decided to teach Zambian people how to grow food. So we arrived there with Italian seeds in southern Zambia in this absolutely magnificent valley going down to the Zambezi River, and we taught the local people how to grow Italian tomatoes and zucchini and … And of course the local people had absolutely no interest in doing that, so we paid them to come and work, and sometimes they would show up. And we were amazed that the local people, in such a fertile valley, would not have any agriculture. But instead of asking them how come they were notgrowing anything, we simply said, “Thank God we’re here.” “Just in the nick of time to save the Zambian people from starvation.”
And of course, everything in Africa grew beautifully. We had these magnificent tomatoes. In Italy, a tomato would grow to this size. In Zambia, to this size. And we could not believe, and we were telling the Zambians, “Look how easy agriculture is.”
When the tomatoes were nice and ripe and red, overnight, some 200 hippos came out from the river and they ate everything. And we said to the Zambians, “My God, the hippos!”
And the Zambians said, “Yes, that’s why we have no agriculture here.”
“Why didn’t you tell us?”
“You never asked.”
We Western people are imperialist, colonialist missionaries, and there are only two ways we deal with people: We either patronize them, or we are paternalistic
You want to read the book, read Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa by Dambisa Moyo, Zambian woman economist. The book was published in 2009.We Western donor countries have given the African continent two trillion American dollars in the last 50 years. I’m not going to tell you the damage that that money has done. Just go and read her book.
I was given a slap in the face reading a book, Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered written by Schumacher, who said, above all in economic development, if people do not wish to be helped, leave them alone. This should be the first principle of aid.
If you want to help…Shut up and Listen!
The first principle of aid is respect.
The most important thing is passion. You can give somebody an idea. If that person doesn’t want to do it, what are you going to do? The passion that the person has for her own growth is the most important thing. The passion that that man has for his own personal growth is the most important thing. And then we help them to go and find the knowledge, because nobody in the world can succeed alone. The person with the idea may not have the knowledge, but the knowledge is available.
There is a secret to work with entrepreneurs. First, you have to offer them confidentiality. Otherwise they don’t come and talk to you. Then you have to offer them absolute, dedicated, passionate service to them.