It hurts my heart to see just how much devastation is caused by the destruction of earthquakes, tsunamis, civil wars, terrorist activities, or other economic, environmental, or political unrests. As we see time and time again, it hurts the hearts of many others as well, as we often donate large amounts of money, time, and volunteers to provide medical attention, counseling, foodstuffs, and other resources. Regardless of whether the issues are across the street or across the globe, something inside us puts our differences to the side so we focus on the human suffering at stake.
In our attempts to provide foreign aid, we often fail to deliver long-term, sustainable impacts that can lead to true change. I think one of the primary reasons this happens is because we look to provide said change, rather than work with the people to develop culturally relevant solutions. We throw money at a problem, but because of the siphoning of it at different levels, very little actually reaches its intended use, making aid money a tremendous source of wealth for the already wealthy. This also perpetuates political unrest and corruption. We tend to judge success by how much money we raise rather than the how much change occurs. It feels good to say we raised x amount of dollars. We can go about our days feeling like we contributed to the solution, and we have. But at the end of the day, we need to make sure that a sustainable solution is reached.
As outsiders we tend to preach the importance of infrastructure. “If only we can irrigate the land to bring fresh water, we can eliminate many of the diseases that claim the lives of so many,” we say. “We’ve got to educate the people about cause and effect so they can change their behavior,” we explain. These sound great, but due to limited funding, one to two year project periods, and volunteers who often either can’t or don’t want to stay long enough to see the changes through, we often leave a problem with little more than a failed experiment. The solutions that work for one group or in one place may not work for another. I’m a big proponent of education, infrastructure, healthcare, and economic development, but how can we work to create sustainable solutions? Grameen Bank and the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) are doing it by brining microfinance to Bangladesh, enabling the people to build their own economy by hiring locals and refusing bribery. How else can we attack problems so build solutions that last?