June 19, 2014 12:19 am

New Victorians must leave Gates and Bono in the savannah’s dust

‘We need ‘new’ everything and the Millennials are up to the task. They are the new Victorians’
Microsoft founder Bill Gates (L) and Irish rock star Bono (R) attend the press conference "Call to Action on the Millennium Development Goal" at the World Economic Forum in Davos 25 January 2008©Getty

Stance under fire: Bill Gates (left) and U2’s Bono

In the 1970s, I worked in Africa for an Italian non-governmental organisation and we left a trail of destruction wherever we went.

I changed. I understood that the first principle of aid is respect and that you can only go where you are invited. Even then, you have to shut up and find out why they invited you.

For the rest of the international public sector, it is a lesson that is still being learnt.

No one, it seems, can agree and passionate opinions have escalated into one almighty verbal fight.

It is a match between condescending, self-entitled, neocolonial, tyrannical experts against grassroots, spontaneous, free developers and anti-aid activists.

In my wildest dreams I see a furious Bill Gates grabbing Bill Easterly by the beard.

That is because Mr Easterly delivers this opening jab in his new book The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor: “The conventional approach to economic development, to making poor countries rich, is based on a technocratic illusion: the belief that poverty is a purely technical problem amenable to such technical solutions as fertilisers, antibiotics, or nutritional supplements.

“We see ... the same belief prevalent among others who combat global poverty, such as the Gates Foundation, the UN, and US and UK aid agencies.”

Ouch!

Mr Gates’s counter punch is delivered in his 2014 foundation letter: “It is ironic that the foundation has a reputation for a hard-nosed focus on results, and yet many people are cynical about the government aid programmes we partner with.”

Pow!

Meanwhile in my dream, Bono lies unconscious at Dambisa Moyo’s feet, having underestimated the power of the Zambian economist’s punch.

In her book Dead Aid Ms Moyo has this to say: “The notion that aid can alleviate systemic poverty, and has done so, is a myth . . . Aid has been, and continues to be, an unmitigated political, economic, and humanitarian disaster for most parts of the developing world . . . The problem is that aid is not benign – it’s malignant. No longer part of the potential solution, it’s part of the problem – in fact aid is the problem.”

Ka-boom!

Poor Bono is left to sing: “Don’t give up, you still have us Africa, Africa.”

It’s high time we stopped fighting and worked together to find solutions because – to put it mildly – we have a problem.

We do not have the technologies to feed, clothe, transport, cure, heat, cool and educate 7bn people. We have enough for the world’s middle classes, but not for “the rest” who live on $1 a day, and are prepared to die crossing oceans and borders to escape the hellholes in which they find themselves because of war, dictators, history and geopolitics.

What are we going to do when they want what we have? There is not enough of what everybody wants and what we have is not even renewable. It’s as if we have just put our noses out of the caves. We kill for food, live in clans, believe our totems have greater powers then those of the neighbouring tribe.

But there is another way – that of the “enterprise facilitator”. It is a profession I have modelled on counsellors and rural family doctors – a trained local who neither initiates nor motivates anybody, but instead helps anyone who passionately wants to improve their lot to establish sustainable enterprises.

Enterprise facilitators link solitary entrepreneurs to the abundant resources that exist somewhere in the world and then help with creating management teams. It is the Silicon Valley model at village level. It is the opposite of the old “push” model, where so-called experts deliver knowhow to developing country recipients through their agents spread across the developing world.

Our model turns that on its head by shifting the direction of the conversation. Instead of delivering knowhow, our Enterprise Facilitators listen to those who seek help and facilitate their receiving the kind of knowhow they are after.

Nothing happens without the passion and self motivation of the clients who are helped to access skills and resources.

Shouldn’t this be the model for international development? Shouldn’t we at least complement “top down” infrastructure development?

Over the past 30 years, we have trained some 300 enterprise facilitators around the world, but among the best projects is the one in Kamina, Katanga province, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In just a few years, Fabrice Ilunga Mujinga, enterprise facilitator there, has helped to start 54 new local businesses, expand 41 businesses and created 656 jobs. There is no geography to passion, there is no geography to intelligence.

Thanks to my Ted talk lecture going viral, millennials have discovered our work.

Students from Berkeley, Stellenbosch, Brisbane, Sydney, Istanbul and Copenhagen have reached out to us. They ask for help with their enterprises and wish to learn how to become enterprise facilitators.

They want to do well and do good as they embrace entrepreneurship, innovation and research at precisely the right time in history.

We need “new” everything and the millennials are up to the task. After all, they are the new Victorians and have the beards to prove it.

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The author is founder of the Sirolli Institute

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