I've spent significant time in Harare, Zimbabwe looking over technology, governance, process, procedure, business optimization, staffing, skill-sets versus education versus experience, short/mid and long-term national planning and execution efficiency, and technology incubation and evolution. A lowest common denominator for any civilization is technology. It is a fortunate or unfortunate fact depending upon where you are on the adoption curve. One simply cannot scale effectivity without it. Aside from the obvious needs for optimization which occur in any government, corporation or co-located group of individuals, I've noticed one particular trend that I believe should die a grisly, bloody death...
I'm an American. I see people from all over the Earth coming to Zimbabwe and a horde of other surrounding countries to help. Giving the benefit of doubt, the relationships are intended to be symbiotic (since I believe pure altruism doesn't really exist). Portugal, China, America, United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, South Africa and so on. I also see multiple international organizations with Mission and Vision statements articulating "we help" from anywhere on the planet. All said countries and organizations are designed, implemented and purposed to foster an international community of relative equilibrium. A good and noble cause. My challenge with what I see is the underlying, unspoken arrogance of superiority that sneaks out here and again with people providing the help.
Given these views are my own and represent no other individuals, corporations, organizations or countries, let me tell you what I see and think please and thank you.
I see two prominent characteristics in "helpers" that I characterize as unhealthy and non-productive.
The first is "I'm from a first-world country and you're a third-world country, so you're stupid" attitude. I cannot tell you the number of conversations I've ended up sitting in on or otherwise enjoying where one person from the outside communicates (and displays through tone, elocution and body positioning) in one way or another that they have the knowledge and it should be implemented without question. It is personally understandable to experience frustration solving problems you've personally and professionally solved years or even decades ago. However, the intent of teaching is supposed to foster autonomous growth later. Autonomous growth requires confidence and confidence is stymied should learning be accompanied by ridicule or other de-constructive motivators.
Now in all fairness, everyone has an opinion including and definitely me given I'm writing out this commentary. And many opinions have truth in there somewhere. Opinions are important for developing more substantial thought and action and are a valuable part of social/intellectual maturation. Think. Argue. Re-think and so on. Teaching children to think critically and draw upon multiple experiences and/or data elements to infer a choice and direction is the gold upon which individual, societal and global evolution exists.
The sad part of the equation is that, buried inside the attitude and/or unhealthy behavior, there is in fact gold-laced knowledge that would be valuable to pass along, but it gets lost in the pink noise. Proper scientific behavior calls for the hypothesis and associative result set to be independently verifiable by any number of other professionals in the field in order to prove valid. If the expert in this equation is in fact an expert, inclusion of scientific principle, in addition to, context-driven application of an idea and solution would be present. Absent these characteristics my dear helper, it is a fair for your expertise and professionalism to be challenged whether you like it or not.
Of course those in political positions would consider scientific-based behavioral endeavor a luxury unavailable to them during dynamically occurring, multi-level international relations negotiations AND precluded most of the time based upon context-driven conditions of international policy and legislation. Consultants and 'helpers' within private organizations don't have that argument. "You're stupid" isn't a healthy attitude for anyone. It is a tough state of existence to be pulling someone off the ground and telling them they are stupid at the same time.
The second behavior I see is people who fly into the country, holler about this and that, then fly back home. Not everyone is really aware of the private-to-the-industry consulting tenet of, "If you come from far away and charge lots of money, you must be awesome." I am. It is not always true. Sometimes it is an absolute. (Can an absolute be "sometimes"?) Sometimes, this very valid tenet is exploited by fakes. I recommend the following: gig them for a three month contract, place explicit deliverable expectations on them every two weeks and see if they make it through the knothole. Three months is a long time for a fake. Six months is a killer.
It is true that teaching must follow the stages of: a) Tell, b) Show, c) Watch, d) Leave. It is a valid behavior. It works. However, many people are not willing to invest this amount of effort into change. It is tough. Period. Many people like to spend the amount of effort it takes to order a cheeseburger at a fast food restaurant, tell everyone they catered a lunch event, and call it a day. They are fakes. Talking to your kid only at bedtime doesn't make you a parent. Showing up for seven out of twenty legislative meetings doesn't make you a Senator. Flying to another country and telling people things are FUBAR and then flying back home doesn't make you helpful. It makes you part of the problem. Somehow that fact mysteriously doesn't make it into the marketing, advertisement and campaign trail reels though. Not really surprising though, is it?
My argument stems from a single point:
If we, anyone, want to be helpful to anyone else, it requires a time, effort and cost commitment. Sometimes it even requires sacrifice.
An automated EFT to a charity organization is indeed helpful. In fact it is most helpful if you don't want to know where the money is going and you never contact the organization to see how the progress is going. Organizations love blind givers. Order a cheeseburger, hand it to a homeless person and tell all your friends and family that you started an organization for the homeless. True help requires leadership by example, leadership from the front and very significantly, a time and effort commitment to be around for an extended period of time. If people are to learn from you, exemplify through words and actions those things you would like others to learn. Unfortunately, change doesn't happen over the weekend. It requires time. Given the rate of decay, maybe you should be handing out twinkies instead of cheeseburgers so that you can claim your sacrifice and investment has a five-year shelf-life.
If I've pissed you off by now you may now spend time dispelling the validity of my commentary. No worries, I'll see you on the other side of the board room table eventually. And if its not me, know that I'm spending time training other people to be real, transparent and effective. In addition to that, I'm helping them tune their BS meters to immediately recognize when fakes walk into the room, because whether this is universally known or not, fakes smell like that which they espouse.
Real leaders (if you're an international focused helper, you're also a leader) constantly evaluate their own effectiveness and value to the situation prior to, during and after the engagement in which they are constantly, purposefully and personally involved. Real leaders are obvious. Ironically, so are fakes.
When you walk into the room to help and to lead, do you smell? Hopefully, you're not the last one to know the answer.