I woke up one day needing some happiness from the Universe.
Then I got some encouraging messages from like minded practitioners in the development space. Happy images of my colleagues, present and former coworkers, and every day people working together in the most challenging environments in the world. These were private messages with private images, these weren’t photo ops for fancy brochures or flashy websites. These were thoughtful, beautiful and real.
The heroes in all these photos – local activists working together to uplift their communities.
Serendipity! Apparently, friends were supporting the campaign “when doing charity, leave the camera behind.” They wanted to counter the “white savior” complex that seems to make poverty porn so Instagram worthy. The aim was to raise awareness of the stereotypes such things promulgated. This would shame those who often take and publish imbalanced pictures of those in need, without consent and without dignity. If you give, do you need to publicize it? Are you empowering those in need or leveraging against them?
This was different. We were profiling the success stories of the local activists, their projects, their ideas. We were present only because we were invited as a result of the funding we mobilized. We had genuine smiles, and relevant projects that were designed based on actual requests from those who would benefit. Now their success materialized and we knew our place was ancillary. I was proud of our good intentions that enabled it happening.
It was so heartwarming to see my friends, my fellow development specialists, my special people…stepping aside to give the spotlight to those saving themselves. Yes, they were poor and in need of help, but they were always capable. It just required the right kind of support, and people willing to listen and to help them apply their solutions. They were doing what it takes to save their countries, homes, livelihoods, families. These friends of mine had tried a different approach from what was the conventional wisdom of development institutions. We, were simply humbling ourselves in their service.
I’m starting to feel something restoring my faith in humanity.
Big bureaucracies remain far from the grassroots activism that drive lasting change. There are too many corporations and non-governmental organizations with ulterior motives of making profits and gaining fame off the suffering of others. Governments aren’t always effective in doing what’s best for people, but how can they if they are too large and swamped with inefficiencies? Globalization, free trade and political divisiveness, have changed the narrative of our world. How will we be in the future?
Amidst so much hate, segregation, degradation, and sadness, there was hope. Volunteers in camps camps give kids reading lessons; neighbors opening up their homes for recent migrants; bus drivers helping unemployed make it to work until their first pay check.
How do we scale up these small acts of kindness into large political and global institutional change?
Hope for the Future
Imagine if we change the narrative and reveal the true heroes of the story.
What a dream? Governments partnering with the private sector, policy makers actually listening to the technocrats in the countries, and consultants not simply consulting out all the money. Decision makers working with right on their side and not the side of politics… Sigh, what a dream. What if development institutions were thoughtful, beautiful, and real?