Shut Up & Give?In search of sustainable solutions to global poverty
I wasn’t always a believer. I used to be like a lot of people in the development field who didn’t see business as a viable weapon in the fight against poverty. I saw business as a vehicle for making money and development as a vehicle for helping people. They weren’t connected in my mind. But then something happened: I saw them working together in the field.
For some reason, business and development have long been at odds – maybe not in the minds of business professionals, but certainly for many development practitioners, the background I hail from. I think it’s because we didn’t believe conversations about profit, scalability, and consumerism belonged in conversations about poverty, capacity, and dignity. But we were wrong – at least I was.
People who “got it” showed me that development and business didn’t have to be mutually exclusive ideas. They showed me just how a complementary partnership between the two has the potential to create a new reality for the underserved. From microfinance in Bangladesh to social entrepreneurship in Zambia and dozens of places in between, I learned how people around the globe were doing it – partnering business and development. The result wasn’t always seamless, but it was always strategic.
I’d worked in many nations around the world, and it wasn’t that I had never questioned the fundamental value of aid, but that I’d failed to understand the difference between temporal results and lasting change. I’ve since learned the real value of a business strategy in regard to the fight against poverty is the ability it holds to empower the underserved – not temporarily, but permanently. This is something aid could never do.
And shouldn’t that be the essence of development anyway? Lasting change, sustainable results, transformed lives. I started to realize maybe business was a means to achieve development, not the antithesis of it.
My work has always focused on increasing local capacity in the underserved world, but learning what I did about business as a development tool changed my perspective. I started asking a lot of questions about the approach I had long ago subscribed to, questions about the way the majority of the West relates to the underserved. Will I simply shut up & give to the same projects, the same programs, and the same goals? Or will I examine the results, question the outcomes, and shift my thinking?
This was a pretty easy decision learning what I did from those who “got it.” We need to question the way we’ve always done things in regard to poverty eradication. Tradition doesn’t always translate into meaning the best way. We don’t need to start over – we need to build on what has been done by adding some new elements. We need to bring in business principles, financial leaders, and corporate accountability to our development programming.
The truth is – although I was hesitant to jump aboard – business terminology does belong in our development conversations. As long as profit doesn’t trump local empowerment and capacity building, there’s nothing wrong with making money while helping people.
Many men and women around the globe have realized this truth: that business and development can work together to create lasting solutions to global poverty. I may be a little late to the party, but I’m certainly not leaving anytime soon.
I’ve hit both mountains and valleys in the field of development. I’ve made many mistakes and done a few things right. Shut Up & Give? is a journey around the world in search of sustainable solutions to global poverty. It’s a story of discovery and hope. It’s about a commitment to learn by doing – to empower the underserved and then get out of the way to watch them succeed.
Shut Up & Give? can be purchased direct from the publisher at: www.shutupandgive.com. The author of the best comment/discussion point will receive a signed copy from Chad Jordan.
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Enjoyed reading your Damascus journey on business and development Chad! I remember back in 2005, when the G8 came to Gleneagles, a coffee farmer from Tanzania addressed the thousands of campaigners gathered for the Make Poverty History rally with these words, “Just pay us a fair price for our coffee and we will make poverty history for ourselves.”
Good business can absolutely be good business – a win-win, for communities who do not want to be on the receiving end of aid, or be ‘helped’ but to be able to act as equal partners in sustainable value chains and business ventures that empower local people to tackle their own problems and build their own solutions – not ‘beneficiaries’ but entrepreneurs.
An approach that creates, maintains or increases dependency cannot lead to sustainable development.
Business and the private sector are part of society and of the wider systems development efforts seek to strengthen – and an important part of the engine that can drive development.
The NGO World Hope International has been involved with a very interesting partnership between business and development in Sierra Leone. They own a plot of land for which they have negotiated with the government to use it as a special economic zone for tariff-free importing and exporting. After discovering the overabundance of mangoes that rot every year in Sierra Leone, they then attracted a juice company from Europe called Africa Felix to open a juice plant in their free economic zone. They provided jobs at the juice factory, as well as organized the mango farmers to sell to the juice company. It’s a very promising project. From my understanding, they are the first NGO to ever utilize a free economic zone in this capacity. You can learn more here: