Many aid projects in Africa seem to be aimed at producing a continent littered with dynamic entrepreneurs. Although they don’t put it in so many words, donor governments in the wealthy, developed world immodestly direct their financial support into training Africans to be more like “us.”
Does Africa’s future prosperity rest on Western-funded training projects creating thousands of Bill Gates and Richard Branson-clones in a matter of years?
It took German, Britain, Japan, China and the USA centuries to reach a point where relative prosperity was enjoyed by the many, rather than the few. Why will it happen any faster in Africa?
Keeping your head down
The prevailing culture in many developing countries in Africa and beyond often discourages people from behaving individually. People tend to take a more communal view of life; history has taught them to avoid being noticed by powerful people who could punish them for being trouble-makers. In order to survive, the majority in many societies (including our own) may have made a perfectly rational decision not to ruffle the feathers of those in charge.
Working with the grain, not against it
For this reason Network for Africa encourages the people at our projects in Rwanda and Uganda to work in cooperatives, whether they are farming, or pooling their savings each week. We also encourage people to create and sustain mutual support networks. For instance, one or two women will mind everyone’s toddlers while mothers perform their chores or study or work. Saving the equivalent of just a few cents or pennies a week, a group can offer loans to colleagues with good business ideas – ideas no bank would ever back, because the people lack collateral.
When women complete our training courses many of them join cooperatives. But they also learn the importance of supporting each other through personal challenges and family problems. They boost each other’s confidence, and see they are stronger together. For instance, at our rural Aspire project fifteen women recently completed our literacy course. Aspire had a graduation ceremony for them, celebrating the courage of the adults who had started at the beginning, learning to read and write. Watching the joyful ceremony, other illiterate women were inspired to enroll in our literacy course, because the barrier to learning no longer seemed so high.
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