“We will be known by the problems we solve.” –Jeff Shinabarger
I ask this question as if requires a specific and empirical response. Unfortunately, these problems are incredibly complex and the solutions can be equally intricate. You can research and plan all you want, but sometimes you discover problems during your pilot. And yet, even worse, some problems with your solution may not become apparent until you’re at scale. And, worst of all, we may solve problems in this generation that creates different problems for the next. I don’t think that means we should stop trying or feel defeated, but we should question everything and do our best not to do harm while doing good.
For 50 years, people believed the problem in Africa was poor governance, poor infrastructure, poor education, and poor economic opportunity. So, in our Western attempt to evangelize Africa, we went in and did everything for the people. We built houses, schools, and churches. We distributed clothes, food, medical supplies, and cash. That generation genuinely believed they were solving a problem with the best solution possible. Undoubtedly, lives and eternities were saved. God can use our most well-intentioned but misguided efforts for good. But, today, nonprofits like CARE for AIDS are dealing with the problems created by that period. Our clients want to be paid to attend our program, they want us to market and sell their goods for them, and they want us to scholarship their kids to go to school. Some may shake their heads because of that entitlement, but we are to blame. That opportunism and resourcefulness is how people in Africa survive. We only enabled that behavior by our past interventions.
In our pilot, CARE for AIDS did harm by offering loans to a select group of clients. Those loans eventually became grants because we didn’t have the systems or staff to collect the repayments. It also created dissention and distrust within the group. Those who did not receive loans thought and spoke negatively about the program hurting our influence in the community. We have all tried solutions that were met with mixed, if not negative, results. Thankfully, our 3,000 clients today are receiving the best care we know how to provide.
Here are some questions to answer when thinking the solution to choose:
Can this solution be implemented locally without the long-term involvement of an external organization?
Does this solution engage local resources (people, capital, leadership, knowledge)?
Can we pilot this program to test and prove its effectiveness?
Is the impact of this solution verifiable?
Is there a way to use technology to make this solution easier, more effective, or more affordable?
What will be the ongoing needs both from inside and outside the community to continue its operations?
What is the long-term impact of this on the community?