Wrote this a while back, but it is ever so relevant now as it was when I wrote it.
Africa is the poster child for poverty.
It has been for decades and will probably continue to be as the scramble for resources is aggressively pursued. The global financial recession means donor funds are severely limited and the fact that the “trends de jour” are plenty; climate change, violence against women, governance and democracy, etc. – means that projects will have to enhance their branding to catch the attention of the donors.
With this in mind, the portrayal of the African Paradox is highly strategized to employ sympathy while luring investors with innovative solutions promised to end this endemic or another. While the number one branding strategy is that of poverty, corruption and wars, there is a competing campaign to brand Africa as the new land of opportunities; where the percentage of youth (read human resources) and usage of technology is quickly shifting reality.
Both approaches are problematic.
There are so many other regions and countries that are flamed up, so this neo-colonial paternalism of Africa is questionable. It’s difficult to know the basic facts and not identify this paternalism first and foremost for enabling, misleading and condoning bad governance in order to reap the benefits of the most resource rich continent on the planet. In the wake of low donor support for large scale “aid and development” projects in Africa, is social entrepreneurship the paternalistic replacement?
As a major advocate for social enterprises, I would much rather see more engagement from both sides of the initiative, the innovator and the recipient; technology transfer, knowledge transfer, and aggressive revision (before adaptation) of Northern methodologies to fit the context of where it is applied. Only with such partnerships with grassroots, is social entrepreneurship going to be different from neo-colonial paternalistic philanthropy.
In a casual conversation with friends after the first day of the +GlobalGoodSummit we discussed the evolution of donor funds. The buzz words for this era are “impact investment”; where investors (taking over the global funding plethora) are looking for innovative ways to invest their capital, yet in a manner that benefits a certain community- in Africa. The scramble of the most innovative solution to this or that African problem is just not fashionable anymore. Africans are empowered, enabled, intelligent and refuse this paternalism. We have obtained the most progressive education and are quickly becoming one of the most technological connected continent. We are looking for opportunities and international partnerships that acknowledge our knowledge but seek to enrich it, not overpower it.
I learn new and wonderful things every day, my first thought is “this is great” my second is “how would this work in Sudan?”. It’s only been three months since I’ve left Sudan, but I’m already mentally preparing myself for my return, for all the exciting projects that I can now make happen with newly acquired skills and knowledge.