From the Injustice of Famine to a Recipe for Hope
I went to bed, and I woke up to photos of children in southern Madagascar starving. Their livestock is dying too. It’s 2020.
According to Google Maps, we live 56 miles (90 km) from the famine’s epicenter. In Colorado, that’s what we call neighbors. Here, due to bad roads, it’s more than a three-hour drive.
When I realized the proximity of this famine to the same table that my children and I eat dinner every night, I cried. The photos I saw were not from some foreign place — they are right in my neighborhood.
Every day here, I see people living on the edge, but I’ve been telling myself, it’s not that bad. I know there’s been a drought. I know that there’s been restricted movement and economic activity. We’ve had shortages.
But I thought — it’s getting better — when in fact — it’s getting worse.
Where does famine come from in 2020? A perfect storm of drought, economic tightening (COVID), failed crops, and loss earned income further pushes people to live on the edge.
Add to this, after-effects of colonization and poorly managed charity. If you know me well, you know that I’ve worked in local and international nonprofits, and for the most part, I am not a fan.
Nonprofit organizations are not the answer.
Right now, these villagers do need emergency aid, but we don’t want that longterm.
Emergency aid or disaster relief, when given over long periods, develops dependency.
Similarly, locally founded and run nonprofits can fill a community-defined need, but all too often, they are poorly managed. And often, they only serve a tiny targeted group.
The problem in many places around Africa, and very much so Madagascar’s southern region, is that outsiders show up — they define the need and the solution — and then bring in both skilled and unskilled outsiders to do the work. And then they leave. Or they send in more outsiders for 6-months because the first set couldn’t handle the stress.
Typing that out — I don’t even understand how ANYONE thinks that is a plan for success.
But you know what does work? Local people coming up with their own ideas and starting their own business. At the level of a region or a town, the systems, the opportunities, and the culture that supports this stimulate a health economy.
If you talk to anyone on the street here, they are hungry to work. And yet, they are wary of projects run my outsiders in which people make them do manual labor in exchange for a meal.
People here are exceptionally willing to help and share. There’s a convenience store near our house, and there are always kids outside begging. In some places, they’d chase these kids away. This store never does. What’s more, the other day, my purchase came to precisely the change I had on hand. I asked the owner if I could bring back 2,000 Ar later (not pay my full bill) because I knew the kids would be expecting something outside. She agreed and understood. That’s priceless.
We have the ingredients; we just need a different recipe.
I firmly believe that we have everything we need here — there is even money — it’s just not distributed or mixed up into the best recipe. Yet.
It’s not that people here lack creativity or knowledge. They often surprise outsiders with unexpected skills and expertise.
The adage “Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for life” stinks of “White Saviourism” and I seethe when I see/hear people use it.
Do you really think that Malagasy (or Haitians or ____) can’t fish? The folks in the famine area here are hard workers; they are resilient.
In Madagascar, it is not uncommon to work 6 or 7 days a week, getting up at the break of dawn.
Most people don’t need to learn to fish (except for Western city slickers that don’t know where their food comes from). In Madagascar, what we need is folks with the opportunity to make more than 2 USD a day, consistently.
We need fewer imports — more things created at home. We need better communications systems — more hope, more support for innovation, and more champions for our success.
Madagascar, particularly the south, is the ideal place for the develeopment of a truly circular economy. Grow it, build it, use it, reuse it, repurpose it, recycle it.
Yes. Today these communities need emergency aid (food and water).
But yesterday, today, and tomorrow Madagascar needs jobs that support individuals to build communities that can design and build their own systems.
What we need is to overcome the dependency brought on by NGOs, foreign aid. We also need active efforts at the decolonization of institutions and mindsets. Too many Malagasy see the French way as the ideal, best, or “correct” way to do things. Perhaps the French do some things best or well, but really, any way of getting things done is just that — a way to get things done — it’s not right or wrong. What does it look like for Madagascar to do things in the Malagasy way?
Education (not schools)
And education. A huge mistake many donors and NGOs make is conflating building schools with education. You don’t need a building to learn. You need teachers. You need a culturally relevant curriculum that will help you to get or create a better job. You need a full belly. And you need hope. You need hope that once you go to school and learn that you can achieve something more than $2 per day working 10 hour days six days a week.
What is hope?
Hope is having a vision for your future and the ability to articulate how you are going to get there.
Right now, most Malagasy, particularly those that come from rural villages and impoverished backgrounds, live for today, not for the future. Hope is not the same currency here as it is the US or Europe. Even when certain persistent individuals manage to get educated, they don’t get hired into a better job because they don’t have the required culturally defined social capital.
Western youth learn — the World is your oyster — work hard and you can do whatever you want. That’s not the experience of most Malagasy kids.
Why share this with you? Perspective.
And highspeed internet. Our region is home to one of three fiber optic cables. We have consistently good upload and download speeds. This opens up a real opportunity for education and exposure to what people are doing around the world.
But I digress. Let’s get back to the famine.
Kids are dying.
Kids are dying of starvation less than 100 miles from my house.
First I was angry. Then sad. Then I cried. I cried from the injustice, but also because I feel both powerless and culpable.
And then I realized that perhaps this is my pain point, that point we talk about in coaching, that makes us so uncomfortable that we finally take action.
I suppose I’ve been waiting for a sign, so to say, to figure out what kind of work I want to do IN Madagascar. Not just from my remote desk.
I share all this with you here, not to make you cry, too, although if you do, that’s human. I don’t want you to feel pity. I want you to feel the injustice of a world in which people are not empowered to solve their problems. And then I want you to experience a sense of hope.
Yes. Past charity and top-down development haven’t worked. (If you want to know more about WHY it hasn’t worked, I am a wealth of information. Failed aid and economic development is the stuff I geek out on.)
And, I believe in the people of the south. Why? Because despite these harsh conditions, they PERSIST. This community is resilient and what it needs is hope in the form of opportunity. Real opportunity.
I’ve worked in community development and education; I’ve followed economic theories of development and democracy. I’ve been fascinated by triple and quadruple bottom lines — circular economy — and schools in the cloud.
For the past few years, I’ve been coaching people as they seek out jobs and change careers. I’ve found that from Bahrain to Japan, from Singapore to Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Ghana, from the USA to Canada and Peru, hopes and fears of those seeking out jobs are quite similar. The most significant difference that I find between the folks I work with and the young Malagasy that I talk to — is that the young Malagasy have never thought about what they might WANT to be.
Careers are chosen for them, and opportunity is limited to what is known. My client from Bahrain did a bit of research on my before hiring me; in the end, he found a picture of my husband’s original family home on our blog for VokyBe.com — he hired me because he’d grown up in a similar-looking home. He was also bridging the gap between poverty, scarcity, and rapidly evolving technology — his chosen field of work and social capital.
All of this is starting to morph together in my head. With access to the internet to the cloud, anyone can learn, communicate, or share ideas. What is possible is growing at an exponential rate. People need the systems, the structure, the opportunities, learning, to invent, and solve.
And so, my goal in sharing with you is to ask you to join me.
To start to crowdsource and disrupt.
What I want to know is what are your crazy ideas for social enterprises are?
What are the craziest and yet effective ways you’ve seen for unschooling cloud schooling and schooling in pods?
What do you think would result in a stable and environmentally friendly job creation in a region that is agricultural and that doesn’t entail factory farming?
What have you seen (successfully) done around the world? I want to hear your stories.
I have some ideas. I have some inspirations.
Where I get stuck is at scale. And start-up costs. I can start something small, but my gut tells me to go BIG or stay home for this type of work.
There is a need to create an economy where there is none. (Recommended reading The Prosperity Paradox. Recommending Listening to the Disruptive Voice.)
So I am sharing this with you because I need you to help me build a social enterprise that creates jobs and empowers communities. Let’s end this cycle of poverty in one region of the world.
I am privileged to serve an American economy still and make American dollars, but what I do as a career coach doesn’t scale to help people at the level I want to help.
People (you, my friends) laugh at me because I always have a million ideas. Yet I don’t have a million dollars to put them into action. Before moving to Madagascar, I never actually cared about making money. I had enough.
But enough isn’t enough anymore.
Here in Madagascar, I see how my thread and your thread are woven into the threads of our wider world.
Here, the light in the eyes of a fellow human fires my soul. When you look a person in the eye — when you see him or her — when you give him a job or buy her fruit — that spark shines.
I buy my milk at the source. Raspberries get delivered to me by a woman and her son, who are delighted and so grateful to sell me what would probably be more than USD 30 worth of berries for $2.50. I give my change away EVERY. TIME. I buy something at the store. These things make a small difference, but not enough.
There is another way. And it’s not charity. Charity disappears. My goal is job creation — generation and creation of jobs that improve the lives and the systems and the institutions of people here.
The gift that I’ve experienced working in career and life coaching is to see first hand that humans need to be empowered, they want to work.
When we are at the end of our rope, we appreciate charity. But we also prefer to keep our dignity.
Day in, day out, humans crave accomplishment — it’s vital for our self-worth.
Right now, every day, I work to pay my bills. But my work only pays my bills and helps people in the USA (and other countries) find jobs.
I need a benefactor. Or benefactors.
There is a good chance you think I am nuts or outline typing this, and it feels crazy typing it, but it also feels hopeful. I’ve got to start somewhere.
Everything I do, I do well.
I am confident that I can create something that succeeds, but I cannot do it alone. And I cannot do it without financial resources. And human resources.
So, who wants to join in being a benefactor in building a successful social enterprise that creates jobs and builds the local economy here? I am open to introductions. And I am 150% serious. My ideas center around one or more social enterprises serving not only the area in famine, but that extends out to the surrounding communities, including where we live in Fort Dauphin.
I know how to write a business plan. I know how to do all the structures. My question is what YOU would want to see from me? I’ve always supported other people’s ideas.
***Emergency relief update: It does appear aid is on the way, and our President and Minister of Health are visiting the region today. We can be grateful this administration is reacting (the previous ones’ have not necessarily), which takes us back to how do we support this region long-term through job creation.***