By Dr. Francis “Tusu” Tusubira, a member of the Rotary Club of Kampala-North, Uganda
How many times do we hear Rotary members say, “we have our project in Kireberebe Kisunkaana?”
Let us get one thing right when dealing with economic and community development. And I will call this lesson one: it is not YOUR project.
It is a community project that you are supporting. Along these lines, I thought sharing a few experiential lessons is not a bad idea.
Lesson two: A community where disease is a challenge will lose so much time being sick that they cannot focus usefully on any other initiative that will help them develop. You cannot address economic and community development if you have not addressed basic health.
Lesson three: A community that does not have clean water, and which does not understand the relationship between “dirty water” and disease will have resultant health challenges: diarrhea, eye diseases, cholera, etc. You might as well have a comprehensive Water, Health, and Sanitation component as part of your project.
Lesson four: We all know that illiteracy can be a major barrier, if not a full block, to any efforts related to development. This really means economic and community development must also look at the literacy and numeracy environment (along with the ability to interpret, create linkages, and apply what is read to personal empowerment and development).
Lesson five: Poverty is state of mind. If you do not address the mindset of those that have accepted poverty as their lot, all the rest is a waste of time. This is an intangible challenge and the solution must be in addressing the mind.
When the ground is fertile in terms of the elements above, enablers like skills development (chances are that these will relate to agriculture and other income generating opportunities in rural communities) can be introduced. Or all the elements can move simultaneously to create synergy. Microcredit, for example, is an enabler, not a solution. One realizes soon on in life (if one is lucky) that money is never a solution. Giving money to the poor does not make them rich: it makes them poor people with some transient cash.
What is clear is that in all the above, dedicated expertise will be required. So will partners with knowledge and experience in handling the different aspects. Cooperating organizations are now recognized as one of the key features of sustainable economic and community development. This does not mean Rotary members do nothing; they must also dig in and apply their skills. But being a Rotarian is not a full time job so we need a helping expert hand.
So you see, economic and community development is a totality approach, not a one-dimensional intervention. Which leads to one last lesson:
Lesson six: It is not the things we give to or put in communities that create sustainability. It is what the community does in response to what we do as Rotary members.
This is behavioral change. We are just catalysts, not part of the reaction. It is NOT our project. It is THEIR project. Lesson six is not so much a lesson, actually, as a truism.
Adapted with permission from the Rotary District 9211 bulletin, The Wave.