8 months ago I wrote about having a mission for my life. I wanted it to encompass “contribution”, “global”, “sustainability” and “poverty”. I didn’t know what this meant or how it was going to work.
I met a woman who was 67 who was working on a vocational training centre in the far west of Ghana. I realised that in around 40 years time I would be 67. So I decided to make my mission 40 years – to have it focus on the long term. As Bill Gates famously put it – we overestimate what we can do in 2 years and underestimate what we can do in 10 (or 40 for that matter).
I wanted my first step to be to begin to understand. To begin to understand what it means to be poor. To begin to understand what has been done so far. To begin to understand why this has not been enough. As part of this I wanted to give a substantial sum ($10K) to charity.
It is hard to say how I have progressed on the true knowledge front; and yet easy to show how I have progressed on the money side. This reminds me of a conversation I had recently with a development practitioner – “people in aid complain all the time about the report writing – but how else can we show our progress? It is not as easy as showing money in an account. If a business is successful the money will be there. If it isn’t, it won’t be.”
So first to the money. In the end I was more creative with accounting for the $10K than I originally thought I would be. I found it hard to part with my own money, but my goal meant that I stopped thinking about whether or not I should give away away the money and started thinking creatively about how I could overcome my own barriers and make it happen. I first managed to turn a relatively small donation into a significant amount through a very generous matching scheme I was able to access. After much deliberation I also decided to include my expenses for my India trip last year, where we initiated a pilot project, bringing light to one community. For the remainder of the sum I asked that all my Christmas and birthday presents from the last year be donations to a charity (as pre-selected by GiveWell).
On beginning to understand, I have certainly learnt a lot during the past year in my role with Good Return. For the next period of time however, I would like to be more focussed in my learning, spending more time reading and trying to understand concepts which are well researched and difficult rather than the easy one line answers (read this Study Hacks post on deliberate practice versus achieving flow if you want to understand more about what I am talking about).
Some key learnings I have written about previously on L+L have been:
- Poverty is notoriously difficult to measure and even more difficult to overcome. Noone knows the full answer, but at least part of the answer must lie in China where the poverty rate over the last few decades has fallen from 85% to 15.9%, or by over 600 million people.
- It is very hard to reach scale, and most projects never make it past the pilot stage. And many projects and people that have achieved very little seem to get a significant amount of airtime.
- Marketing in the development sector tends to forget that people often do things with are bad for them. In Australia everyone knows that 30 minutes of exercise everyday is the best thing you can do for your health, and yet there are plenty of people who don’t do it. It isn’t enough to tell people that your initiative will overcome the bad. You need to show them how it will give them the life they want.
- There is a lot that non-profits can learn from for-profit companies in the developing work. Mobile phones and Coca Cola are everywhere. I especially liked these learnings from Melinda Gates – Coca Cola focuses on real time feedback, local talent and established distribution networks and innovative marketing. Non-profits could achieve a lot by focusing on the same.
- And finally, people are more similar than they are different.