Saturday, August 8, 2009

Changing the Conversation - 'Trade - not Aid' for Africa #tls09

The following is my 'take away' from the presentation given by Andrew Rugasira at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit 2009


The perspective of Africa as a poor, desperate country needs to be replaced with a more positive outlook if any true change is to come about.  We need to deconstruct our negative view of the country and it’s inhabitants.  Ask yourself the question; what type of person does it take to live on $1 a day?  The answer is - Entrepreneurs.

What if we were to paint a picture of the country with the same brush strokes we use to create a marketing demographic map here in the U.S.?  Imagine how different Africa would appear to business owners and investors if is was viewed not as an impoverished nation full of people needing aid, but a nation teeming with consumer possibilities, fantastic natural resources, and individuals with such great economic skills that they make $1 a day sustain them and their families.

Right now, there is an imbalance of the import and export of goods.  The current economy is based on the export of raw materials.  The regions don’t process any of the raw materials, and therefore miss out on a piece of the production ‘pie’.

Conversely, the people don’t consume what they produce.  The must import what they need, which creates in economic imbalance.  One solution is to create local companies that process goods for global AND local sale.  The other side of the coin is to encourage companies to come to Africa – and bring with them jobs, financial investment, and opportunities.  With the help of the media, we can start changing the image of the pitiful African into one of a thriving competitor and consumer. 

The problem with the aid that we’re sending is that it has a tendency to undermine accountability, and to create chronic dependency.  People that have to survive on aid are removed of their dignity – they are made to feel less by those giving them assistance.  In some occasions, the aid only comes with the promise of control – ‘if you do this, we’ll give you money’.   All these things perpetuate the chronic poverty in the region. 

One solution is ‘Trade – not aid’.   No country in history was developed through ‘hand outs’.  Trade is the most powerful way to transform an economy.  Through trade you help the people by training them to get out of poverty.   By painting a picture of a continent of consumers, by changing our perspective of the country from ‘poor people’ to ‘viable consumers’, suddenly we can imagine ways to invest in and to capitalize on the resources they have to offer.  If we can stop seeing Africa as a ‘problem’ and start seeing it as an ‘opportunity’, then the REAL change can be born.

(If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day.  But teach him to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.)

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