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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Local Solutions to Poverty Offer the Best Hope

William Easterly, speaking at the London School of Economics, argued that we do not know how to solve global poverty – but that this is a good thing.

This is an uncomfortable statement. It seems unconscionable to stare into the face of a problem that kills 35,000 children every 24 hours and say “I don’t know.”

But, as Easterly argues, scepticism and uncertainty do not have to paralyze us. Rather, they can be creative forces in their own right by forcing us to consider anew our foundational values and by moving us to consider, with optimism, creative solutions to complex problems.

The key, perhaps, is in recognizing that saying “I don’t know,” and even “we don’t know,” is not the same thing as saying “nobody knows”. We, in the developed world, may not have the answers, but people across the developing world have creative, thoughtful ideas about how best to help their own communities.

Our role then, as compassionate people with a desire to help, becomes supporting these people as they implement local solutions to local problems. This is why we at HOPE International Development Agency are grateful for our colleagues and friends in the developing world, who live with and learn with the poor in their countries every day.

Thanks to their tireless work, we do know what solutions work in Derashe, Ethiopia; in Pursat, Cambodia; in Rokon, South Sudan; and in dozens of other communities where HOPE International Development Agency works. We know that access to clean water is a crucial first step towards healthier, more productive, more self-sufficient communities. We know that education, sustainable agriculture, literacy, skills training, and micro-credit all have a role to play in providing the poor with the tools they need.

We know this because we see change happening in communities across the world.

But we also know that the constellation of needed programs is different in every country, in every community, and in every family. It is vital that each community participate in setting their own development priorities. It is vital that we listen to and learn from them. And this is, indeed, a good thing.

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