Tag Archives: rural development

A Tale of Two Cities — Education

Two months ago I started a journey, in monthly installments, to two fictional cities—Assetsville and Needsville—both cities representative of poor communities in Africa. While the issues, such as poor health care and dirty water, in these cities are identical, the responses to these issues could not be more different—both in philosophy and methodology.

Tomorrow’s leaders are currently studying in schools across our country and around the world. The importance of how we educate our children cannot be overstated. However, well-documented problems exist in the educational systems of even the wealthiest of nations, including our own, as we stare at a future where, for the first time in our history, illiteracy rates will be higher for our children than they are for us. These problems are only exacerbated in places like in Needsville and Assetsville, where infrastructures are broken, governments are corrupt, and safety nets are porous.

Needsville’s leaders are aware of the depth of the educational problems in their community. In some parts of the city, the schools are the issue. Accountability does not exist. Teachers rarely show up, or show up intoxicated, and students receive only a semblance of an education. In other parts of the community, government power-brokers perpetuate the problem. Teachers are poorly equipped and undertrained and some teachers have gone months without pay because the local government has withheld or distorted aid funding. To counteract the steady regression of Needsville’s youth, they have poured enormous amounts of resources and new strategies into resolving the problem. They have filtered huge amounts of foreign aid to government-run schools. Yet, the increase in funding has simply expanded a broken system, rather than driving positive reform, though it is not from a lack of clever ideas.

“Laptops for all!” was lauded as a quick-fix, but the actual citizens of Needsville had no role in the development of the final product, and the program failed due to limited demand and poor design. A few Christian missionaries have set up quality private schools, but the reality is that donor funding limits them to reaching just a fraction of the students in the community, and there are no missionaries in many of the city’s neighborhoods. Sadly, the future is not bright for Needsville’s children. The numbers are clear. Despite all the increase in funding, the schools are failing and 30% of Needsville’s children are still not attending school.

In Assetsville, the future of the city is brighter than its present because of recent reforms. Across the city, parents, frustrated with the quality of their children’s education, decided to take action. Fed up with the quality and bureaucracy of their city’s schools, dozens of aspiring parents became the solution. They started private schools, many held in local church buildings, to provide their children with a higher level of education. Students at their schools consistently outperform their neighbors in Needsville and attendance rates are much higher. The local government even got into the act. Encouraged by the results, government leaders began providing private school vouchers to families and training to these teachers.

These schools are run by “edupreneurs” who charge a small monthly fee to the students, though close to 20% of the students in these schools, predominantly orphans, are exempt from fees. This arrangement adds accountability for the edupreneur, as parents now have a real voice in their children’s education. While providing a much-higher quality education for the poor, the school is also providing jobs for the edupreneurs and teachers, and in many cases, bringing the community back into the church building. Encouraged by the progress, a new organization was launched to support these edupreneurs through teacher training, small loans for facility improvements through microfinance organizations, and through curriculum support. The Christ-centered curriculum is designed with the edupreneurs and emphases entrepreneurialism, with a vision of shepherding and equipping the next generation of Assetsville’s leaders. Next month’s final installment will look at the guiding values and principles of this series.

*Thanks to Professor James Tooley, whose research I drew upon heavily for this article

(Chris)

Fight the Coffee Purchase Guilt!

Visiting the Starbucks headquarters in Seattle last week was like a party for my senses. Delectable sights, sounds and smells emanated throughout the re-purposed historic train station Starbucks calls home. As part of my MBA program, my cohort had the privilege of visiting with several Starbucks executives–and tasting lots of delicious coffee, of course. Sadly, however, despite my hopes, there were no vanilla latte water fountains. The visit has got me thinking.

Have you ever been a part of a church service or conversation when someone said something like, “You selfishly spend $20/month on coffee purchases — imagine what good that money could do if you gave it to a non-profit!” I’ve heard it many times and am sure I have even said it more than once. There is some truth to that comment, and I am not writing this post to justify excessive consumerism, but I am increasingly convinced that is a misleading admonition.

Your purchases, be it for your favorite coffee, the car you drive or the computer you are using right now, are doing good. Did you know that Starbucks provides wages and health insurance to over 115,000 individuals people and are supporting over 75,000 rural coffee farmers throughout Latin America and Africa? Learning about the Starbucks Farmer Support program (see video below) was like watching a HOPE International marketing video — incredible how much of an impact the gourmet coffee craze is making on the lives of poor rural farmers.

Many times we assume that all our spending is selfish and detrimental to the world…as if only money given to charities is “money well spent.” That’s just not true. Look at India, Chile, Brazil, Hong Kong and even Rwanda. These countries are seeing massive numbers of people’s livelihoods improved and are seeing the flourishing of many of their communities. Many factors have contributed to these countries’ collective emergence, but the engine of entrepreneurship is leading the charge. We often judge the worth of businesses by how much they give charitably to charities. In my view, the primary good they contribute to our society is their provision of valuable products, services and meaningful employment to the world–from the smallest “mom and pop” shops to the world’s largest companies. Their donations are great too, but it’s their inherent value which is doing the most good.

Next time you buy your white chocolate mocha, use your Blackberry, or read your Bible, think about the people whose livelihoods, perhaps across the globe, you are supporting. Sip that latte with your chin-up. Your habit is putting food on the table for over 75,000 rural farmers in the developing world.

Dig into the ethical policies of your favorite companies, as you are voting with each of your purchases and charitable donations. Are you voting for candidates you believe in?