Poor people as change drivers: What if we became partners instead of empowering dependencies

Partner or recipient?
Partner or recipient?

Have you ever thought if poor people can have innovative ideas for your business or become a real partner for development not in their poor villages, but in large and wealthy industries?

It is true: many poor people often have no opportunity to get a good school or professional education. Many of them can not read or write very well, many never get the chance to travel to experience and enlarge horizons by visiting other places or stay in the so-called developed countries. So, how should they be able to teach to others? How could we in the Western or “Rich” world ever benefit from them? Isn’t it normal that we must develop them? If not we, who else?

Normally, it is us (via single companies, foundations, NGOs, governmental institutions, huge organisations of all kind and personal engagement of individuals) to help them, to set up supportive activities, to invent processes and to bring them what they need. Sometimes these “things” save lives – instantly, especially when huge catastrophes happen. Often these things should help them to have a better life’s sometimes it is pure business. They do. And they create a distance between them and us, they fix the roles and with them the rules. On who depends on whom.
The engagement is huge: nutrition, housing, clothes, medical care. Also awareness trainings, basic business knowhow transfer , microcredit systems. Water purification, Internet access, social business ideas and agricultural development… We identify the needs, develop and implement solutions. It is a one way process independent from the model: from us to them, from us with them. It works as long as we are doing well and there is enough money, as long as OUR business, engagement, support works. Sometimes, as long as we are alive.
Even models around social entrepreneurship are mostly person-driven, egocentric, based on the giver and receiver model.

The idea to shape a real partner based model among those in need and the donors, a bilateral “give and take that goes beyond” is rare. Getting something from the poor that is helping us? Maybe. Helping our economies? Nearly impossible. A model that it really sustainable without any dependency from financial sponsors is rare. Financially steering means to be in the driver seat. A real business partnership with poor? This has risks we can not calculate. It would require more than a “nice to have” social engagement. The so called and trendy co-creation is – if it exists – a cocreation of big players in the business and the big players in other sectors. Not with the poor themselves. Which role do the so-called people in need play in all these discussions on development, creation of sustainable marketplaces, owner of microcredits?? They are the ones who are in need, the “receivers”, never ever the “givers”, because otherwise they would stay with us around the discussion tables when we shape the programs and projects. If they were seen as potential partners and people who can create a win to us, their position would be a different one.

Sometimes I ask myself what if we would really leave our old thinking behind, go across the traditional giving and receiving and “all around finance” discussions. What if we accept that we all could depend on each other or – said in another way around – create a real balance among donators and receivers? I know it is an absurd idea. But what, if?

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