In 2005, the British and Americans delivered 9 millions copies of the sixth volume of Harry Potter in a single day. At the same time around 2.3trillion dollar had been spent on foreign aid to help the poor.
The books succeeded to entertain rich adults and children , the poor and their issues – eg how to get twelve cent medicine to poor children – are still today far away from being solved. The big plans often have failed. The question is why?
Planners’ Failure, Searchers’ Success
Probably because big plans are often not based on the realities. Because the direct feedback of the poor is not there. Because big planners are not accountable if the pretended solutions fail at the bottom of the pyramid. Big plans are based on many people, high level agencies of all kind and big business organizations. But how many of them have stayed with the people on the ground? I’m not talking about data, I’m talking about understanding the complexity of their life conditions, the way they think, what they want, not what we assume what they need only. This makes a huge difference.
Harry Potter is the nice story about a boy wizard who has all the power to win the evil – unfortunately, that’s not how reality works
We love the big push idea. The idea is we can make change happen if we just plan in the right way. We think we know the answers. We think of poverty as a technical engineering problem. We believe that if our plans are good enough we can change the world.
But probably the big plan is just a fantasy we would appreciate so much
The reality? Probably only searchers have enough knowledge to find solutions and the understanding that most solutions must grow on and from the ground. Searchers who are constantly in contact with the poor and get direct feedback. Searchers who then feel accountable of what is done.
Don’t get me wrong: Planners have often really good intentions, but who does carry them out up to a point that they arrive, become sustainable and empower the poor?
Searchers are acting with the people, not for them
- Searchers don’t know the answers in advance
- Searchers can understand the dependencies of local, cultural, institutional factors
- Searchers find answers by trial and error – on the ground together with the targeted people
Probably, the answers on what to do is just forget the big plans. Push for searchers, become accountable, listen, listen, listen to what the people at the ground tell you. Connect what you learn on the ground to the influencing, powerful world and start from there – not from our Harry Potter attitude.
For those who are interested in more – Interesting book, published more than 10 years back, but more than true still today: William Easterly, The white man’s burden.