Investing in People, Not Projects
by Bradley Broder, Kenya Education Fund
A villager from rural Kenya once said to me that his community needs a rainwater catchment system that would feed water tanks to each house in his village. When I pressed him as to why he feels this is so vital given that there is a clean water source less than a kilometer away, his response was unequivocal: “because the volunteer before you helped the village down the road to get water tanks. We want them too!”
This fascinated me. Not WHAT he saw as a need so much as WHY he saw it as a need. Water tanks were his only exposure to any kind of development. He didn’t realize that there were options – other projects that could be successfully undertaken and benefit his village in far greater ways than water tanks. His choice was limited to what he knew was available, and his knowledge of what was available extended only as far as the next village.
These days, the war on poverty has shifted focus from projects like water tanks to building human capacity with education. Easily quantifiable construction projects like health clinics, boreholes, wells, toilets and schools have pleased donors with instant results, but poverty is still rising across Africa. Students cannot afford to attend the schools that are built. Clinics can’t stock up with drugs unless they are free. Impoverished communities cannot maintain water pumps when the parts break and so dependency on aid continues.
We are seeing that the capacity of beneficiaries to sustain these projects is inhibited by their lack of formal education. A recent report issued by UNESCO shows that 2 out of 3 children in Africa are left out of secondary schools, stating that, “there is no escape from poverty without the vast expansion of secondary education worldwide.” A high school-level education is the bare minimum required by a community for a development project to succeed. Whether the area of focus is on health, peace building, democracy building, boreholes or water tanks; if there is no capacity amongst the beneficiaries to identify and understand what their own needs are, we are likely investing in projects that are destined to fail.
The organization I founded, Kenya Education Fund (KEF), offers high school and university scholarships, as well as mentoring and career readiness workshops for poor Kenyans. KEF was partly inspired by the villager who was unaware of what his own “actual” needs were and focuses on developing human capacity through education. We are privileged to be affiliated with the Global Campaign for Education and its partners who are increasingly investing in PEOPLE rather than PROJECTS by offering trainings, workshops, scholarships and, other learning opportunities aimed at developing human capacity.
Improving quality of life is the underlying mission of every international development organization no matter what projects they undertake. But pressure from donors to see immediate results is at conflict with the process of capacity building. As organizations shift their practices from building projects to building capacity, there is also a need to educate both institutional and individual donors that results from education will take longer to materialize than the digging of a well. Educational investments can conceivably take a generation or two to produce results – but those results will have an ever-lasting effect and an even greater return on improving quality of life because we have invested in human beings.
Mr. Broder founded the KEF after serving for two years as Peace Corps Volunteer from 1999-2001. He started the KEF as a means of assisting to a few children he befriended while in the Peace Corps. Brad has more than a decade of experience in Kenya and speaks fluent Kiswahili. His knowledge of the culture, language and international development issues have contributed to the uniquely straightforward design of the KEF, which emphasizes capacity building among Kenyans while minimizing Kenya’s reliance on international aid. Brad holds a BA in Spanish from SUNY Stony Brook and an MA in political science from Western Washington University.