12 September 2011

The Same Old Story and New Possibilities

This OpEd by David Brooks got a little buzz when it was published two weeks ago. I intended in writing up a quick post but had a hard time putting together a concise thought to express disappointment.

Brooks rattles off a few examples of people who are fighting the good fight and "start out with certain virtues but then develop more tenacious ones." The point seems to be that there are plenty of energetic and innovative Americans doing good. Unfortunately, it reads like the tired look-at-the-foreign-saviors* narrative. You could make a pretty good movie based on the lives of these adventurous people that are profiled.

Then the conclusion comes with more NGO-bashing aimed at saying that individuals who buck the system are the ones who really care. He writes:
As you talk to people involved in the foreign aid business — on the giving and the receiving ends — you are struck by how much disillusionment there is.

Very few nongovernmental organizations or multilateral efforts do good, many Kenyans say. They come and go, spending largely on themselves, creating dependency not growth. The government-to-government aid workers spend time at summit meetings negotiating protocols with each other.

But in odd places, away from the fashionableness, one does find people willing to embrace the perspectives and do the jobs the locals define — in businesses, where Westerners are providing advice about boring things like accounting; in hospitals where doctors, among many aggravations, try to listen to the symptoms the patients describe.

Susan Albright, a nurse working with disabled children in Kijabe, says, “Everything I’ve ever learned I put to use here.” Her husband, Leland Albright, a prominent neurosurgeon, says simply, “This is where God wants us to be.”
Is it me or the third paragraph can be applied to the very NGO and government-to-government workers criticized in the second paragraph? NGOs are far from perfect, no entity or person is perfect. Claiming that a group is not working as hard or trying to be innovative only paints an unclear picture of a painting that requires much finer brush strokes.

I have said before, that it would great to hear these kind of stories written about locals. Fortunately, there is a new magazine that will share stories of innovation from around the world. Makeshift magazine**, set to launch at the start of October, where "each quarterly issue of Makeshift will form an engaging and in-depth snapshot on a particular branch of informal creativity." This means I can complain less and start sharing some better writing.

Watch their trailer:


*I refuse to use the favorite phrase "Whites in Shining Armor" which I think misses the point. A discussion on that is for another time.

**After writing this post, I realized that I needed to follow through on my support for Makeshift, so I went over to their kick start page and made a contribution. I look forward to the stories that will come from the initiative and believe it is important to actually support something that I suggest. If you are interested in supporting the goal of launching Makeshift Magazine, go here.

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