In class, we began to discuss some of the issues with cheap solutions when it comes to international development. While donor nations and organizations may claim to be in the field of development or foreign aid to alleviate poverty, we all know this is not always or usually the case. In IDEV320, we read “Does Foreign Aid Really Work?” in which Roger C. Riddell illuminates some of these issues with wealthy nations’ foreign policies on development and their real motivation. As with tied aid, all social entrepreneurs make some type of profit whether they are in a non-profit businesses or not. Every person who works for the organization or company makes a salary. This may not be considered profit in the legal definition, but in a way it is when at least one person is making money from whatever the endeavor. Additionally, the problem must continue to exist in order for the company, organization, what have you to run. If the problems were fixed, many people working for that organization would be out of a job, and the entrepreneurs would stop making money. These are issues which are never discussed or considered, but are imperative in understanding development.
Social entrepreneurship is a new, upcoming field which prides itself on the success of people like Blake Mycoskie, founder of Tom’s Shoes and Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America. These are only two social entrepreneurs who have become financially and socially successful from endeavors which have remained unaccountable to the communities they serve.
Tom’s Shoes (which I brought up in class) thrives on the one-for-one philosophy whereby for every pair of shoes purchased, a free pair is given to some child in a developing nation. Besides the fact that the child will certainly outgrow the shoes, are shoes the most important need that these children have? More often than not, the answer is no. Instead of wasting the cost to make that pair of shoes (which we will get to next), would it not make more sense to invest that money in another way to ensure that child an education or access to healthcare, clean water, the gamut! Second, we always forget about the costs. As economists know well, there are no free-lunch programs. Someone has to make those shoes and get a salary for them. If a company decided they want to sell a product very cheaply, they must find a place where it will be manufactured cheaply meaning the workers will be paid next to nothing. This is where China comes in, and it is the nation in which Tom’s Shoes are made. If Blake Mycoskie thinks he is empowering people, he first does not understand the definition of empowerment and second does not consider the people he is harming along with their children he is disempowering.
Teach for America is a program that is rarely criticized, but how many wealthy parents would allow young people fresh out of college to teach their children only after having been trained for four to six weeks? Real teacher certification programs, which many argue is not enough in terms of preparing teachers, can take up to five years to complete! Privileged students across America are allowed to experiment on poor kids, and expected to figure out how to manage a classroom with little to no support. Besides the difficulty facing the teachers themselves, there are effects on the students who have no other choice but to be taught by the inexperienced teachers “for America” who sometimes are only a few years older than them. The teachers stay for their two years (if they don’t leave before their time is up), and more often than not, they leave. The spots they filled, which could have gone to people who went to college to become teachers and be teachers for life, are taken by people who want to use the time for their resume, and leave. At the same time, older teachers with more experience and people who live in the communities of the schools are pushed out especially when schools become chartered because of the prestige Teach for America holds. The problems continue.
Although the women in rural Uganda may seem to be in need of mobile phones, providing them with mobile phones will not even make a mark on the structural problems which persist. While it may seem as though we must fix the problem now in whatever way necessary, by providing cheap cell phones to poor people in one place, we are hurting poor people in another place. The companies with awful working conditions should not be supported and allowed to prosper in the name of African women. Additionally, we forget how colonialism and imperialism is what began the structural issues in Africa to begin with. Once again, the Westerner sees himself as being superior and the poor African nations being in need of Western technologies. We see them in need of what we have in order to prosper while our systems are what destroyed the continent in the first place.
All of this being said, when faced with the system we have today, it is always easier to put a band-aid on the issue and try to relieve it as quickly as we can. I think it is important that these women be helped in whatever way possible, and the cell phones are one way to start, but we cannot keep reverting to only considering these issues on the surface. I admire Dr. Murphy for her work in trying to alleviate the troubles of these women, and make at least some impact which she commendably has, but I think it is necessary that we start to have these difficult conversations and not just ignore them because it seems too impractical. If we really want to make peoples’ lives better, we must consider all people when doing so and understand how the dominant Western, white culture has been internalized all over the world as being superior and realize the ramifications of such.