Internet millionaire-turned-social innovator Philip Berber, speaking at today’s TEDxAustin conference in Texas, said his Glimmer of Hope Foundation has learned five lessons in its 10 years of building water wells and helping the poor in Ethiopia. He urged fellow conferees, many of them also social entrepreneurs, to take heed.
“Traditional international aid programs don’t work,” Berber said.
Here, he says, is what does:
- Start in a single village and work bottom-up. “Traditional international aid starts in an ivory tower, looking down their noses, telling poor Africans what they need and want,” Berber said. “We rejected that model and we started by asking people what they wanted.”
- Work with and listen to the rural poor. “They have the will, ability, and motivation o improve their lives. What they need is the support and funding. Give them bricks, they will build a wall. Give them a pump and they will dig the hole.”
- Work with organizations already on the ground. “We don’t need more ex-pat Westerners driving around in Land cruisers telling people what to do. See what aid already exists and see if it’s something you and they can use.”
- Help the poor make their own money. “As obvious as this sounds, the way to get out of poverty is the make money to do it. Think agriculture and enterprise. Aid and trade.”
- Knit together a group of services, simultaneously. “Just getting the poor clean water won’t do it,” Berber says. “They need water and sanitation, health care and schooling, food and a place to go to the bathroom. Let your donors choose which project in one village that they want to fund and then keep them informed with photos and GPS photographs of the schools they are building and the wells they are paying for.”
Over the past 20 years, Austin, Tex.-based Glimmer of Hope has invested $135 million into 4,000 projects in Ethiopia and has been able to impact 2 million lives. Says Berber: “We’re just getting started.”