September 2014

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Fish Farming Initiative, trained by Justin

How does sustainable development happen? The answer in a short pithy phrase is “Inside-Out Change.” The people of a community, whether in Africa, Asia, or the USA, must own their change process.  They must take responsibility. They must realize that transformative change begins and flows from inside them.

My good friend, Justin Bisengimana, envisions and trains people in 22 impoverished communities of Rwanda to be the agents of their own change. He recently remarked, “Their mindset must change. They must realize that they are valuable and possess gifts and talents for their own development. They must be given time and the challenge to struggle. They must become tough-minded and learn to fight against poverty. If they are to make it out of extreme poverty and violence, they must start the process inside themselves.  And they must prepare themselves to work hard without any promise of outside help. My job is to bring them this knowledge and wisdom. In fact if I bring them any outside money or materials without this mindset first planted deeply, the people will only end up dependent or worse off than before.”

The result of Justin’s work shows that when people own their own development and are willing to persevere against the odds, they are able to triple even quintuple their income and the well-being of their children in three years or less. Pretty phenomenal growth! So much growth that Justin has more communities asking for his assistance than he can service in a year!

So many strategies for poverty alleviation focus on government-led redistribution of resources or policy change. Few emphasize the need for character or culture change. It should be no surprise that we see little sustainable change around the world. What do you think is the best strategy?

Gary Edmonds