Final Reflections

12 07 2011

The following blog entries are Social Entrepreneur Corps interns’ reflections on their experiences after six weeks working with Social Entrepreneur Corps in South Africa. Interns began their time in South Africa with two weeks of foundation building, which included discussions, readings, and reflections about poverty, development work, relief work, and social entrepreneurship among other topics. Interns then spent four weeks working in the field in three different environments of urban, semi-urban, and rural.  During their field work interns:

  • Performed grassroots consulting with 7 different local organizations
  • Conducted the first two MicroConsignment Campaigns in South Africa (with over 100 eye exams and 72 glasses sold)
  • Completed 77 needs analysis and product feasibility surveys for the expansion of the MicroConsignment Model in South Africa
  • Developed funding proposals to support three local nonprofit organizations

SEC intern Aime Silfa reflects on all of her experiences working in the field and in the classroom to respond to the question, “How has your experience working with SEC in South Africa impacted your understanding of either poverty, development vs relief work, or social entrepreneurship?”

Aime with client after his solar lamp purchase at MCM campaign in Huntington

“When facing a people in need our first reaction often times is to give them what they need right away. In some occasions, if the situation is severe that can be the most suitable solution. However, this is not always the case. It is vital to decide whether the situation merits relief or development. We can see the importance of considering, which applies best of the two here in South Africa.

In times of disasters, usually natural disasters, aid is quickly gathered for those in affected. For example, after hurricane Katrina or the earthquake in Haiti communities collected food, money, volunteers and other supplies to be sent and donated to those in need. This is relief work. When there is no time to plan and think of a long-term plan to help those in need, relief is more practical. If people have just lost their homes and have no way to sustain themselves food and shelter should be provided immediately. In this case, relief is effective and necessary.

Conversely, an issue like hunger cannot always be tackled with food donations. A long-term problem deserves a long-term solution. It would take people forever to donate money in order for relieve to supply the needs of those people. This would be an unrealistic and ineffective attempt to solve the problem. Instead, a solution should be offered that allows those citizens to provide for themselves in the long run. This is what the MicroConsignment Model seeks to do.

Development focuses on the betterment of life quality. This may include increase in life span, education, nutrition, access to water, etc. Improvement in these areas is often referred to as development. We have heard from the Tao tradition that “if you give a man a fish you will feed him for a day, but if you teach him how to fish you will feed him for a life time.” This is the mirror through which MicroConsignment is usually seen through. The idea is that people can develop the skills to find a solution to their need. MicroConsignment creates access through opportunities. Giving someone access to a job can help them more than giving them what they cannot access because of lack of income.

Being in South Africa has shown me the value of this approach. South Africans are hard working people. In every other corner of the streets we found people selling products to earn a living. These varied from snacks, to fruits, to beaded work and many other types of crafts. You can tell that the vendors have made these small businesses on their own initiatives because the crafts are handmade by the one selling it, and because the amount of products they sell can be counted sometimes with your hands. They find the resources available to them and do what they can to make a profit out of them. We saw cards made with real leaves and dirt. They looked very delicate and although a lot of time went into it the materials needed they got from their surroundings. They are energetic and artistic.

South Africans are capable of sustaining a program to help improve their standard of living. The issues affecting South Africa have been there for a while and it would take a carefully thought out plan to solve it. The willingness is there; the resources are needed. My time in South Africa made clear for me that development can be more useful than relief. People get excited to be able to do things on their own and to show what they are capable of. Development cannot only be more effective but may also improve the self-esteem of those involved.”

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