Why is Africa so poor? As I toured Kenya I was constantly amazed by the beauty of the country: the lush greenery, the fertile rolling hills, the dramatic mountains—and of course the remarkable Masai Mara, the northern edge of the Serengeti. The people were friendly and industrious. And yet I saw heart-wrenching scenes of terrible poverty, huts with mud floors and no running water, high unemployment, little transportation, and overtaxed infrastructure. The question "Why?" kept ringing in my head every day I was there.
On my way home, I discovered an article by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times that was asking the same question. In "Young Superheroes in a Hut," he mentioned a series of possibilities for the poverty of Africa: "Is it a legacy of colonial exploitation? Tropical disease and parasites? Or is it that local mammals, like the zebra and the African elephant, were difficult to domesticate and harness in agriculture?" (An aside: a fascinating book that explores this is Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond. It’s a great read.) "There’s truth in each of these," says Kristof. "But a visit to Zimbabwe highlights perhaps the main reason: bad governance." Kristof goes on to tell stories of people overcoming overwhelming odds. He found numerous examples of "superheroes"—people who displayed resilience and courage that was inspiring. He concludes: "Zimbabwe’s tragedy isn’t its people, but its leader."
I’ll be thinking about this question for a long time. And it opens up a big question for all of us in the nonprofit sector: What is the best way to get involved? What should we be doing that can truly make a difference?
The preceding is a guest post Bob Ottenhoff, Chief Executive of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. With an entrepreneurial spirit, strong technology focus, and a quest to make an impact in the world, Bob has the ability to take an organization and lead it into strong performance, sustainability, and industry leadership.