By Mary Solecki
I frequently tell people I’m ‘into’ international development. I recently received a raised eyebrow at this statement, reminding me just how vague the term is. Is it sinister international globalization plans? An underground tunnel to China (finally)? When asked to describe what this means to me, I tend to go for the explanation “helping people to meet their basic needs of clean water, food, and education.”
Now, this might sound like pure humanitarian efforts, but I have a very negative impression of humanitarianism. I envision crates of food dropping to people on the ground, canned in English they do not understand nor have the can openers to open without bodily laceration. International development is the sustainable version of humanitarianism, based off the ‘Teach a Man to Fish’ life lesson #218. Rather than a crate of canned food, the international development plane might drop off a fishing pole and a fly-fishing guide that knows a few local jokes and swimming holes.
While the world seems to have growing enthusiasm for international development, the hurdles and risks associated with this work have not gone away. As social entrepreneurs are sprouting up throughout developing countries, governments of these countries are relaxing their own efforts, and becoming more dependent on these organizations to provide services in their place. Social entrepreneurs face a huge obstacle in their very existence. They exist to help improve lifestyles and meet basic needs to some of the world’s poorest. In order for an organization to consider itself ‘social’, they cannot turn too much of a profit off the very people they are trying to help. The amount of creativity required to help meet people’s needs while still fulfilling bottom line needs walks the fine line between exhilarating and exhausting.
With only modest revenue streams, social entrepreneurs are faced with daunting task to find adequate investments, or throw themselves into the wild world of donor dollars. Either way, they frequently must work closely with government agencies, compete for investments or donations, and stay focused on their original goals. From what I have seen, this last step can be the most difficult. How can a person stay focused while they are constantly bombarded with other worthy causes and genuine people with dire needs?
Obviously, the position of social entrepreneurs is not enviable. However, they probably learn more and experience more challenges on the job than anyone in an office building. To top it off, they get to work with other social entrepreneurs like themselves, and see the differences they make in others’ lives.
As a current student, I don’t know what role I will play in the international development field in my career. However, I do know that I know no more respectable area of work, and I will seek to support and invest in such organizations throughout my lifetime. I encourage you to help me follow and encourage the work of these entrepreneurs, as they are setting the new standards of work ethic.
Mary Solecki is an MBA candidate at Presidio Graduate School. She has a sales and marketing background, but is currently involved in international development and renewable energy issues. Originally from the midwest, Mary is currently located in San Francisco. She also blogs at www.passionateperspectives.com