Striving, Searching

Written by Plant With Purpose on July 28, 2011 in General

By Kelsey Brown, PR and Events Intern

Every Tuesday at the Plant With Purpose offices in San Diego, the staff gathers in the conference room for fellowship and training. The topics vary from week to week and cover things like Scott’s book, Tending to Eden, our annual, budget, and interesting movies or lectures.

This week we watched an Authors@Google episode featuring William Easterly, an economist and professor who specializes in economic growth and foreign aid. In the video, Easterly discusses the thesis of his most recent book The White Man’s Burden (2006): the aid-centric approach to assisting third world countries has failed to produce sustainable growth, and in some cases is making things worse.

It took me a minute to warm up to this guy, but when I got past the sarcasm and put my idealism on time-out, I realized he totally had a point.

Easterly argues that as traditional development and aid systems exist now, there is zero accountability, no incentive, and no meaningful outcomes. Although large-scale campaigns like the UN Millennium goals are good PR and give the appearance of action, everyone is collectively responsible for attaining 54 broad spectrum goals and no single institution holds responsibility for any one result.

Without individual responsibility, foreign aid money often doesn’t reach the people who need it. Easterly believes that the ineffectiveness of Western organizations to mitigate global poverty is rooted in the linear, bureaucratic model that lacks: customer feedback, proper incentives to deliver results, accountability, and sustainable outcomes.

Easterly goes on to describe that effectively there are two types of foreign aid donors: Planners and Searchers. Traditional aid agencies, he says, are Planners.

Planners impose top-down grandiose plans to poor countries that are persuasive and inspiring. In their idealism, they raise large amounts of money and fund projects that statistically do not create development or promote growth of third world countries. Using plans like structural adjustment, aid fails because they have neglected to address the multidimensional aspects of the problems of the world’s poor. Instead of changing their approach, they collect more aid money despite the proven lack of effectiveness, and the cycle continues.

Searchers are less romantic. They don’t offer a quick, easy solution to the end of poverty because there is no such thing. Searchers accept accountability and insist on it, despite its unpopularity. They work from the ground up and are pragmatically optimistic.

Despite the fact that the “Planning” model has dominated the approach to solving the problems of the world’s poor — poverty, malnutrition, and disease persist. Easterly calls for the logical, analytical, and objective approach of “home-grown” searchers who are on the ground, looking for specific pieces of the poverty puzzle to heal.

Here at Plant With Purpose, we strive to be searchers. We are admittedly driven to see the end of world poverty in this lifetime, but know that we are part of a larger community of change-makers who each contribute something worthwhile and unique. Our focus is the first-hand connection between poverty and the environment. By reversing deforestation, we can work with the poor to restore productivity to their land to create economic opportunity out of environmental restoration. We are constantly in search of better ways to address the real needs of the people we serve around the world, and hold ourselves accountable to our communities and our colleagues.

We agree with Easterly that feedback matters. That’s why we’re asking YOU to help us be a better organization, to hold us accountable to our principles and vision. Take a minute to fill out the survey and tell us how you think we’re doing.

To watch the full William Easterly Lecture, click here.

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