Nairobi Terrorism and the Hierarchy of Trauma

Talking about evil is hard. It involves at least two paradoxes. Here’s the first. On the one hand, to denounce evil is an ethical act. It is to affirm our deepest values and to commit ourselves to preventing acts that dehumanize others. On the other hand, to denounce evil can be an unethical act. It is a way of demonizing; it is, precisely, to dehumanize another. Here’s the second paradox: On the one hand, we need to the concept of evil to philosophically and ethically distinguish acts that shock our consciences, acts that are not adequately encompassed by words like bad, wicked, or wrong. The concept of evil clarifies. On the other hand, the concept of evil confuses, prevents thinking. We imagine evil is other than human, beyond understanding, almost mystical. This lets us off the hook, lets us deny our own capacity for evil, and stops us from analyzing the very human, very common causes of it.

James Dawes: The Guts of Atrocity

I have never quite known what to react in the wake of tragedy. Saying too much almost feels too opinionated, and saying too little almost feels to insincere. I remember my first encounter five years ago with a personal tragedy and death was uncontrollable laughter. Apparently my ‘coping’ mechanism then, was to try to see the humorous side of the story. Highly inappropriate. But now, over the past week, I am finding no humor that can help me cope as I watch Kenya balance a growing sadness of a nation, the anger of their citizens and the anguish of loved ones as terrorists stormed an upscale mall in Nairobi claiming over 60 lives.

As emails, phone calls, texts and social media updates came pouring in, the irony is not lost on me on how tragedies happen everyday around the world and yet, why is it that this one just seems so much more real. As my emotions slide between the continuum of “why” and “shock”, a strange version of this Hierarchy of Trauma began to emerge. As I scroll through the news for updates on Nairobi on that day, and throughout the week, it dawned on me that hundreds of people die and are affected by conflicts around the world. In Pakistan, 81 people perished in a church suicide bombing. In Nigeria, over 500 perished in terrorist related violence in the north of the country, and the on-going Syria crisis has claimed tens of thousands of lives. Countries and communities that I can’t even comprehend who and where – are suffering. Yet, why my heart aches the most for my Nairobi home and only for a fleeting moment of empathy for the news in Pakistan.

And suddenly it struck me, trauma and grief isn’t a competition or a hierarchy. We each grieve for different losses, in our own way and in time. There is no trauma that is superior to, lesser, greater, less shocking, better covered, or any other comparative phrase, than the suffering of any individual or community. All we can do, is know that even if your experience does not have a chapter in other stories of conflict and trauma, it still a part of our story as humanity as a whole.

Thinking of you.


Selected pieces that provide different perspectives on the Nairobi incident:

1) Generosity of citizens in donations for the victims

2) NY Times on the Value of Suffering 

3) A Tribute to a Friend: Ravi

4) Aung San Suu Kyi: the Freedom from Fear

5) A beautiful piece in The Nation on forgiveness

6) Nanjala Nyabola in Al-Jazeera on Keeping the Nairobi incident in perspective 

7) An interview with author, James Dawes on his new book: Evil Men – a collection of dialogues with war criminals from the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945)

Leading Change in Emerging Health Markets

About a month and a half ago, I was in Istanbul attending a global private health conference hosted by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and John Hopkins Medicine International. The event brought together global leaders in the private health industry to have share ideas, knowledge and lessons in the industry. Participants were mainly senior management/CEOs across the health value chain from health service providers to pharmaceutical & medical technology manufacturers to investors in emerging markets. On top of the conference, my team organized a separate panel session for health providers in sub-Saharan Africa.

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I just wanted to share some of my notes and key takeaways from the conference as I was really struck by the discussions of the world’s leading health providers and how it feeds into my work as an investor in emerging markets. Essentially, how I should be looking at the overall market and types of deals I should be focusing on. There were two presentations in particular that I would highly recommend going through, which is Credit Suisse’s Capital Markets Perspective on the healthcare services sector and IFC’s lessons from investing in hospitals.

  • Health is a major driver of GDP growth in OECD countries averaging approximately 7.3% as a percentage of total GDP.
  • There is an upward trend of life science tools and medical equipment providers in terms of performance
  • When comparing trading valuations (EV/EBITDA), EMEA and RoW companies significantly outperform American companies in terms of revenue growth, particularly in Acute Care provision
  • Banks are shrinking their lending portfolios particularly in SSA
  • M&A activity will continue to increase in a fragmented market with private equity playing an important role in sector consolidation
  • Healthcare services are trending from inpatient to outpatient, invasive to non-invasive, and from treatment to prevention
  • The global financial crisis slowed growth rates of companies in IFC’s portfolio, but none experienced a drop in sales – indicating that hospital businesses are resilient but not immune to the global financial crisis
  • IFC’s revenue projections were reasonably close to actual, on average erring 5% lower than actual (which is impressive!)
  • The health market in SSA is an SME market, hence a need for smaller deal sizes, or a consolidation of deals for increased access to financing

Overall, the conference left me feeling uplifted, but also a great sense of urgency in terms of the work that I am trying to do. The conference was IFC’s 5th annual healthcare conference and am already looking forward to the next one.

Responsibilities of an (Impact) Investor

For the past few months, I have been reflecting a lot on my role as an investor. Business plans and proposals come across my desk and as I shift through them, it really struck me on how large a responsibility investors play in accelerating trends, shaping a community or even country’s economy, but yet how little this responsibility is spoken about in the investing circles. We place so much emphasis on finding the right business, the right management team, the right social impact, that sometimes we get lost in our own capacity to recognize what really is innovative and what truly deserves to be funded. So, from my experiences, here’s what I think an investor’s responsibilities are on top of the typical investment work:

1) Investors need to live in the future. 

This is a point I feel very strongly about. If you’re an investor: VC/PE and particularly if you play in the startup and impact investing work, (as Fred Wilson pointed today in his blog post and what Paul Graham said):  you should live in the future and see what is missing. So well said. I’m currently in an environment (yes, I recognize that I am in Africa – so feel free to shower stereotypes), where I know investors who are still using yahoo mail, internet explorer and Windows 2003 (true story!). Not to say that there are anything wrong with the products, but more so – I think it’s so important to be keeping up with the trends in the world, technology being one of them. How can you expect to identify an investment that is ‘ground-breaking’ if you’re not even following the newest trends in your sector? Taking this a step further, if you are following these global trends vs. local trends, it is then our responsibility to seek out entrepreneurs who can close this gap and further elevate the developing world, or the developing world would forever be playing ‘catch up’.

2) Don’t be a sheep. 

This responsibility is particularly important in the impact investing space. Given that we’re playing in a field that is largely uncharted, risk is high and typically, most investors are unable to size up a new market and end up relying on the opinions of other investors. aka. I’ll invest if someone else will too aka. a sheep. Impact investors say that they are risk tolerant, but few translate this tolerance into signing along the dotted line. A very chicken and egg situation. Hence, I have to constantly push myself to understand what is the right balance of being a market leader but also not be a reckless investor. Balance is key.

3) The need to close and disburse faster

There are a lot of delays that occur in [impact] investing. The courting of investors and [social] entrepreneurs, the dance between finding the right termsheet, the issue of making sure that the social impact actually has an impact, and [insert your traditional delays in investing here]. This is the norm. This is my challenge to investors: recognize that the longer the delay, the bigger the strain on the business/organization. From an entrepreneur perspective, you’re constantly watching your ‘runway’ aka. how much money do I have before I run out, and a delayed closing round and disbursement is to the [social] entrepreneur’s disadvantage as well as to their customers. If we’re really standing with the poor, then deals need to close quicker with clear and simple terms, as the longer the delay, the more people are missing out on potentially experiencing the product/service.

This is by no means supposed to be an exhaustive list of responsibilities, but instead ones that I feel are most important given my experience. As investors, we are in a privileged position to start/continue or end trends. I think it’s time that we started thinking a little harder about where our responsibilities lie.

My Week’s Discoveries: Healthcare & Design

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the healthcare world for obvious reasons, and have been immersing myself with knowledge from all angles. One of the more fascinating angles is the cross section of healthcare and design. Here’s a couple of my favourite findings:

1) Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

It’s been a while since I’ve read a work of fiction and I was highly recommended this book by my Acumen Fund colleagues. I finished this book over the weekend and was so captured by the story, outraged on behalf of the protagonist, delighted by the intensity, and overall overwhelmed at how beautifully written this book was. It’s a story that takes place from Ethiopia to New York, about love, medicine and the intertwining of fate.

We are all fixing what is broken. It is the task of a lifetime. We’ll leave much unfinished for the next generation

– Cutting for Stone, A. Verghese

2) Butaro Hospital in Rwanda 

When you look at East Africa’s healthcare landscape, Rwanda stands out as a medical success. Health indicators have improved on all counts since the genocide, all primarily due to the success of a universal health insurance, where the poorest 25% of Rwandans get free medical care. One of my favourite things about the Rwandan healthcare landscape is a hospital, Butaro hospital that was designed by MASS Design Group The hospital has no hallways, so patients can’t gather in close spaces, and the air in the wards are changed more than 12 times per hour to prevent patients from being infected by other patients – particularly, with multi-drug-resistant TB.

Image taken from: ArchDaily by Iwan Baan

3) Future of healthcare is Social – Fast Company 

I recently was in Tanzania attending and speaking at a mobile health conference organized by USAID and the MInistry of Health of Tanzania. The theme at hand was the increasing technology and mobile penetration that is changing the health landscape in Africa. There are over 500 mhealth projects deployed around the world with the majority of projects (over 30%) being in Africa. I really enjoyed this article by Fast Company on the increasing social nature that comes along with the increased technology presence in healthcare. Also worth reading is another article by Fast Company, on 5 steps to designing a better healthcare system.

4)  Design for trust – UX Magazine 

Good design isn’t beautiful. Good design builds trust. As an investor, when I evaluate healthcare interventions, I look to see how the service accounts for factors that matter to a person’s dignity: they way they are being treated, training of healthcare staff and accessibility of information. This is especially important when dealing with the poor, who are used to being marginalized, and not receiving proper service. The article is more web-based trust, but relevant nevertheless, when thinking about how you interact with a patient. At the end of the day, when receiving medical news, everyone wants information that is “correct, complete and unbiased.”

7) Designing Handwashing – Core77

An older article, but a goodie in addressing one the most fundamental issues in healthcare: Handwashing. A great read in exploring: Movement Design, Muscle memory, movement scripts and fluidity.

Dambisa Moyo: Why aid is not working and how there is a better way for Africa

I am so so unbelievably stockedexcitedhappybreathlessinanticipation for this event. Seriously.

I read her book, Dead Aid, when it first came out and it opened my eyes to a very different perspective of aid, development and the financial world. Her views are a challenge and a strong vision on how to address the global poverty issue. Spread the word (and read the book!)

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Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

Women hold up half the sky – Chinese Proverb

Reality is hard. It is a startling revelation at times often because we choose to surround ourselves with our view and experience of the world. This Thanksgiving, I am reminded of reality when I sat down to read Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. In Half the Sky, Kristof and WuDunn throw an interesting twist into the conventional view of plights of women around the world: by telling their stories. From Cambodia to South Africa. From sex slaves to maternal health. By putting a name, emotion and passion into the stories. This tentative foray into the realm of story-telling melds surprising well with what is, essentially, a passionate call to action against our generation’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls worldwide.

The opening of the book follows the story of Srey Rath, a young Cambodian teenager, who was sold as a sex salve across the borders, ending up in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where she endured routine brutality and constant humiliation. It was a huge shock to my system, as Malaysia is someplace I call my home town…  to read in such vivid detail the human rights violation done to Srey Rath was stunning in every sense.

These stories of human perseverance, injustice and ultimately hope, just like Srey Rath, are woven into three main issues: sex trafficking and forced prostitution; gender-based violence e.g. honor killings and mass rape and maternal mortaility. Sub issues include education, microcredit and religion. The stories in the book are shocking, but ultimately this is the central truth of the book: Women aren’t the problem but the solution. The plight of girls is no more a tragedy than an opportunity.

“It appears that more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all battles of the twentieth century. More girls are killed in this routine “gendercide” in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century.

In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century, the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world. “

Through stories, Kristof and WuDunn demonstrate how the key to economic progress lies in the fact that as a society, we need to stop ignoring women who hold up half the sky. Unleashing this incredible human potential is not only the right thing to do in terms of our own shared humanity, but also the best way to tackle poverty. They show how in vastly different circumstances, the endurance of the human spirit and how a little help can go a long way e.g. the simple act of iodizing salt to improve a baby’s IQ.

I won’t go into the details of the book because my summary will not do these incredible stories justice. However, on a personal level, this book’s message has imprinted itself deeply within my beliefs in international development. After all, how many books make such a  statement about a matter than concerns everyone because of our shared humanity? The stories of these women show me the resilience and amount of hope they have within themselves who have every reason to give up but continue on. It’s so moving and inspirational that I just want to shout it out loud and tell everyone about the issues Kristof and WuDunn have written about. If there is one thing that this book is about, it is the story of transformation.

Rating: 10/10

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” – Derek Bok

Review: UBC iWeek Global Keynote Speaker- Paul Rusesabagina (Hotel Rwanda)

A couple weeks ago, I attended a very interesting event, one that provoked two thoughts:

1) There is always, always two sides of a story and

2) We need to use resources around us – beyond what we have at hand in order to learn

This event was in UBC as part of the International Week celebrations:

To provide some background: (Taken from event description)

Mr. Paul Rusesabagina was the manager of the Sabena Hôtel des Mille Collines, and sheltered hundreds of Tutsis and moderate Hutus people for a hundred days using all available resources to him.  His courageous efforts thwarted bands of genocidal militia while Rwanda descended into outright genocide and civil war, and was celebrated in the Hollywood movie production, “Hotel Rwanda”.

A recipient of numerous international awards, including the Wallenberg Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Mr. Rusesabagina is a powerful speaker with a story of heroism and humanity in inhumane conditions.  In addition to his experiences during and after the Rwandan genocide, Mr. Rusesabagina will share his insights into the nature of the conflict, the failure of the West to stop it, and the challenges of reconciliation.

The event started out with a quick introduction by Brian Sullivan and quickly proceeded to Paul Rusesabagina’s speech itself. I won’t go into details of the speech, which was an account of his experiences of the Rwandan genocide and what went down in Hotel Rwanda. It was incredible hearing his accounts first hand, but the real experience cam during the Q&A period. Prof. Michael Byers was the moderator for the session.

Three things occured during the Q&A that took me completely by surprise:

1) There was a substantial amount of people that are Rwandan genocide refugees that were present. I had no idea that event of this event managed to reach past the UBC community, which was impressive.

2) The questions regarding comparisons of South Africa and Rwanda’s economy was very much unexpected, considering the different political, cultural and economic conditions of both countries.

3) The response towards Paul Rusesabagina’s speech was centered around his accountability and actions of Hotel Rwanda.

Needless to say, due to time constraints, only 3-4 questions were answered and the session ended. However, several Rwandan community representatives spoke up on their version of Paul Rusesabagina’s actions, questioning his motives, financial accountability as well as alliances during the genocide. They had the Chan Centre riveted with accounts of their personal stories of their survival and encounters with the military.

I have been to numerous events at the Chan but this was the first one that I have ever experienced such a strong outcome and discussion after. Students were gathering outside the Chan around these Rwandan genocide survivors who were engaging in more personal conversation about their experiences and there was buzz in the atmosphere about newfound knowledge.

My Main Takeaway: Paul Rusesabagina has been potrayed by Hollywood as a hero and revered for his courageous efforts during the genocide. However, the discussion at the Chan center which questioned his alliances, financial accountability, and actual self-preservation efforts. This  has made me realise that there are always two sides to a story, no matter how well know one side is. It is our responsibility to always be aware of the other side.

I leave you with a phenomenal TED talk by Chimamanda Adiechi telling the danger of a single story. Because our lives and cultures are composed of many overlapping stories, if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.

10 ideas that are changing our world right now!

As my time in the last month or so has been pre-dominantly consumed by prepping and participating in a business case competition in Texas, I found my reading list to be narrowed down to database/news/papers/reports on current market trends, the economics of emerging markets and [insert topic of case research here].

What I did come across in my meanderings across the interwebs was this [recent-ish] issue of the TIME’s magazine, which highlights “10 ideas that are changing our world right now“. The compiled list of ranged from issues in religion to infrastructure to the economy, one of which I found to be of particular interest to me.

Africa: Open for Business

The article highlights that Africa has long been perceived as a continent of where progress is irrelevant regardless of the efforts being done – foreign aid, economic stimulus, etc. Africa is essentially viewed as hopeless, and a $40 billion/yr foreign industry has been built around that perception to the point where people are starting to question whether aid is even doing any good at all. Thus, when the world’s economy went into Defcon 5 last year, the $40 billion industry started being called into question with debates and books being written that foreign aid is bad, fuels corruption, undermines governments, unsustainable and is  counter productive. (ie. Dead Aid – Dambisa Moyo, former Goldman Sachs and World Bank economist)

Drilling down to the actual relevancy of aid and development, the article points out the obvious fact that has been staring us in the face all this time. That throughout the noise of the aid industry, reality is that aid is no longer Africa’s main source of foreign income. Yes, that’s right. Africa is now a business destination.

So, I did some economic digging and cam across some very interesting information.

1) Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)  inflows into Africa have improved tremendously in the last 6 years. From $14.6 billion in 2002 to $53 billion in 2007 (UNCTAD World Investment Report, 2008). This translates into a 263% growth rate over a 6 year period!

Note: FDI refers to investment in domestic structures, equipment and organization by foreign private sectors or governments. Does not include foreign portfolio investment in a domestic economy. FDI contributes to the economic performance of a host country by: first,representing additional resources which can be used to build additional physical capital and create more employment. Secondly, increases a country’s output and productivity by encouraging efficient use of existing resources by increasing the size of the capital stock. Overall, FDI also improves local skills and technology know-hows which translate into growth and development.

The IMF puts Africa’s average annual growth for 2004 to ’08 at more than 6% — better than any developed economy — and predicts the continent will buck the global recessionary trend to grow nearly 3.3% this year – Time Magazine

2) The reason for an increase in FDI is an improvement in both economic and political conditions on the continent.

Economic Conditions: The UNCTAD Report stated that not only has Africa’s economy grown over 5%/yr since 2001, but cross border M&A’s in the extraction and related service industries of Africa has tripled. Combined with the fact that the high prices and demand for resources like oil has attracted investments from both developed and developing countries. An interesting fact to note is that because Africa’s economy is relatively displaced from the global economy, it is actually to their advantage during the current economic crisis, that they have been relatively unaffected.

Perhaps the most attractive element of the improving African economic condition is the very fact that China has developed a healthy interest in the continent.

While the old superpowers still agonize over Africa’s poverty, the new one is captivated by its riches. Trade between Africa and China has grown an average of 30% in the past decade, topping $106 billion last year. – Time Magazine

The Chinese has changed the psychological approach on Africa. They enter the continent to trade, not to provide aid. In her book, Dead Aid, Dambisa Moyo pointed out that those who still needs convincing about Africa should ask themselves if they are convinced about China, “because if you back China, you’re backing Africa.”

Political Conditions: The turn of the new millennium has brought about a wave of peace, with a rapid decline in civil wars and conflicts. Democracy is up, trade is improving, inflation is declining and growth is happening. Yes Africa still has its Zimbabwes, Darfurs and Congos, but the truth of the matter is, the continent is trending towards a more peaceful and democratic region as a powerful consensus is emerging across Africa for good governance and as nearly all African countries have been involved in some type of political and institutional change.

This is reflected by the fact that better governance means better standards of living, infrastructure, education and although most Africans are not middle class, most are also not living in extreme poverty.

The percentage of Africans living on $1.25 a day or less dropped from 59% to 51% from 1996 to 2005 and has decreased further since – World Bank

For those who are curious, the full list is:

1. Jobs are the new Assets

2. Recycling the Suburbs

3. The New Calvinism

4. Reinstating the Interstate

5. Amortality

6. Africa, Business Destination

7. Rent-A-County

8. BioBanks

9. Survival Stores

10. Ecological Intelligence

The TIMES’s article can be found here

My African Experience: South Africa

In the summer of 2007, I participated with a group of 8 other students and 2 professors, in the Social Entrepreneurship 101 from my business school to South Africa. This was my team.

Jo-burg, Mozambique, Lesotho 024

The team at the end of the trip = UBC students + our local ground support from Ubuntu + Go Global + Nancy Langton + Robert Gateman ( taking the picture)

So briefly, SE101 is part of the African Initiative of the Sauder School of business to deliver business plan training programs to youth living in Africa. The efforts have been focussed in Kibera, Nairobi and Johannesburg. The workshops we delivered were aimed to educate and enable impoverished youth to start their own businesses in a practical, applicable and sustainable context.
Project Components:(Kibera and Nairobi)
  • Develop and present three weeks of workshops that inform interested Kibera youth about the essential components of a business plan, touching on a wide variety of topics from operational organization to marketing tactics and financial strategies.
  • Conduct one-on-one consultation sessions with the program participants, to share ideas and information, design complete business plans and organize step-by-step development stratagems.
  • Arrange guest speakers from the Kenyan business community to provide a local prospective, impart inspiration and share essential knowledge and experience.
  • Create a sustainable link and spread awareness through website updates, and progress reports about the progress of the program participants.
* Taken from the SE101 website
However, on the Johannesburg, South African initiative, our project components were slightly different. As a team of 9, we were divided into sub teams of 3, and were placed in three different site: 1) Orphanage in Soweto; 2) Business Plan Development, Alexandra Township and; 3) Ubuntu organization – our local partners.

Jo-burg 063
I was part of the team that was assigned to the orphanage in Soweto, and here, we were ‘consultants’ looking into the orphanage’s organisational structure and finances, seeing what could be improved on. We looked into  the orphan selection process, forms, criterias, allocation of finances and fund management. Our orphanage placement was the Ikageng Itireleng AIDS Ministry, which is headed by Carol Dyanti, affectionally known as “Mama Carol” to more than 1,700 orphans in over 200 homes. All these children live in child-headed households (parents have passed away due to AIDS).
Ikageng are the orphans’ life support, mentoring, providing life skills, paying their education, providing basic needs such as food, clothing and transportation. During my placement in Ikageng, I visited several child-headed households in Soweto ( My Saffer friends are gasping that I emerged unscathed, as Soweto is an incredibly dangerous place) and I can definitely say that the impact and reality of what these kids endure, hit me very very hard.
africa 291

Above is the residence of one of the child-headed households. The silver tin shack is home to 10 kid. It is roughly the length of the truck beside it.

I’m not going to divulge into details, but there are 2 stories that I would like to share.

Story 1: Our first day in the orphanage, a girl of about 16 years old came into the office needing counselling. She had no one else to go. Three years ago, this girl had both a father and mother. But one day, her mother comes home and discovered that her father was HIV+ and had not told the family. Her mother went into a rage and stabbed her father 48 times in front of her and because of that, was improvisoned for murder. The girl then came into the care of Mama Carol and the orphanage. She dropped all contact with her mother after the incident. Recently, her mother was diagnosed of AIDS and is in the hospital dying of both AIDS and meningitis. Her mother then requested that her daughter take care of her. The girl is almost finished high school and needed advice on whether to leave her education as it is to take care of her mother whom she has not spoken to in 3 years, or to ignore her mother’s requests and continue her education.

Story 2: Part of the orphanage’s support is providing transportation to school, as the township is unsafe, and these kids live far away from a decent education. 2 girls that we were in contact with, told the orphanage that they were old enough to walk ( they were both about the age of 14) to school to save some money in the summer as it would still be light out when school ends. Although the orphanage was uncomfortable, they agreed to the suggestion – both girls lived relatively close to the school and there were others who needed the money more. The next morning on their walk, they never made it to school. They were raped.

Now, these 2 stories were just some of the few that really resonated in me during my time with Ikageng. But it also illustrates several key takeaways that I would like to share:
1) Ignorance
It blows my mind how absolutely ignorant I was on thinking that I could ‘help’ the orphanage within a period of 2 weeks that I was there. Prior to our trip, we prepped on material, cultural challenges, exercises that we would use on site. We brought our SE101 financial ‘textbook’ there to ‘teach’ the locals on organisational structure and financing. None of us opened a page of that book. I was blown away, and I think I can safely say the rest of my teammates, were caught off guard by the situation, the people we were in contact with and paralyzed by our incapability  create change within those 2 weeks. Time was not on our side. You often read about situations like that in the news, but does the reality of it really process?
2) Teaching vs. learning
Before I landed in Johannesburg, I was prepped with the mindset that I was going there to help, to teach. A month later when I flew out of Johannesburg, I was the student instead for the month. It struck me that I was going in blind, without any prior situational knowledge or any proper contact before to ‘teach’ business to local Africans. What did I really know about a life, an economy, a living standard that is so different to my own? How can I tell someone to create change in an organisation when their daily decisions are to turn away orphans because their can’t support them financially or instead, to deny transportation rights to 2 girls that just want to go to school…
3) What I really learnt instead
Of all the numerous things that I learnt, below are some of the simple things that yes, may seem repeated and heard alot, but really impacted my time there until now.
  • Never underestimate any situation that you are going into, and never presume that you have an ‘upperhand’ just because you are more educated or come from a better off situation. You’ll be surprised at what you can learn.
  • All development help needs to be sustainable. You are virtually creating an expense for an organisation which is already short on funds to ‘entertain’ you for 2 weeks and then disappear back in your own life forever. If you want to help, make sure that you follow up, or is plugging into  an organisation that has a sustainable plan in place. This leads to Part 2 of my African trip, which will be blogged about at a later time.
  • Staying for 2 weeks will not create the change that you have envisioned. Especially if it’s just you and the locals. If you really want to help, stay longer. Alot longer. Or develop a sustainable plan. – refer to point 2 above.
  • If you are travelling in a team, your teammates can be your greatest assets or worst liabilities. Pick well. Mine were great people and I still see some from time to time.
  • There is always hope. Always.
Finals thoughts:
If I could describe my entire South African experience as one word, it would be: CHANGE. It changed the way I fundamentally viewed development and aid. It changed my view of Africa and the people. It changed me, issues I care about, future projects I worked on.

“Participating in SE101 was probably one of the best decisions that I have made in my undergrad life. This program challenged and changed me in the ways I view learning, education and teamwork. I found myself discovering so much more in terms of culture and knowledge, and challenging the traditional notions of developmental work. Not only has my experience exceeded my expectations, I also found inspiration and a sense of direction in terms of my Bcom degree.

As a result of the skills that I learnt while taking part in SE101, I have since been able to be involved with development work both locally in Vancouver and in Africa. I am also currently structuring a course with Sauder which incorporates a global learning perspective encourages a more cognitive learning/educational experience tapping on the passion students have for volunteering and helping others.”