As of July 16th, I have been back in Montreal moving into the next chapter of my life. Despite the long blog hiatus since then, I will now be continuing the blog from back home, as there is much about my experience I would still like to write about.
Montreal’s Run to End Poverty is this Sunday. This two-part blog entry is about why I’m running. To donate to my campaign click here: http://runtoendpoverty.ca/runners/dana/.
Almost exactly one year ago, I introduced readers to the EWB concept of Dorothy. In short, Dorothy is a symbol of what we work for; she is our boss, our ultimate beneficiary, our client X, our bottom line. In 2010, I wrote that, because of my conceptual nature, I wasn’t sure I’d ever find my Dorothy.
I met Ibrahim Sana sometime in early October 2010. At the time, he was not only a student at the Centre Agricole Polyvalent de Matourkou (CAP/M), but the student union’s president. Like about 70% of the students at the CAP/M, Ibrahim is already mandated to be a government extension agent (agricultural field agent) for a minimum of three years once he graduates. It’s not a great job, but it’s a guaranteed one, with a guaranteed salary.
I remember my first conversation with him quite clearly: in the back of a government 4 x 4 (the kind I was ashamed to ride in) on our way back from a meeting about curriculum revision with the CAP/M’s authorities. It had been a two-day long meeting that left me drained and discouraged. Looking for optimism from a younger generation, I asked him about becoming an agricultural entrepreneur after graduation. He said “Many do dream about it, but it’s really tough: there are no loans and there is no land.” His answer did not raise my spirits.
I returned to the CAP/M two months later to carry out my diagnostic of their curriculum, their teaching approach, their content and, most importantly, their attitude towards entrepreneurship. In between reading through hundreds of surveys and holding dozens of interviews with teachers and students, I would get visits from Ibrahim to discuss what I was doing and what EWB was all about.
“In my mind, being entrepreneurial is not just about starting a business, or taking huge risks. It’s about being pro-active, taking initiative, having a vision for where you want to get to, what you want to accomplish. We don’t expect or want everyone who graduates to go out and become a new farmer. What we do hope is that you come up with innovative ideas and strive for positive leadership no matter where you end up. ” Ibrahim was skeptical: “Okay, but agents in the field can’t even do their jobs, let alone innovate. They have no gas money for their motorcycles – in many cases, no motorcycles. They can barely manage to do the bare minimum. The means just aren’t there.” I was stubborn: “It’s not about the means. If you blame complacency on lack of means then you’ll never get those means; nothing will change.”
We were both right. And both wrong. If you keep waiting, nothing will change, at least not sustainably – that’s fact. But even if you have the right attitude in a system devoid of opportunity that throws you back in your place at every corner, it’s not enough. So what do you do?
To be continued…