We have both Ph.D.s and people with a year of formal education at Meadowcreek. If you put formal education and experience on opposite ends of the scale, which is most valuable? On the Meadowcreek scale, its obvious.
People know about Ph.D.s in rural areas. Doctors from the University show up now and then interested in our farms and communities. They will have lots of head knowledge. They usually talk fast and use big words. They give advice very confidently. Then they leave. And go back to their offices in the city. And rural people go back to doing what they’ve been doing all along.
If they have a grant, then we humor them until the grant runs out. Then they go back to their offices in the city and the locals go back to doing what we know best.
Sometimes they will stay awhile, get to know the local people and understand what works here. Then they might actually be able to contribute something. But almost always they are grant funded and ambitious, collect numbers showing how successful they were, and then go on to the next project when the grant is over.
In some places the grants are plentiful and the Ph.D.s want to stay around. Then the locals get creative. Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas and only 90 minute flight from the US. Government services and control are absent almost everywhere.
So, lots of American churches, charities, and NGOs wants to have a project in Haiti. There are only a limited number of neighborhoods and valleys in Haiti. So the charities bump into each other. Once a charity gets established in a valley, they look askance on new charities which want to come in. The new NGO will have different methods, different philosophy and often contradict the methods established by the first NGO.
So the different neighborhoods and valleys of Haiti usually have one NGO in charge of helping the local people. When the local people are astute, organized, and aware of this competition, they play the charities against one another. The one who can provide the most to the region is the one invited to stay.
When the locals are astute and organized and greedy, they go one step further. They convince the NGO that only Haitians can know what is best for Haiti. “You are white and an outsider, you can’t know what is best for us.” Once the NGO staff accepts this logic, the locals go on to say: “Just give us the money and we will implement the project the right way.” Often, when competition between NGOs is high, the NGOs just turn over the money and are permitted to collect data for their reports.
NGOs who experience this scheme often get fed up and leave, but there is always another naive, well-intentioned, guilt-ridden charity to take their place.
Rural people say of them, they might have been working for 26 years, but they don’t have 26 years of experience. They have one year of experience 26 times.
Even worse, their only experience is in bureaucracies. They are experts, but only experts in how to survive in a University of other bureaucracy.
At Meadowcreek, we sometimes get people who are very proud of their degrees. When they meet someone new their first question is where did you go to school. They sometimes make useful contributions to Meadowcreek, but not for long. They value the established bureaucracies and want to be part of one.
That means, like all bureaucrats, they have to get good at politics. Politics not about creating resources, assets and wealth, it is about dividing up existing wealth.
Some policy wonks do have their hearts in the right place and really believe they can design program which will create wealth and improve people’s lives. They may even realize that programs must be built from the ground up. What is rare is the bureaucrat who actually works at the grassroots level to build systems which will last.
Resilient systems must be locally self-organized. If you want to create a resilient system, you must be an integral part of it. You can’t transform a system from afar. Ninety percent of development is being there. If you want to establish a new system, you have to be present in the system.
But if you want the system to be resilient when you have left, then remember that ten percent of development is not being there. You need to let the locals create their own organization.
At Meadowcreek, we are in it for the long haul. We tell new folks who come here that if they really do well, they will have their choice of any of the four cemeteries in the valley.