What Water Wells and Kidney Transplants Have in Common
What is a local expert?
A local expert is someone who knows best how to solve challenges in their own community, using their critical experience and contextual knowledge to ensure the success of the solution.
Local experts offer a local context for creating lasting solutions to societal problems. They can look at their communities and the environment, geography, culture, politick, trauma, social hierarchies like gender, skin color, ethnicity, colonial history, tribal practices, and weather, and make decisions that will inform whether or not the solution being offered will actually benefit the growth and eventual flourishing of the people living there.
To put it another way, the international development community has been performing haphazard kidney transplants without investigating whether or not the kidneys are good matches, and for the most part, not caring much about how well the new organs take to the body of the people on the operating table.
Most “solutions” implemented in the countries of Africa where Blood:Water’s African partner organizations exist have been the culmination of western ideas formed into western projects and programs, fueled by western investments, and implemented by western-led organizations that have not invited local African experts to vet the idea. At best, the majority of large NGOs (Non-Government Organizations, i.e., nonprofits) have hired local workers to implement the “western solution.”
It is illuminating to know that the life expectancy of a project like the drilling and construction of a new borehole well, generously funded by a donor for between $5,000 and $15,000 US, is roughly 18 months when it is done without engaging with local leaders, and void of true community involvement. That is not a good investment in solving the water crisis. There are far more cost effective means for people who desire that shot of dopamine that comes with knowing they have done a good thing.
On the other hand, if that same water project is developed while allowing local experts to lead and inform, it can last upwards of 20 years!
We as a culture have looked at the local organization as the younger sibling to the large international organizations. In doing so, we have fueled a long, solutionless investment that has done more to build a western hero complex rather than truly help solve the challenges that continue to burden our world. It is time to change.
Investing in local experts and locally-led organizations is the ONLY way to fuel lasting change in places that you and I do not live in, know, or fully understand.
As we consider that local, while smaller, is both human and expert, I am reminded once again of the wise words of Mother Teresa: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”
Help Blood:Water continue to support Africa’s local experts, and together we will see the end of the water and HIV/AIDS crises.