At a conference in New York this fall I spoke with a woman from Africa who leads a well-known NGO. In her presentation, she spoke about how often people say to her, “What can we do? What do you want? What does Africa need?”
Her answer reminded me of the early days of figuring out what our global financial network was going to be. She said, “I tell them….come to see us. Come to learn about what we do and who we are. Then we can work out, together, how you can help.”
After 1975, when the idea of working collaboratively to get women into the financial marketplace was born, we spent much of our time and meager resources visiting each other and learning. The dominant model, even then, was that experts from Western nations could tell less-developed nations what they needed, and how to get it. Because we all had different backgrounds, training and goals, we never worked on the ‘expert’ agenda. Each of us had gifts to share.
Perhaps the most valuable and useful early support we received was a grant from UNDP to test our idea; to find out if networking women and supporting local entrepreneurs would work. We used that grant to hold international meetings every other year. These meetings included visits to businesses and practical skill building, but they also included lots of fun—singing, dancing, dressing-up and having a wonderful time. Because we truly knew and respected each other, we could work together.
When young people ask how they should begin to work in international development, I advise them to go to another country, live there, and learn. We need to return to this model as we work together in a connected but complex world.
Michaela Walsh, November 2012Learn more about Michaela Walsh and her new book, Founding a Movement, on her website, www.michaelawalsh.com.