Thursday, October 15, 2015
In our last post we introduced Father Godfrey Nzamujo, the founder and director of the Songhai Center. He and his team of educators have trained thousands to use agriculture as a vehicle out of poverty.
After returning home to West Africa during the famine of the 1980's Father Godfrey encountered a "logic of poverty." He noticed two underlying premises driving the way his countrymen thought about stemming economic deprivation: 1) a dependence on foreign aid, and 2) the need for large amounts of capital to create economic production.
Although foreign aid can be a wonderful tool to address the immediate needs of people, it rarely, if ever, addresses the root causes of poverty. For example, Tom's, the popular shoe brand, promises to donate a pair of shoes in Africa for every pair purchased here in the States. This means that many people who need shoes receive a free pair. Great!
Unfortunately, "shoelessness" is only symptomatic of the real problem -- poverty. Giving away free shoes won't create economic opportunity for those who need jobs that pay livable wages. Worse yet, when a village's market becomes saturated with free shoes, the local skilled craftsmen who make and sell shoes can't compete. With this logic at work, the impoverished stay dependent on foreign aid and never become self-reliant.
Another tenant in the logic of poverty is that massive amounts of money are needed to create economic opportunity for those who have none. If this is true, countries struggling to provide basic services will never have the stockpiles of cash necessary to combat the root causes of poverty. Father Godfrey however, is proving that remarkable economic opportunity can in fact be created without a large infusion of money.
Father Godfrey preaches that there are five "core capitals" at work, in sequence, to create wealth: 1) human 2) environmental 3) technological 4) social and 5) financial. By properly investing in people, using the right technologies to leverage environmental resources, and selling society on their benefit's, significant financial gains can be made to benefit all. Let's take a closer look.
"To cultivate human capital, " says Father Godfrey, "you must recognize the productive and creative potential of all individuals, regardless of their socio-economic status. Once you recognize this fact, you can develop their latent productive potential through education and vocational training."
With a team of highly trained individuals, you can cultivate environmental capital, especially in the form of agriculture. By using the right technological capital, which in this context includes machinery, tools, and specialized techniques, you can ensure the relationship with the environment is productive and non-destructive.
When you produce valuable goods with previously untapped human potential and with non-destructive methods, agencies, institutions and the public start to demand that these principles be adopted as the norm. This creates social capital. Financial capital is the offshoot of an economic system that maximizes human and environmental potential, not the impetus that makes it possible.
Need more proof? Father Godfrey started the first Songhai Centre in Benin with a team of high school dropouts on a 2.4 acre strip of infertile land. Today there are 13 Songhai Centres in 4 African nations. Each are "doing more with less" by rethinking how to address poverty and making tremendous use of capital sources that traditionally go overlooked and under-appreciated.