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Our World: Sharing hope, not disdain
In Somalia, for example, she discovered that tremendous progress has been made in the region known as Somaliland
June 06, 2008
I'm increasingly convinced that the world needs more idealists — people who believe they can and will make a difference and that what people believe to be impossible is possible.
It seems so much more constructive to make the choice of hope and optimism over the skepticism and cynicism that tend to dominate our social and political life.
It's the idealists and dreamers, not the cynics, who make significant contributions, such as those who succeeded against all odds in building Wenatchee's Performing Arts Center or those who had the foresight to build the publicly owned dams on the Columbia River, to name two examples.
This week, I had the pleasure of getting acquainted with someone whose vision and energy are directed toward a more global objective, but one that may provide some insight into solving local problems.
Rosemary Cairns is a Canadian citizen who has some provocative insights into community development. Cairns, a former journalist who splits her time between a small village in Serbia and Vancouver, B.C., has spent the past 14 years of her life involved in international development, beginning with assignments as an elections monitor in Bosnia and other areas of conflict. Through her work, she has come to believe that we need to fundamentally change the way we approach international development.
She believes that the most important success factor is tapping into the knowledge and innovative capacity of the local people, which runs counter to the bias of development organizations that individuals in those countries have little to offer.
The conversation in the West is often about the so-called failed states, implying that countries are basically hopeless. Her work has been devoted to uncovering success stories in those failed states and in other countries. She calls them islands of achievement. In Somalia, for example, she discovered that tremendous progress has been made in the region known as Somaliland, which has declared itself autonomous from Somalia, a matter that is disputed. With little or no help from traditional donors, the people have come together on their own to create a reasonably stable government, build schools, hospitals and other infrastructure and live in relative peace.
She has discovered and written about nearly 300 similar success stories from all over the world, from developing and developed countries, to demonstrate that people can work together and make a difference. Her wiki tells the story of Egyptian farmers who banded together to conserve water, a children's bank that turned street kids into entrepreneurs and highlights a project in South Africa where a school took excess land and created a garden to help feed their hungry students and show the community a better way to farm, as just a few examples.
"What I'm doing is applied research in this emerging picture of what international development could look like," says Cairns. The most important thing she thinks we can bring to the communities of the world is hope. "You don't realize how powerful hope is," she said.
Another area of opportunity she sees is in the democratization of international giving, where markets are created to allow those who are wealthy in the West to make small but significant loans to entrepreneurs throughout the world, creating a relationship rather than a donation.
I wonder what could be accomplished in North Central Washington and elsewhere if we focused on replicating success stories like the ones on Cairns' wiki — www.hopebuilding.pbwiki.com. Does our focus on failed states, and what's wrong, limit our sense of what is possible?
Source: The Wenatchee World