Thursday, May 31, 2012

Passport Series: Burkina Faso and the true meaning of global development rankings

What is it like to live in a country that's globally recognized as one of the least developed places on earth?

Burkina Faso finds itself at the bottom of a lot of lists: for literacy, gender equality, and happiness to name a few. At the same time, it tops lists ranking poverty and malnutrition. For many, this seems to confirm the narrative of the country as a singular story of poverty, ethnic genocide, corruption, famine, illiteracy, AIDS, child soldiers and more. Very unfortunately, this narrative has become so pervasive that it has seeped into the identity of the people themselves.

Conversations with foreigners often begin with statements like, "Life is hard here in Africa.” And while many Africans do face tremendous hardships, global development rankings reinforce unrealistic perceptions of the developed world as nearly Utopian -- happy, peaceful, problem-less.

Imagine living in a country that is ranked among the most unhappy. When you laugh, would you wonder how much sweeter and deeper that laughter would be if you lived somewhere else?

Meet the Wendtigimda Group. This group of seven women requested a $500 loan to buy supplies for a member's fruit and vegetable stand. The owner of the fruit stand is a wife and mother of six who is supporting her children's education and dreams of providing a better future for her family.

Do these women look unhappy?

It's easy to understand how people develop these caricatures of reality. Statistics and facts are good tools to attract attention to acute problems, but solutions require a more nuanced understanding and approach.

Looking at the statistics, you wouldn't get a sense of Burkina Faso's rich history of dance, the importance of family, or how much pride they take in their craftsmanship.

Our fellows blog is full of stories of conversations and experiences that break stereotypes. Borrowers are often surprised by the stories of our fellows working for their money and not having grown up in some utopian paradise where money and happiness flow freely. And, fellows are often surprised by the similarities between cultures and the fluidity of their own identity.

Our mission to alleviate poverty and boost empowerment does not have a one size fits all solution. Our partnerships with organizations on the ground and our fellows help us to understand the unique needs, and thus support tailored solutions to borrowers' problems.

At the heart of Kiva is the belief in the power of connecting people. It makes us understand how similar we are, dispel these single story myths, and better grasp the ripple effect of our actions. The world suffers, there is no utopia, there is always a battle to be fought but we are in it together. In most cases, lenders lend for the sake of the greater good despite their personal needs and hardships.

This is the final post of a three part series taking a deep-dive look at Burkina Faso, its history with microfinance, Kiva's role in expanding opportunities for the Burkinab√©, and what it's like to participate in the country's economy as a borrower, lender and field worker. We hope you've enjoyed it and look forward bringing you stories from Nicaragua in June!

Photos courtesy of Rita Willaert.