Friday, July 27, 2012

Week in Review: Development vs. customs and habit

Advice is a funny thing. When asked if he believes people take his advice, advice columnist Dan Savage frankly stated, "Not usually, no." Research actually shows that people who give advice feel terrific afterwards and the people who receive the advice -- especially if it's unsolicited -- feel terrible. The problem with advice is that it offers up reason while often ignoring the vastness of human emotion and the power of tradition.

Five months after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the NPR show This American Life focused an entire episode on how difficult it is to help a poor country like Haiti as it shifted from disaster relief to reconstruction. 

"Here is something that happens a lot in Haiti, you meet someone poor, and they tell you the sad reality of their life -- some challenge they face everyday that keeps them poor," one guest on the show said. "You hear the details and you just can't believe the magnitude of the problem. Not because it is so big and complicated, but because it is so so small." 

Flooded with attention, money and aid organizations, Haiti highlights the problem with advice as applied to development. For example, one NGO tried to help mango farmers by offering them plastic bins to store their mangos and prevent them from bruising, thus ensuring they could get a better price for them later. However, the well intentioned bins were mostly used as stools, toys or ignored entirely. Why? Primarily, because of a lack of understanding, training and the inertia of customs. 

Getting people to change their behavior is difficult, but when it comes to something as deeply ingrained and steeped in tradition as cooking, the resistance must be met with a strong appeal to self-interest.

More than 3 billion people worldwide cook over polluting, unhealthy inefficient stoves everyday. These women grew up eating food cooked this way, learned to cook on these stoves and use them everyday to feed themselves and their families. But these stoves are dangerous, pollute the air, cause health problems and contribute to deforestation and climate change.

Our Fellow, Diana Briggs in Burkina Faso recently wrote about clean cookstoves and how our Field Partner there is addressing the tension between tradition and progress. Read her blog post here.

Echoing Diana's experience in Burkina Faso, PRI aired this informative short segment about clean cookstoves in Uganda:

As Ian, wrote about in his Kiva Innovations post, the best way to increase adoption of clean cookstoves is to create demand. We hope that by partnering up with organizations that take an innovative and holistic approach, Kiva can also promote use of this technology. 

The fire was been lit, but it is up to us to continue fueling progress and empowerment. Make a loan or invite your friends, family and colleagues to claim a Kiva free trial!

Photos courtesy of Orange Tuesday, Adam Franco, uusc4all, CGAP.