Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Update from Pakistan

Mohammed Shafi is an eight-acre farmer who must support fifty members of his family by farming, raising a few water buffalo, and working as a day laborer. He cannot afford to cover his expenses and as such, must take loans from local money lenders at rates in excess of 10% per month. It is farmers like Mohammed Shafi, that I am trying to help through my work with Micro Drip. Micro Drip is not a non-profit, but rather a social business. We sell low-cost drip irrigation systems to poor farmers at a reasonable price so that the farmer has access to this incredible technology, and we can serve him without asking for handouts.

Incredibly, it has been six months since I first arrived in Pakistan and God has been faithful in keeping me safe in spite of the violence that has plagued parts of the country. Thankfully, I've found that the reports on the news are scarier than the ground reality. The assignment has been the most challenging of my life, but I've also learned more here than anywhere else.

1) No plan will work unless it includes on-the-ground knowledge
The typical aid model of the past 50 years has been for smart people from the developed world to decide what people in the developing world need. This strategy is doomed to failure from the beginning. Poor people aren't dumb. They understand their ground reality better than you or I.

2) Innovation does not only come from the developed world
When working with poor farmers with little-to-no education, I have been amazed by some of the human ingenuity that I've witnessed. For more details, check out my blog (see link below).

3) I am now more aware of my own basic assumptions
When explaining how to calculate a farmer's net profit to a room of Masters-level sales people, I was shocked to learn that they did not understand basic percentages.

4) Human Resources is THE strategic function
You can have the greatest strategy in the world, but if you don't have the right people, then the strategy is worthless.

5) You and I are spoiled
I have had the opportunity to live with an incredible Pakistani family. I have access to a car, internet, AC, a TV, etc. The electricity goes out some five or six times daily and yet we have a generator to power the fans in the extreme heat. Most of this country is not so lucky. When in America, we don't even think about the electricity, water, or internet not working.

In three months, I will return to the USA and complete my fellowship with Acumen Fund in New York City. Acumen Fund is an innovative organization that uses the power of business to tackle some of the most critical social issues in the world such as clean water, affordable healthcare, renewable energy, and low-cost housing. Post Acumen Fund, I am considering several different career options, including potentially starting my own business or consulting with private companies that are seeking to enter developing markets. If you have any job leads that you believe would fit well with my skill set and interests, please do email me.

Thank you for your interest and support of my work around the world. While I believe my next job will be based in the US for at least a few years, I am sure that I will head abroad again soon.


Joel Montgomery

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Nell Derick Debevoise said...

Awesome work and insights, Joel. Especially 1 & 4 are spot on. Based on my last 18 months of work in Nablus, Palestine at a new international / community-based organization (yes, we're bridging both ends of the extreme), I hope that these insights will lead to a revolution in the sector.

This will involve first, more onground engagement of international workers, and more serious consideration of local wisdom and expertise. Secondly, as the HBS article that @acumenfund tweeted this morning suggests, and your 4th point confirms, we need to do what is necessary to get and keep the right people working with social enterprises. This may mean slightly higher salaries, as well as benefits (i.e. think US govt-sponsored healthcare or extending the Peace Corps service credit to other 501c3s?)...

Anyhow - really awesome to hear about your work and learning - keep up the great work! I'll keep an eye on the blog, and if you have a second - check out ours: http://tomorrowsyouth.wordpress.com.

Joel said...

Hi Nell. Thanks for your comments and work in Palestine. I'm glad to hear that you are engaging the local community and would definitely be interested in hearing some of the insights that you've gained.

I totally agree with you about higher salaries and benefits in the social enterprise sector. I think this is a must and believe it is inevitable with the stream of business people into the space. I have always thought that the standard non-profit metric of % of budget spent of programs is misleading. Personally, I would prefer to have less money go to my programs but ensure that I have the best talent possible to make those programs actually work.

Best of luck and God Bless!


the money spent on programs