Ernesto Sirolli is an Italian entrepreneur who helps people. But he learned a thing or two about what is actually helpful and what is not before he embarked on his career, and the method by which he learned his lesson is both amusing and incredibly instructive. I'll paraphrase, but it's not as funny here as when he tells it here. Nor do I have such a great accent.
When Ernesto was young, he and a bunch of Italian do-gooders decided to go to Zambia, Africa, to help the natives learn agriculture. They selected a luscious valley by the Zambian River that seemed perfect for a thriving farm and set about trying to get the natives excited about what they were going to be taught. The Italians tilled the land and planted tomatoes and zucchini. Though they paid the natives to work, the natives were pretty casual about when they showed up and when they didn't. In fact, the Zambian people in that area were pretty blase about the entire operation. But that was okay because the Italians were going to help them anyway. They felt very good about themselves and their righteous and charitable works.
When the harvest started coming in, it was amazing. The tomatoes were huge. The zucchini was ultra-bountiful. The earth was so well suited for growing it was incredible no one had figured it out before!
And then the hippos came and ate the entire crop down to the nub.
"Why didn't you tell us about the hippos?" asked the Italians. "You never asked," answered the Zambians. The Zambians knew very well why farming that land was useless unless you really liked feeding hippos.
He makes a very good point about the fact that going to a country and helping entrepreneurs requires you to find their passions, which isn't possible until they trust you and they are willing to talk to you. I think that's true of most people. We walk into a situation thinking that our good intentions and ideas are the best and only way, and when the person we're trying to help balks at our charity, we get angry. Don't they know what's good for them? We tend to have an empire mindset where we are either paternalistic toward the people we want to help or we patronize them. We think of them as slaves or as children. Either way, it isn't the proper mindset, and you won't ever do any real good until you change how you think of and approach people you'd like to help.
Good stuff. Here's the link again if you want to watch his 17 minute talk.