27 October 2010 ~ 7 Comments

Investing in People

We want to know that our money went to “the right place”. We have been taught to be fearful that our donations might aid corruption or not be used in the way we had intended. As such, it’s easier for us to build buildings than invest time in people through things like trainings & education programs.

If we fund a building, we can see it and touch it and know that our money went where we had intended it to go.

But, what are we missing when we invest only in things we can put our name on?

We are missing out on investing in real change.

The changes we say that we want to see in the world—in health, education, the environment, and in all of the social ills plaguing our schools, families, and our planet—cannot be fixed by investing in things. More schools, more bednets, more health centers, more books, and more school uniforms are not going to solve these problems, no matter how many we give away.

We can’t emblazon our name on a person’s forehead the way we can on a hospital building: Funded by the Smith Family. Investing in people isn’t as rewarding in the short term – you don’t see a space turn from empty to full, a building go up brick by brick, or books lining shelves. But, as we fill people with knowledge and skills, connect them to the ideas and resources they need to make the changes they want to see in the world, and create opportunities that didn’t exist before, we start to fill the real voids we have in the world: people with the skills and passion to go out and make the changes they believe in.

We made this mistake at PEPY. We came to Cambodia and built a school, thinking that a new building would improve education, not realizing that a safe space is only the tip of the iceberg of what is needed to improve the quality of education in a place. The rest has to do with human beings. We need a revolution of philanthropy. We need fewer people donating to build a well with their name on it or to build empty schools and health centers with beautiful plaques hanging on the walls, and more people supporting educational opportunities for people to learn the skills and bring in the income to solve their problems on their own. I’ve invested in the wrong things many times and I’ve seen what it takes to make changes. I know now: buildings don’t change lives. PEOPLE do. So rather than writing our names on more buildings, let’s get out our tattoo pens and start investing in people to change the world.

Disclaimer: The author does not REALLY think that we should write on people. She does though really think that we should INVEST in people, even though we can’t put a name plate on them. Please note that no people were harmed in the taking of these photos and that all investment in all of us in the images was in the form of opportunities to connect and learn, not tattoo ink.

  • http://twitter.com/TravelOffRadar Travel Off the Radar

    GREAT post, DanielannIt’s about people and helping each other. Of course that sounds really simple and easy, but of course, when we actually work with people it’s a lot harder than it sounds – we come in with our own expectations and agenda. We need to learn to listen to what others already know and give up expectations of what we would usually determine a successful investment to be. Because no matter the outcome, when we invest time with people, it’s a win, it’s something that cannot be destroyed and cannot decay like a building.nn-Tania

  • Sallie

    This is a great post – I am going to put a link up on our blog http://blog.travel-peopleandplaces.co.uk/ to this. We spend so much time explaining that long term benefit can only come from investment in people – yes it’s slow and frustrating at times and certainly not what most donors want to hear. Thanks for such a well argued piece and if you want any support in your revolution I am your woman!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for letting us know about your work in Nepal. I see you agree that school buildings don’t teach kids. I also think it’s not just about paying salaries – though in some cases that is what is needed. When we started funding Cambodian teachers, the quality of education in the area we were working in didn’t go up. It wasn’t until we started seeking out or creating teacher training programs, connecting teachers and administrators to model schools and new ideas, and working with parents and students to connect the realities of education to new opportunities that we started to see change. I’m a VERY impatient person… so I have often gotten frustrated at the time it has taken to make the changes that I wanted to see… but I have realized that in the times when I have tried to “rush” into a solution have been the least likely to stick. Lots to learn…. thanks for your comment!

  • Anonymous

    Saundra, Kit, Tania, and Sallie, thanks for your posts as well! I am delighted that Nicholas Kristof tweeted this so that this topic got so much attention and thought. It sounds like most of you are already thinking about these things and working towards investing time in others – Saundra through your blog, Kit through your new mentorship ideas, Tania through helping people connect to more responsible travel options, and Sallie through your work and blog as well. I’m happy to continue this discussion and work with you all to find ways to broaden the impact of sharing these thoughts. Sometimes the “investing in people” has to do with investing in donors or potential philanthropists and helping them make more positive choices with their funds. nnMy model for that was Mickey Sampson, and we put together these clips of a tour he took us on of his work in Cambodia a few years ago. I think you all will appreciate it.nnhttp://vimeo.com/14284429

  • http://twitter.com/thesoldproject The SOLD Project

    Thanks so much for your post. I work for The SOLD Project, a U.S.-based non-profit preventing child exploitation through education in northern Thailand. Here, poverty and lack of education/opportunities send girls to Bangkok to in the sex industry. Our numbers aren’t as tangible as orgs that rescue girls from brothels, but we hope it will be in ten years when our kids are in college, not the Red Light districts. We find that we spend a lot of time explaining to people the sustainable value of long-term investment as a sustainable solution.

  • http://respontour.info Marcus

    It is not that we cannot see the changes that investing in people actually make. What I feel lacking in tourism is storytelling. With web 2.0 all the tools are available, free of charge and somewhat easy to use. I am not talking about the traveller blog story telling. That’s available in plenty. But where are the blogs that document the progress people make when they are given training and formal education. If we make them literate, show them how to use technical gadgets and provide them technical equipment we can link them and their stories to the world. This would add more soul to tourism and allow for a much more local travel perspective.

  • Radka

    Daniela, I am saddened but the tragic news shared in the newsletter I have just received. I am so proud of what you do and yes I agree that investing into people is much more lasting and awarding in so many ways. Things are nice and I am sure very appreciate but thins even bikes last only so long before they break or wear off … but when invested in people those skills and knowledge is a gift forever that no one can ever take away from them and they can build upond the foundation that they receive thanks to you guys.rnI am rooting for you and your gang Daniela and will share Bday care with Langusta on the top with you any given year. :)rnrnTake care, Radka – the Czech chic