Posted by: Martin Fox | June 23, 2008

Greetings from Tanzania

By Martin Fox – The Center for Global Leadership and the Higher Road Initiative

We read all the books and benefit from the infinite media imprints for years. With the click of a button, we have instant access to the same information as World Bank economists. Thanks to the digital age, our social networks are made up of individuals from around the world. And hey, we are really smart as well.

Think about it (let’s call it like it is). We are educated in the world’s leading institutions. Our IQ’s are increasing with each successive generation. We are true masters of the digital age, which allows us to literally know more than the combined knowledge of all previous generations who came before.

Repeat after me, WE KNOW IT ALL. And then… go put yourself in a situation where reality slaps you in the face – hard. If we knew it all, I wouldn’t be seeing what I’m seeing in Africa.

How do we reconcile “We know it all” when sitting in a classroom of young orphans who lost both parents to HIV/AIDs? How do you look the children in the eyes and tell them we have readily available drugs that would have kept their parents alive for many years?

How do you look at bright-eyed, eager children in a country where only 5% of students enjoy an education past the elementary level and tell them probability models show they will continue to live in the same cycle of crushing extreme poverty as their late parents? The children know that education is the key to escaping poverty, but the cost required to attend secondary school is not even a distant dream for 95% of the country’s youth.

These children are not longing for new clothes and I-Phones, they are trying to figure out how to cover the very lowest level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (not starving to death and having a safe place to sleep). The fact is, millions of children die in Africa each year because they couldn’t figure out how to do those two things. Millions more die because they couldn’t afford and/or get access to 20 cent immunizations and malaria nets.

How do you tell them — well, you don’t, because it wouldn’t do a bit of good. You see, they don’t need explanations and probability models, they need hope. Now there is a pretty cool opportunity for us, becoming dealers in hope.

This is not a message of desperation and sadness. This is a message of opportunity (and a gap analysis of sorts). The situation here is merely where we are here today, but it is not where we are going. The fact I’m sitting here a few hundred miles from Rwanda is not lost on me. I know what happens if we bury our heads in the sand. We do know a lot, now let’s go do something with that considerable brilliance.

We can make a difference in Tanzania. In meetings with local educators and business leaders, the response has been universal – our organization can help make a sustainable difference. Working with the multitude of other great people and organizations on the ground here, we have the opportunity to help break the cycle of extreme poverty. More to come on that later.

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