Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What is Success


Before coming to Zambia, I spent 4 weeks training with 10 other people in Toronto. The training is part of EWB’s program to prepare us for a new culture and to explain why the development sector operates the way it does. Within those 4 weeks, the most useful exercise I found was examining a single word. Accountability was my favourite.

Now I wonder about SUCCESS, what does it mean? What does it mean to me, and for Zambia, and especially for the millions of households across rural Zambia?

Since I arrived in February of 2008, my personal success has been divided into different areas. I knew I wanted to help rural Zambians get ahead. I knew I wanted to help my partner organization which purchases Honey from 6000 farmers every year. And I knew I wanted to contribute to a team of EWB volunteers who are all working to achieve the same goal. So I analysed for over a year, trying to figure out how I could help more. There were hundreds of epiphanies along the way, including one where I realized that everything is a process. From a cooked meal and all that goes into it, to the movie I watch on my laptop. So if everything was a process, then everything required work – and thus jobs. It might be true that one job can create 20 more jobs, but how do you get started when the biggest concern most people have is just on surviving. How do you go from subsistence living to a life where you can specialize in one area, and develop those skills to compete with people in other countries? I thought about this and finally came up with Investment as my conclusion. But how can this happen, and why isn’t it happening already? This opened up a million other questions about the world and the way the economy works. The simplest answer I could come up with for why it wasn’t already happening was that it wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t profitable.

Let’s get back to success. In short, my conclusion was that more investment in rural Zambia would bring success. I later added the idea that equipment was the way to invest since equipment increased efficiency and productivity, thus competitiveness.

But I have to back up, and ask if I went the wrong way somewhere. I have an amazing friend in Regina who has this ability to take everything I have considered success and put a new light on it. To question it from the foundation. She asked me two questions that stumped me at the time. The first, was about the end goal for rural Zambia. She asked if increasing productivity was really the answer. True that it might increase incomes, but in her mind, that was following the same path that Canada and other western countries have taken. Is this the right path? Flying into any major city, I have to admit that the pollution seen in the air makes me second guess everything. Then looking at the morals of our society, I also second guess. Then even worse still, looking at the spiritual health of our society – and our pathetic connection to the food we eat and the land we live on, makes me really doubt that this is the correct path.

The second question she asked was about a year later. I told her that the best part about helping businesses for development, rather than NGO’s, was because every business transaction has two players who are both empowered and have the freedom to choose if they want to transact or not. (whereas most donation type transactions are a one way street, and thus the recipient is actually powerless in the process) Her response was that even business influences the way a population develops, and who am I to direct this?

She had taken my success and ripped it up from its core. I stopped everything and had to question my own actions, the actions I believe in and have dedicated so much time and energy towards.

After some time reflecting, I realized that the question to her first question was simple. I don’t know how else a country can develop. The world has been effectively globalized, and the benefits of being part of this global economy outweigh the costs. Education and health care are the biggest benefits. My belief is that Canada and much of the west are only at stage 5 out of 10 in their development, and that my friend is right, the end goal is not for Zambia to be like Canada – however, Zambia does have to follow a similar path to reach that final goal. Look at the possibilities of where Canada can go in the next 50 years. It’s amazing. I picture people thinking more long term, making smarter purchases based on quality rather than satisfying an imaginary need - and I picture electric cars and cleaner energy sources. I picture stronger communities. But all of this isn’t possible without first becoming productive and wealthy. Maybe Zambia won’t spend as much time at stage 5, but first it has to get through stage 3.

To answer her second question, about whether it is morally right to guide the changes for another culture, whether through business or otherwise, I have to say that I don’t know. I have to say that it’s true that my actions, whether with other Canadians or with Zambians, will affect both myself and the person I’m with. If I’m in Canada, maybe I create a change that is bad for Canadians. The same can happen in Zambia. The important thing to me is that I try my best to always have a holistic perspective so that my actions aren’t selfish, but rather beneficial to everyone involved. What I do know for certain, is that giving something for free is a terrible way to try and help someone. Selling something with a subsidy is much better since at least there is some buy in from the customer (this includes health care and education) but definitely the ultimate goal has to be straight up business.

So my personal success seems to be back on track for now.

Then there is Zambia’s success. What does this mean?

I’ll get to this in my next blog post.


MrsJones said...

Success is what you make it. As long as you are working towards something that you believe - to the best of your knowledge - to be true, and worthy of effort, then you are successful. Achieving a certain goal is not the only meaning of success. The journey to that goal, the million steps, road blocks and detours that it takes to get there is just as important, if not more important. Along the way, you may have to change the end goal as you grow, experience and learn new things. Just because you didn't reach your initial goal, does not mean you have failed. You have succeeded at so many other things.
I think as long as you aim to achieve something your heart is dear and true to, then you can be successful.
I think what you are doing is amazing, bold, and brave. You have touched the lives of many - and for the better - no one can say that is not success.
Good question. Very tricky to answer, as there is no right or wrong answer.

MrsJones said...

I wrote a long, heartfelt comment on success and I was not successful in posting it for some reason. Now, it's just not flowing the way it was 5mins ago.
The main point: success cannot be defined so simply. Success is what you make it. Taking small steps to achieve a goal is success. Changing that goal to make it better, is success. You may be heading in one direction now, but in another direction in a year for now because you learned from experiences.
No one knows for sure the long-term impacts of your actions today, but today they are making changes for the better, so why worry about it? Keep your eyes open, your heart in gear, and your head on your shoulders, and you will find success.
(What I said before was better...but at least you got the jist of it!)

MrsJones said...

Oops. Maybe it did work. You can choose which one you'd like to display. ;)