SESSION: BBC FORUM: A RELATIONSHIP OF EQUALS? This special session was recorded by the acclaimed Forum radio programme airing on the BBC World Service which reaches over 166 million globally.

 

At the beginning of the session, Bridget Kendall, moderator of the Forum, asked her guests how they engage with people on the ground on a personal level. The responses were insightful. Geeta Rao Gupta, Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF, shares conversations about the common human experience. When interacting with a first-time mother, for instance, Geeta has found that the combination of the complex emotions of fear, joy, and anxiety are universal. These common experiences are a starting point for meaningful dialogue. For Brizio Biondi-Morra, President of AVINA, being honest and showing respect explicitly is key. And William Foote, CEO of Root Capital, immerses himself in culture – he draws from his repertoire of Spanish and Swahili folk songs he has learned from his travels much to the delight of the audience.

Over the course of the programme, guests and audience members attempt to answer the major motivating question for Forum: Is it possible to create and achieve a true balance of power when the (social entrepreneurs) ‘outsiders’ have most of the money and much of the resources? Geeta admits that in the beginning, there appears to be an imbalance of power because the ‘outsiders’ appear to have more resources and their own specific goals. Targeted communities, however, are sophisticated. And Geeta has learned that facilitated participatory processes where conversations lead to solutions owned by the community work better than a dump solution-and-run approach.

William shares a striking story from Root Capital’s work on the ground in Burkina Faso which deserves re-telling for most who consider themselves do-gooders in the world. During a routine impact measurement survey, one farmer expressed his frustration with being peppered with a multitude of questionnaires from NGOs, social investment funds and enterprises that do not translate into tangible benefit for himself and his community. “You are all crooks of the same family,” the farmer declared. And that was when it hit home for William that the agenda of the (‘outside’) social entrepreneurs are not always aligned with what actually matters to those on the ground. Local farmers do not particularly care about the quarterly board and investor reports for impact funds and enterprises. According to William, the social entrepreneur should be willing to change and adapt perspectives based on reality on the ground.

Brizio agrees with audience members on the importance of spending time on the ground to learn about actual situations before making assumptions. And he encourages a mindset of mutual learning as he recounts experiences where he learned valuable life lessons from individuals and communities. Overall, it was refreshing to learn that the “we are here to save you” approach in the world of social impact is gradually being replaced with a focus on partnerships and community-led solutions.

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Baafour Otu-Boateng is a Skoll Centre Associate Fellow and Chevening Scholar at the University of Oxford. Prior to his MBA, Baafour worked at TechnoServe Ghana, where he was responsible for the design and implementation of a national platform for local entrepreneurs to access training, networking opportunities, and venture capital. Previously, he completed advisory and transaction work for some of the world’s leading retailers at UBS Investment Bank in New York.