Purpose, Passion & Closed Doors!
On Wednesday night, I was giggling when I read a blog post by a great friend of mine, Nyasha. She is based in the UK and she wrote a post titled ‘Nothing wasted’. I did not share with her at the time that I was just polishing this up and that I too had been reflecting on this whole idea of nothing ever being a waste and making the best out of the unexpected! So, there you have it. This post is about making room for the unexpected. It is inspired by a detour I took in the lead up to starting the PhD marathon.
When I began exploring my options for further education, I considered pursuing a Master of Development studies course as a pathway into a PhD program. I’ve always had an interest in African development, and I would like to have greater understanding of the nexus between governments, not-for-profits, philanthropy and the private sector. I had reasoned that the masters would help determine exactly what it was that I would ultimately focus on in relation to the impact of foreign aid on governance in Southern Africa.
I have always believed that we never get to hear the full stories of harms arising from foreign aid. Don’t get me wrong, I think there are some positive elements to it all. However, considering the number of years that have gone by with aid flows to the African continent, one cannot help but wonder why “all this money has not saved Africa”.
A key assumption I had held before learning more on this was that ‘More money created more problems’! Why? Because in my eyes, there seemed to be a gap in the approach to the “do good for Africa” agenda. It appeared as though there was little focus on self-sufficiency. Giving aid seemed like a feeding of the masses for a day approach instead of teaching them how to fish sustainably for the long term.
I’ve also always believed that the narrative of African nations needs to change from one of doom and gloom to being one of what is good and right. Not only that but that the story, whatever dimension it is told from, be also narrated by those who have experienced the beauty and richness of the continent.
As I thought more about committing what seemed like a lifetime to yet another study endeavour, I recognised that although I had this keen interest, I had no previous experience in the international development field. Neither had I learnt much on the topic in my undergraduate studies. The only unit that came close enough was a development economics elective I had chosen, much of which remains a blur. I also felt like jumping from a coursework masters to a PhD was too great a leap. So, I embarked on a search and discovery exercise in an attempt to identify exactly what it was I would commit to studying. I read many journal articles, newspaper pieces, blogs and watched YouTube clips of conferences and panel discussions about foreign aid.
Suffice to say by the end of my first week of preliminary searches and readings, I had arrived at the conclusion that this topic was more complicated than I had initially assumed. The picture of doom and gloom dominated discussions when it came to the mother continent. The theories of what could potentially “rescue” Africa from a downward spiral were many.
Some of the ideas were novel, however, there were also some that were ill thought and lacked the insight of lived experience. For example, calls to double if not triple aid to governments of struggling nations. Having been born and raised in the breadbasket of the continent once upon an era, Zimbabwe, I can tell you that doubling aid without the right accountability mechanisms in some nations is like throwing a rat into the grain house (as the Shona proverb says kukanda gonzo mudura)! It will not end well.
By the second week, I was overwhelmed, and I experienced many emotions ranging from excessive hopefulness to sheer disdain. Yes, many were the tales of greed and hoodwinked nations. I read about how foreign aid had facilitated corruption, weakened institutions, crippled local markets and of course created conducive environments for rogue agencies. In some cases, the unintended outcome being civil war. Think Blood Diamonds!
I also noticed something about the experts on African issues – an absence of voices hailing from Africa or of African descent. I will not even speak about the male to female imbalance. It made me pause and rethink my search approach. Instead, I began to look for innovative thinkers who were not entirely wedded to the idea of foreign aid. Or, if they were, they would be people who had ties to the continent. It was at this point that I stumbled across a book titled ‘Dead Aid: Why Aid is not working and how there is another way for Africa’ by Dr Dambisa Moyo. She is a female, Zambian economist and quite an influential thought leader!
As with all products and services I choose to consume I went in search of reviews. Her book had struck many nerves including the likes of Bill Gates. Not only him but some highly esteemed economists whose responses were more personal than professional in my view. It is that criticism that convinced me to purchase a copy. What a provocative read!!!
Dead Aid was written for Africans. It had the African policymakers in mind. Both the local and those in the west, the broader international community and in my view, anyone who truly wishes to see Africa arise. The book is too good a read and to summarise it in a paragraph would be a grave injustice, so I’ll share more on this in a few months’ time!
At the time I read Dead Aid, I was convinced that a week or two from then, I would have my thesis topic. I was wrong. I was not at peace with what I had landed on. Not only that but the doors the I “needed” to open, did not open. It took another 7-8 months and two major trips in between before I finally landed on a topic- advocacy and public policy – then another 5 or so months before I finally figured out that I also had an interest in examining Australian Not for profit advocacy organisations and the roles they play in housing and homelessness policy.
You may be wondering. Africa and Australia are worlds apart. What gives? Well, that is true. Pragmatism, funding and supervision of my project were also other key factors I had to consider. However, in hindsight, I realised that there are many interconnections between the two, something I came to realise later on. At the time I made the decision, I thought I had wasted time. In my frustration I did have a sit down with my mentor and I shared this with him. He said something to the effect of nothing is ever a waste. What may seem like a detour and waste to me is something different in God’s eye. I took that to heart, and as with all things profound scribbled it in my journal. Close to 4 years later, my short stint in development readings and lessons has suddenly become relevant to my project, hobby (here we are on a blog), and the work I do for “work work”. What seemed like a detour and stubbornly closed doors turned out to be foundational pieces for my present.
As I wrap up, I’d like to leave you with two simple questions:
- What life detours have you placed in a trash can?
- How do you deal with situations where your passion is so great but the doors you need to open do not budge?
As I mentioned in my “Teatime at the Daily Fix” post, it is important to make room for the unexpected in life. Not only that but take time to regularly reflect and appreciate the beauty and richness of the experiences you gain as well as the lessons you learn, whether good or bad. Then, if it does not make any sense, shelve it. In due time some of it will make sense. In the best seasons, some of it may just also become your income stream.
Now, I return to my cave, and ask that you, pray for me as I continue writing this dissertation. More importantly pray for the teapots and mugs in this house 😅 and do check out Nyasha’s ‘Nothing Wasted’ post and blog which you can find here!
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