Ripples from the Zambezi is both a reflection on the true meaning of “development” and a step-by-step manual to a new way of thinking about personal and economic development. Enresto Sirolli advocates for a model of development called “Enterprise Facilitation.” The phrase has been trademarked by the Sirolli Institute – which charges $5,000 per month to train and mentor a local facilitator in a community – but TPM will be running a program based on the ideas and principles of Enterprise Facilitation.
The book begins with a critique of traditional aid and the intellectual fallacies underlying these models. Three key ones are:
– This is the idea that the newest and most efficient technology for a given problem is the best solution to that problem. Sirolli argues that sometimes older technologies can actually be better for a given community. For example, giving a poor rural farmer a new tractor might seem like the best way to increase his/her productivity. However, the tractor will put the farmer in serious debt and will require expensive experts to repair and maintain it. Experts and parts may not be available. However, supplying a farmer with a donkey-powered plow may provide increased productivity with technologies more familiar to the farmer. Although it seems outdated to the western eye, this solution can keep the farmer out of debt and allow him/her to be independent of the need for mechanics and other experts.
Levels of Need – Traditional aid has focused on the material needs of its recipients. However, material wealth only really matters as far as the basic levels of need on Maslow’s Hierarcy – food, shelter, water etc. After we feel our basic needs are secure, getting more stuff doesn’t improve life. It’s hard for Americans to understand this – we take overconsumption for granted – but many people feel no more motivation to spend time making money after they have secured basic needs for themselves and their families. Quality aid should focus on the highest level of need: self-actualization. Helping people become what they were born to be leads to healthy, growing, fulfilled people. Healthy people create healthy societies.
Motivation – The last thing any development worker should ever be doing is motivating people. If you have to motivate people, it means you have a poorly designed program that they don’t believe in and don’t care much to be a part of.
In the next section of the book Sirolli offers a step-by-step explanation of how to implement an Enterprise Facilitation program and the outcomes that can be expected.
Essentially, an enterprise facilitator is a person in a community who works to help entrepreneurs grow or start their businesses. The key, as Sirolli puts it, is to “Shut up and listen!” The facilitator should not be an expert and should not have any sort of agenda or quota. His/her job is to make their services known and then wait for people to ask for assistance. The assistance provided is free and confidential. Facilitators help entrepreneurs to think through ideas, make connections, and find funding. They never personally provide funds and they never motivate the entrepreneur in any way.
Sirolli summarizes the essence of his vision:
I began to conceive a vision of a society that facilitates personal growth by assisting individuals in achieving what they wish to achieve. A Taoist bureaucracy which does nothing until asked, and then does a great deal. A ‘humble’ public servant that doesn’t plan how to build the ideal society but who is enchanted by the unique, idiosyncratic needs and abilities of the people that he serves and whose task would be to respond to individuals’ requests for assistance and provide the elements needed for that person to flower. – pg. 22
Ripples from the Zambezi provides a new way of thinking about the role of outsiders in economic development. The strength of the outsider is no longer that they are an “expert.” It is the opposite. They are a clean slate, free of any local biases, politics, or assumptions.