Suits and mobility aid
If we look at aid for individuals, broadly there are three general-ish types:
The first we can call “sustenance aid” and it is things like food or mosquito nets or clean water: it keeps people alive and it keeps people healthy. It’s important.
The second could be called “capability aid” – stuff such as education and internet access. It helps people enhance their human capital. It’s also important.
The third is something I’m gonna call “mobility aid” and here is an example: in America, we now get that people in poverty don’t just need blankets and food, they need to be able to get a job. To do that, they need to interview, and they need a suit. Mobility aid is the suit. It helps people become socially and economically mobile. It lets them use their human capital.
My hunch is that we don’t do enough suits in other countries. We like to keep people alive and healthy (great!) and we like to give them books and an education (also great!) and then we kinda just abandon them (not so great!). And so we help the world have a bunch of healthy, educated and impoverished sustenance farmers.
I’m not totally sure why we do this, but I’ve got a couple ideas:
FIRST, we have this fetish for entrepreneurship, and it’s stupid. Starting a business is hard enough in America, so I’m not sure why we all get super amped-up telling people to start one in, like, Goma. But entrepreneurship is where most of our mobility aid goes.
SECOND. It doesn’t “fit” with how we like to see our aid recipients. We just feel like it makes more sense to drill a water pump for starving poor people than it does to give a suit to a well-educated healthy man so that he has a better chance of beating out patronage for a job.
But this is important stuff! It’s important because we have this pretty noble goal of trying to help people live fulfilling lives and we only give them two-thirds of the tools to do it. It’s important because it shows a level of respect to our recipients that we care about them as functional people and not just hungry mouths. It’s important because it is necessary for aid to “work”.
So I think it’s time we get over our issues and do it.
And that’s where there’s good news – I don’t think changing this is that hard. It’s like a supply chain and we are working out the kinks. Help people be healthy, help them get an education, help them get a job. If we are doing the first two things but people aren’t ending up with gainful employment, let’s follow up, let’s be close to our programs and our recipients, and let’s figure out what the bottleneck is. The aforementioned “suits” are an American example, and people might and probably do need something else in Kampala to let them utilize their shiny wonderful human capital – but we won’t be able to figure out what that need is unless we change our approach. Let’s get started.