As recounted earlier, my fellowship work and journey have motivated me to reassess my views on humanitarian impact. This is a process that has continued in Gulu, Uganda, where over 200 NGOs work with the local population to offer medical services, educate, train, empower, provide opportunities for economic development and alleviate suffering. Some aid workers have suggested that Gulu boasts the highest concentration of aid workers in post-conflict communities worldwide. With this in mind, and with an amount of skepticism about the overlapping work of many NGOs and their lacking capacity for 'Monitoring & Evaluation' and impact assessment, how does one ensure that an additional aid worker, an additional project, an additional grant can make a difference?
Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's Half the Sky highlights how impact can take place at a smaller scale, on a more personal level, in ways that are just as significant. The book echoes Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains, Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea and Paul Collier's The Bottom Billion, three of my favourite books on development theories and initiatives. Half the Sky chronicles the challenges women face worldwide and posits development approaches to alleviating them, weaving anecdotes with hard numbers and policy theory with grassroots campaigns and local initiatives. My favourite anecdote, tying back to the theme of impact and moving one to action, is a Hawaiian parable that reads:
A man goes out on the beach and sees that it is covered with starfish that have washed up in the tide. A little boy is walking along, picking them up and throwing them back into the water.
“What are you doing, son?” the man asks. “You see how many starfish there are? You’ll never make a difference.”
The boy paused thoughtfully, and picked up another starfish and threw it in the ocean. “It sure made a difference to that one,” he said.