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   Volume 6 | Issue 16 | April 22, 2012 |


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Extra Credit

Not My Piece of Cake

Sabhanaz Rashid Diya
Photo: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo

As development activists or social entrepreneurs, one of our many roles is to be concerned. Because of the nature of our work or as I call it, passion and responsibility it is only rightly expected that we will be more concerned, more informed and more proactive than anyone else around us. For the internal optimist, our need to be concerned is seen as being in the right place at the right moment as the right people; for the pessimist, it is nothing but sort of obvious that we will be there. After all, we chose to be concerned, correct?

However, there is a fine line between being concerned and being proactive. As leaders, it is important for us to choose what we will be concerned about and to what ends. For a class of people, ubiquity is God's doing and when activists are active about anything and everything under the sky, they usually do not know what they are doing. For a different class of people as expected, activists are the louder, stronger voices of those unheard and they need to be active for anyone and everyone in distress. If not us, then who will?

So, what do we do? Do we shove our heads and resources into any issue that begs attention and aid, which, by the way is every issue in the greater universe or do we make heartless choices and give our 'limited budgets' as the oldest of excuses? Do we keep ensuring more kids are getting into school or do we start worrying about those losing homes? Which basic need of the average man do we respond to and how do we tackle everything else that comes along with it?

The fundamental principle of economics talks about scarce resources that lead to earthly choices. We cannot have everything and be everywhere at the same time, therefore all our decisions have an opportunity cost. In the same vein, every problem has several interconnected problems. If you are working to ensure more children from low-income families are getting an education, it is inevitable that you have to be equally if, not more, worried about whether the guardians of children coming from such backgrounds are employed so they have no reason or excuse to not send the kids to school. It does not stop with increasing the number of school-going children, but also ensuring they have decent meals, a safe home and all the right buttons that ensure they are taking in as much of the education as possible without getting married off at an early age or moving to a new location. The physical, social, financial, emotional and strategic dimensions of a single area of concern turn into an overwhelming ecosystem of untapped buttons and unprecedented implications. The question at this point is, how do we channel genuine intentions to effective work and create sustainable impact?

The solution is not easy. Every non-government, philanthropic or non-profit organisation in the world struggles to find that sweet spot where solving one problem creates an automated series of change that will resolve a greater problem. Sending one girl to school will somehow mean the family is becoming more informed through her and the girl might not end up being a child bride or suffer from premature pregnancy. Donating five blankets will mean a small neighbourhood will have enough warmth for many winters and by then, be employed to support their families against harsh weathers. The reality however is not so favourable. Rarely do all the buttons turn on themselves a catalyst is always making things happen.

The trick is to not do everything yourself. It sounds selfish, but unless you run a million-dollar project that has budget, resources and strategy in excess there really is not much choice. However, that is not where you stop. You start making collaborations. So, if you are planning to ensure more children are going to school, it is important for you to find out who is working on family planning, employment training and microfinance so that, you can create a more sustainable ecosystem of positive impact. As a society, partnerships are essential and unless we start tying loose ends by identifying all the agents in the big picture, good intentions can go to waste and resources and the problem at hand may aggravate. The trick is to excel in your niche and inspire others to find their niche, thereby triggering an automated series of change where every crack under the iceberg can be resolved effectively. Not my piece of cake? Not an excuse.

(Sabhanaz Rashid Diya is a major in Media and Communication at Independent University Bangladesh and founder of the nonprofit youth organisation, One Degree Initiative Foundation.)

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