Training at Stanford

Brian Riefler - Ecuador


September 7, 2012

Let’s say the world is a village of 100. What do we see? There are differences in ethnicity—57 Asians, 21 Europeans, 14 Americans (North and South), 8 Africans—gender—52 females, 48 males—religion—30 Christians, 70 non-Christians—language—66 multilingual speakers (not one of whom is American)—sexuality—89 heterosexuals, 11 homosexuals—income—6 have 59% of the world’s wealth (all from the U.S.), 80 live in substandard housing, 50 are malnourished—and education—70 are illiterate, only 1 has a college degree, and only 1, which would be me and you right now, has a computer. With such privilege, it is my responsibility to pay forward my blessings. I receive my apprenticeship later this week, and I hope to make real human connections with the members of my community in order to better understand their needs.

However, while I may think I’m solving the right problem, I must also consider if the people think it’s a problem. Just because they may do things a certain way, that does not necessarily mean that my alternative is the only and best approach. For instance, at first glance, the Aquaduct protoype, in which one filters water by pedaling the bicycle, seems innovative by removing the hassle of carrying water over your head. However, it is actually not very practical in the developing world (incidentally, also known as the Global South and majority world) because it is expensive, cannot ride over rough surfaces, and may not be always be reliable. Thus, the Aquaduct is more practical in American cities. One must not only be idealistic to change the world but pragmatic as well. Lots of ideas have high levels of social impact but are not financially sustainable. An example of a successful project is the One World Futbol, whose mission is to make a positive change in the life of disadvantaged youth by providing soccer balls. It is cost-effective because it lasts a lifetime and one does not need to constantly replace the balls. Each Fellow actually received one to bring to our homestay families, and I am excited to play soccer with the locals. Although the ball was a hassle to carry on the plane from San Francisco to Quito, I think the effort will be worth it!

In order for effective change such as the One World Futbol Project to spread, I believe cross-sector collaboration is needed among international businesses, international non-profits, and governments. For instance, Chevrolet recently partnered with One World Futbol to manufacture 1.5 million soccer balls in a few months. While I think assistance is important to address  critical global needs, I am not sure how much aid is needed. There are two competing economic theories. Essentially, Jeffrey Sachs believes in foreign aid, while William Easterly argues that poor countries do not need handouts. In other words, do we give people fish or teach them how to fish? There is no right or wrong answer. Everybody is entitled to his own opinion, but nobody has the right to impose it on others. I am trying to defer judgment and be an empathetic learner by understanding both sides. I hope to explore this and other issues further this year by remaining open-minded and accepting of my experiences.

Brian Riefler