Global estimates predict annual infrastructure spending of over $5 trillion a year from 2020, with many more billions allocated and available through Philanthropy and governmental development agencies – but the deep challenges within society remain largely unaltered, and in fact seem to be worsening everywhere despite what much touted statistics indicate.
As part of that, the poster child sector of development and philanthropy, dominated by the prevailing system of Western style Eurocentric Capitalism and outdated top-down external development methods, needs to take a hard, realistic look at itself.
The reality is that most ‘interventions’ (as the sector labels its efforts to assist), are put in place by highly educated but often out of touch ex situ practitioners, based on impressive evidence gathering and (big) data collection carried out by the similar individuals.
The answers are really simple. Enable people through love and understanding. By questioning and listening carefully to them, and including them in the analysis and construction of the solution or change required.

As part of a two-decade old private foundation that works globally, always looking to engage without our own agenda, we experienced some tough lessons along the way that caused a rethink on how we approached and supported challenges within education and community development.
In all successful cases, we learnt that fully enabled people, both the helpers and the helped, coupled to suitable approaches that address some of the missing elements within the systems, are the key to success – and shifts to dramatically better outcomes.
Of excitement is that these are already available and being used all over the world.
Of growing frustration and dismay is the fact that the out of touch powers that be don’t see or use, or don’t want to see or use, these simple approaches. Far easier and better for image and impressive ego spend to focus on and use costly often out of touch but highly developed technology, backed by large funding systems with marketable buzzwords such as Impact Investing, Social Impact Bonds and many more.

And most of this is driven by one of the most overused methodologies within philanthropy and development. In fact, the leading driver of any action within the realm of large well-funded foundations, development agencies and governments – is data.
And from what we have seen, it’s an obsessive gathering, an industry unto itself, and often seeming to be the main rationale for engagement.
To the uninitiated, the perpetual use of analysing everything prior to moving anything is the puzzling norm. In fact, the major driver often seems to be based on the programmed background and satisfaction of the people who love the safe distance of data and analysis! And more disturbingly, that get millions of dollars to use it as their meaningful solution of choice!
This stance does NOT dismiss the importance of gathering or use of data. But the reality is that it is NOT data that will single-handedly change education or the wellbeing of communities. Or technology, more STEM teaching, or brilliant new innovations or systems – also usually tech driven.
All of these matter. But they should not be the focus or the solutions. It’s far deeper than that.
It is all about people. Human beings. About how they are enabled. How their needs are met. How they are listened too. What they really need. Not what WE think they need.
It’s about how they are fed, physically and mentally. How they are nurtured and met with love – and NOT technology, new innovations or data – that will activate the real shifts required!
The reality is that the development world needs to get off its lofty pedestal and engage directly and deeply in each unique situation or challenge, and understand and address the root causes for ANY meaningful outcomes to be met.
This issue is fascinating. On one side we have researchers, stats, numbers and viewpoints derived from research. And on the other, people whose lives are still extremely challenged and more often than not traumatic. Research like this, endorsed by men like Steven Pinker, is an elite out of touch perspective that uses numbers that obscures the real situation. Finding out what ‘real troubles’ people have is about listening to and engaging deeply with them, and not just using external measurements from laboratories managed by people from our privileged realm.
Numbers, studies, frameworks, and perspectives from outside of the on the ground realities cannot work as effectively as direct connection with individuals, families and communities immersed in the realms requiring assistance.

The fact is that the challenges are not around funds available, or the lack of a willingness to give. From massive ego-based donations that have naming rights attached to buildings at Harvard or Oxford, to the Giving Pledge and Giving Tuesday – all the way to the giving of ‘ordinary’ people on the ground in countries such as South Africa and many others – the generosity of human beings is exceptional.
The challenge however, is how we go about giving. Even the word giving is unsuitable. Giving can create expectation, apathy and stagnation. And unless linked to absolute need, it becomes that. And although the Latin word for charity meant generous love, modern day charity can have an element of the negative about it.
This journey needs to be one of unfettered exploration and investment, not linked to our own outcomes or drivers. A difficult state to shift. Fortunately, there are a number of global forums that are currently looking more honestly at the state of development in the modern world.

We all need to consider the fact that our worldview, drivers and contextual learnings may need dramatic shifting. In reality, the most powerful lessons and perspectives come out of the most turbulent and challenging situations. And if we look closely within these kinds of rich contextual environments, we can be shown new concepts of engaging and approaching problems, and activate new ways of activating individual development and solving global community and education issues.
Our suggestion is that development and philanthropy look to revise their approaches, and find on- the-ground champions and pioneers within the vital sectors of education and community development who can provide deeper context and even answers to many of the challenges. The key then would be to stay close to each initiative, nurturing, guiding and advising, committing to partnerships and providing long term support to ensure success.
It’s not just about philanthropy. Every day companies are joining the growing number of organizations committing to positive change locally, socially, and globally. In order to achieve these goals, businesses are including ESG strategies in their mandates, but these are more often than not surface initiatives that don’t positively impact on surrounding communities.

Governments are generally out of touch with the needs and feelings of their populations. Even around the subject of trying to ensure that people can earn a living. ‘Job creation’ is misnomer. Using massive capital to drive infrastructure spend is a finite response to an ongoing issue. Once the project is over, so are the bulk of the ‘jobs’.
And with so many people coming onto the planet daily, this will just worsen. What about focusing on more individuals to get trained to look after and assist other individuals? Sadly, interest in Humanities and social vocations is dwindling as everyone chases tech and other ‘dream’ careers.
Even in our own lives we seem to be so out of touch. In a recent investment article about how technology alone would enable us to live longer lives, it was fascinating how there was no mention at all of the actual happiness of people who are planning to live for eons!
Life is not just about staying here – and having big enough investments to do so comfortably. The current problems and issues in the world relying totally on this myopic focus on science and technology being the only way to ‘save ourselves’ is lunacy. Technology will solve nothing on its own! It can be an extraordinary tool – but not a panacea for all.
The fact is, whether in development or through technological solutions, the main component of ANY change MUST involve the work of developing our inner selves – unless robotic humans – or robots – is the future vision of humanity for the people salivating over this latest growth market.
In our own work over the last 3 decades, we have found that businesses that nurture and recognise their staff members, or initiatives that include activating a deeper awareness of identity through self-individualisation, using meditation or other techniques that create ‘more whole’ human beings who learn to value themselves differently are where the lasting successes are found.
An illusion, or an imperative?
Whichever we believe, we have to marry our inner with the outer for anything to truly begin to shift in society.

Gary Shearer.