The problem with one-sided development

and what international development should really look like

Last post, I wrote in awe of the revolutionary product, Mokash. It’s pretty genius, in my opinion.

In this post, I’d like to focus on the fact that, until now, financial inclusion had been advancing at a less-than-ideal pace in Uganda because we had only considered using financial institutions as the vehicle. And it’s easy to understand why.

Most of the developed world was banked with financial institutions- can you really bank any other way?

Mobile has only ever been an accessory, with banks offering mobile apps or online banking options. However, Mokash has proven that it doesn’t have to be that way. You can be a mobile phone user first, then sign up for your telecom’s banking service through your (smart or dumb) phone.

Crazy, right? But it’s working in Uganda.


This is not the first time that a system in a developed country didn’t make sense in a developing country. Consider the phone. It began with Mr. Alexander Graham Bell’s electro-magnetic telephone before evolved to the smartphone we have today. If we imposed our phone system the way development often does with other projects, we would have dug for landline poles in third-world countries, believing it was the prerequisite to mobile phones.

No, in these countries, the entire landline step was skipped, because who needs landlines when mobile already exists? It would be like producing cassette players in a country today, thinking that the CD player and iPod and Spotify would be slowly introduced as the country advanced technologically.

We can’t continue insisting that developing countries must follow the same path as the developed world or that we must help them catch up so we’re all on the same page.

What works for one country will not work for another and we can’t impose our successful systems on another.

For example, the colonization of Uganda resulted in an education system modeled after the British. My Ugandan friends know more about Canada’s provinces and England’s history than we ourselves! As interesting as these facts may be, I would argue that this system was incorrectly instituted in Uganda. Many parts of it, although appropriate for British schools, just don’t make sense here.

Instead of learning about the four seasons of spring, summer, fall, and winter (which are non-existent here), students should have learned about their own wet and dry seasons. Wouldn’t that have made people aware of how the agricultural industry works and the economics behind their father’s farms? Wouldn’t that have helped today’s farmers respond to the recent challenges in the environment?


That is why I argue that the labels “developed” versus “developing” need to be reconsidered. It infers that the developed have reached an ideal state and that the developing should be aspiring to be like them.

Do developed countries not have homelessness and poverty? Do we not have youth unemployment, corruption, disease, and discrimination? We do!

That’s what the proliferation of social entrepreneurs in “developed” countries are fighting! We, too, want to change and develop our own communities, because living above $2 a day does not disqualify us from having real social and economic problems. That means that we, the “developed”, are also developing. So let’s get rid of this label and the attitudes that come with them.

If you are helping a community solve their problem, (1) give their input the heaviest weight, (2) let them play the biggest role in designing the solution, and (3) make sure they get the credit for it. You’re not there to teach them how you did it. You’re there to help them do something for themselves, in their way.

And yes, “you” can be someone from Sub-Saharan Africa, helping “them” in North America, because “international development” is about sharing knowledge and expertise, wherever they come from.

After all, we are all developing countries.