When the Rubber Hits the Road: Why Ideas Aren’t Enough

7350_1063362157043035_5214960913551953844_nAmong those interested in international development, you’ll find many idealists. This is unsurprising, given that those who enter this field must have not a only a concern for issues of poverty and injustice, but also an underlying belief that such wrongs can be corrected– that the world can indeed become a better place. And so, those who, like me, fit this description commit ourselves to educating ourselves and developing solutions that we believe have the power to transform the lives of people around the world.

Unfortunately, there comes a time when this rose-colored glasses approach to development can no longer be sustained. In fact, for many, it comes fairly quickly. This is not because their beliefs and passions have grown any less bright. It’s not even because they’ve abandoned their hope that change can be effected in communities. Rather, it’s because no matter how great a solution is in theory, putting it into practice forces organizations and individuals to contend with real-life obstacles. It will probably come as no shock to many of you that perhaps the greatest obstacle is money.

You see, at CLI we talk a lot about our deep-seated belief the youth of the Congo have the ability to transform their country. The seven years that CLI has spent working with and training these youth have only confirmed this as we witness firsthand their creativity, resilience, intelligence, and vision for their communities. We have no doubt that, if given the opportunity, our young leaders will foster peace and prosperity in the Congo.

The hard part is creating that opportunity.

Let’s consider the example of an entrepreneur trying to start a small pig farming business. Believe it or not, pork is actually the most widely consumed meat in the world, topping both poultry and beef. This fact, combined with the cheap feeding and maintenance costs associated with raising pigs and the extremely high yield that they produce, leaves little doubt about why someone would want to capitalize on this opportunity, buy some pigs, and start making money. Unfortunately, it’s just not that easy.

Even though a pig can reach a market value of up to $400 in just six months, that pig must first be purchased as a piglet by the entrepreneur for $30 to $50. That piglet will then go on to consume 10 to 15 70kg bags of feed, each of which costs around $22, by the time it reaches maturity. Factor in costs like renting land, creating fencing, transportation to the market, veterinary care, and other maintenance costs and you’re suddenly looking at, conservatively speaking, an initial investment of nearly $400 for a 4-pig business that, despite its potential for producing a 4x return of $1,600, will not be able to yield much profit for the first eleven months until the animals have reached maturity. In a country like the Congo, where people live on less than a dollar a day on average, this kind of startup cash simply out of the realm of possibility for many, no matter how skilled and passionate they may be.

This is where CLI steps in. After our young complete entrepreneurship and leadership training at our Leadership Institute, they are given a small grant of $40 each that provides them with the opportunity to pursue a dream that was never feasible before. With full control over the focus and design of their small business or social project, the projects that our youth launch show great diversity, including hair salons, mills, baked good shops and– yes!– even pig farms. In fact, last year we had 10 young leaders at our site in Beni team up together and invest their combined $400 in a pig farming business that yielded a profit margin of 45% in the first three months!

Of course, our young leaders, like other entrepreneurs around the world, still face challenges as they continue to grow and sustain their businesses. However, it is our hope that by not only providing the initial capital that they need to launch their projects, but also targeted training that gives them the tools they need to ensure that business’ success, our young leaders can become local sources of social change and economic development in their communities.






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