Helping People Help Themselves

This past Thursday, I was fortunate enough to hear Dickinson Class of ’81 Mr. Andrew Hyde give a lecture on the future of United States stability operations. Hyde is the partnership manager at the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations at the Department of State, and has extensive experience in the field with United States foreign policy as a long time member of the Foreign Service.

The talk was fascinating, but there was one thing that Hyde said which stuck out to me in particular. He emphasized that one of the key areas the United States needs to focus is on is ensuring the aid being pored into countries is being used efficiently. He cited the example of a hospital that was built in Afghanistan, but was empty because there was no way to provide doctors and equipment. Because the full logistics of providing medical care were not thought out, what the Afghans in the area ended up with was an empty building.

As far as I’m concerned, asking the people what it is they need rather than simply doing what we think is best is common sense. If someone comes into the ER, the doctors don’t just start prescribing medication and ordering surgery, first they ask the patient what is wrong. The same basic logic applies to U.S. assistance programs in other countries.

Shifting from the mindset that we know best what others need will reap numerous benefits for the U.S. including saving money and changing the opinion of locals towards the U.S. As opposed to being viewed as the big kid on the block who forces solutions on others and bosses them around when it doesn’t understand their problems, the U.S. could be viewed as more understanding, helpful and culturally aware.