Why Africa Doesn’t Need Another Water Well



One of my favorite blogs, Foreign Policy, has a fantastic new piece out “Africa’s Angry Young Men“. I encourage you all to read it thoroughly, as it addresses with a little more high-level finesse what I am about to write on the same topic here.

Before I go any further, you should know that the title to this blog was part link bait, park truth. (Hey, at least I’m honest right?) Africa DOES need clean and accessible water.  Okay? We’re on the same page? Good.

But there is something more valuable we can give.  Especially among young people all across Africa.  I have seen this firsthand on many trips to Ethiopia over the past 4 years.  Give a poor kid $10, great.  They will act like you just made them prime minister of the country.  Give them clean water, great.  They will joyfully dance around in it like they’ve never seen the clear, refreshing resource before.

More significant than any of these things, however is giving them meaning.  

Education and economic opportunity are often in very short supply in Africa.  And many foreign NGOs working in Africa never dare to tackle these two items.  They just don’t make our hearts bleed as much as a kid drinking fresh water, or getting the one meal per day we donated for them.  They’re more complex to execute.  They cost much more than well drilling or soup kitchens.  But most importantly, they take a lot of time and a lot of planning to succeed.

We all innately know that our most important resource is time.  Who has the time, between the daily rat races of life, to take a week off work and fly to Africa to help develop economic opportunity?  Then, after the trip, come back home and spend free time strategizing solutions to solve complex socioeconomic problems on a continent 7500 miles away?

And then there is the common self-perceived deficiency of talent.  Most of us feel we lack the talent to help develop these kinds of initiatives. However, if you live in a Western country, you likely have the talent to help develop economic opportunity for African young people. Everyone is good at something, whether they want to admit it or not, and usually that talent is something people in the 3rd world are not good at.  You might just need someone to help guide you through HOW to use that talent effectively.

Giving a young person stricken by poverty something meaningful to look forward to in life does not happen overnight.  And it doesn’t come cheap. But that doesn’t mean we should abstain from trying.  

So what can we do, practically?

  1. Be strategic.  This is the number one thing we must change.  We must think strategically in how we give, how we travel, how we build, how we influence, and who we invest in. If we are not thinking about the outcomes our present choices will yield 10 years from now, we’re not thinking strategically.
  2. Be aware.  Get your head out of the mainstream media and start reading blogs and following news that deliver stories about real things that matter.  This gets your mind thinking more often about issues from a much greater, macro level.  You are what you consume.  Choose to consume information that has real value to it.
  3. Be willing.  Open yourself up to a life outside of your own comfort zone – whatever that is.  For some people, investing the time and money to travel to a 3rd world country sounds impossible.  It’s not.  If a putz like me from Corn Fields, USA can do it, so can you.  The only opportunities you have are the ones you allow yourself to be a part of.


If you’re looking for somewhere to start even more practically than this (or while you work through this basic list), you can always make a donation to the school I co-founded in rural Ethiopia.  We’re strategically attempting change for the long-run. Your dollars go a long way.

For decades, we have worked to deliver basic necessities to the poor in Africa.  It is now time to focus our sights on delivering meaning to Africa.

Because if we don’t, we can clearly see who will – dictators, warlords and manipulators.

Be the Change!

– Nic




Add yours →

  1. It’s a dream of mine to persue social entrepreneurship in South America and Africa. People do need to realize these points you addressed. We can all make a (small) contribution to a water well, but why not take it a step further to strengthen their economy a cycle of increasing growth.

    Great article! I hope all is well with you and your family!!


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