“What if you could help poor people around the world pull themselves out of poverty right from your keyboard?”
Village Corps, a nonprofit initiative of Aedi Group, works to empower communities in the developing world to lift themselves out of poverty and into sustainable prosperity, by connecting them with the collective efforts and contributions of volunteers, experts, nonprofits, and businesses.
I recently interviewed Georges Dyer, a founding partner of Aedi Group, and Vice President of Leadership Initiatives at Second Nature, Inc. In the interview, he answers a few questions about Village Corps and explains why the organization’s uncommon approach has the potential to create a more just and sustainable world.
Ukeme Esiet: What particular problems with social/economic development did you want to address at Village Corps’ inception?
Georges Dyer: Aedi Group started Village Corps as a way to meet human needs effectively in communities around the world by taking a whole-systems approach to strategic sustainable development. The goal is to generate sustainable prosperity in some of the world’s poorest villages. We work with villagers to identify and prioritize their needs and provide access to online tools, experts, and other organizations who might be able to help. We recognize that no single solution can generate sustainable prosperity, but together many solutions can. So really, our aim is to help villages become more self-reliant and resilient so they are well-prepared to address (and avoid) all of the interrelated social, economic, and environmental problems facing our global community.
What does the process of engaging villages involve and how do you ensure that these communities make the most of the program?
We connect with a point person in the village and team them up with Village Corps volunteers around the world who have the time, resources, skills, and dedication to partner with the village for five years. We are still in the pilot phase working with our first village in South Africa, and we expect this process to evolve as we learn more about the best ways of making this work.
What have you found surprising about Village Corps’ progress so far? What are some of the challenges you face in your work in developing countries?
Development work is challenging. Many very talented people, organizations, and governments have dedicated many decades to this work, yet we have still failed to produce sustained results in many regions of the world, too often this work has resulted in unintended consequences. The challenges are complex – there are a lot of them, they are interrelated, and they vary from place to place and from year to year. So we are expecting a lot of surprises. The most pleasant surprise is how much excitement and support we get from people when we explain the concepts behind Village Corps – there is a real desire to make the world a better place for everyone.
How would you like people to get involved in your work? Are there any critical areas that you need support in right now?
Right now we’re still in a BETA / pilot stage – some seed funding would tremendously helpful to bring in more of a full-time team to bring this concept to the next level. Once we’re there, we’ll be actively reaching out to people around the world to add their knowledge, skills, and expertise to the Village Corps platform, to nominate and partner with villages, and to go through our Fellowship program, which will be a ‘crash-course’ in strategic sustainable development, systems thinking, and organizational learning to prepare volunteers to partner with villages, and create the networks of support that can create resilient, sustainable communities.
Where do you see Village Corps in the next decade? What would you like to see change in the future and what do you feel is necessary for true sustainable prosperity?
The next decade is a critical one for humanity – in many ways we have failed over the past decade to do what was needed to create a sustainable society – the continuation (and growth!) of greenhouse gas emissions that are creating dangerous climate disruption is but one example. During the next decade we will need to continue to work to stop our unsustainable behaviour and create sustainable systems, but we also need to be realistic about how all communities will need to adapt to changing climates, increased toxicity, and strained social systems.
We hope that Village Corps can help thousands – hundreds of thousands – of villages become more resilient so they are better prepared to face these challenges and make these changes, while improving their quality of life on their own terms. True sustainable prosperity for all will require a shift in mindset among much of the developed world – one that allows us to see our happiness doesn’t depend on our ability to consume more stuff or burn more fossil fuels, and that we can meet our needs and live fulfilled, exciting lives while restoring our planet’s natural systems and without getting in the way of other peoples capacity to meet their needs.
To learn more about Village Corps, visit www.villagecorps.org.
Ukeme Esiet is currently a graduate student at the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs. You can get more updates from him on his blog, Ukeme’s 140+