01 Sep Leaving my job to set up a farming business in Liberia
“The Shifting Lens of Development”
For as long as I can remember, I have always been interested in social change and development. As a youth, I did not fully know how to classify this field of interest nor was I even aware that it was something that I could later study, but whenever someone asked me what I wanted to do later on, the answer was usually ‘help people’.
Somehow along the way, I became informed and interested in serving as an international volunteer with the U.S Peace Corps, through its State Department. That experience challenged, shaped, and boosted my interest in serving to help rebuild developing nations.
I was born in a developing nation, Liberia. In fact, right at the onset of my career formation, Liberia was exiting one of the bloodiest periods of its history, a 14 year brutal civil war. The nation had experienced total systemic and infrastructural collapse. Basic human rights needs such as access to clean water, healthcare, and education continued to be luxuries far out of reach for the vast majority of its citizens. And yet, my home country was not alone in this plight. Globally, the vast majority of nations exist at or below the poverty line. Economic instability due to civil and social strife continues to plague societies at various levels, but the true culprit lies in poor leadership and the inability for individual people to recognize the power that they have to change their lives, build up their country, and transform this world.
Sure, we all laugh or roll our eyes every time some beauty queen sits on a stage and lists her platform for advocacy for world peace. We also flip the dial on our televisions when we hear of drought or famine in yet another region of the world. And we certainly have all grown wary of the news and rumors of wars springing up in every corner of the globe.
But how can these catastrophes continue to escalate when there are people – intelligent, wealthy, hardworking people – who make it their life career to work in aid and development of societies? For nearly six years, I was one of those people – well, not wealthy or super intelligent, but certainly passionate and diligent about the need to change the world through development and specifically through global health.
Those 6 years again challenged, shaped and boosted my passion and interest in bringing developmental changes to societies, but I came to a fork in the road which I had not anticipated early on. Those years shifted the lens through which I regarded development.
In spite of all of the trillions of dollars going into aid and development, why are people still desperately poor? Why do we still lose masses to health and food crises? Sure, we have made some significant strides. The advancement in health and other technologies and the medical field has enabled us to avoid even greater catastrophes.
But there is still so much to be done. And frankly, even when we have done the greatest, it feels at times like a measly drop in the bucket.
How can we increase those drops to create a ripple effect that brings about change in the world?
These are the questions with which I grapple. Apparently, God’s mind is moving in the same direction as well; because one day I felt His distinct voice telling me to resign from my job, and begin the craziest, grassroots initiative that I couldn’t have possibly thought of on my own.
“Leave New York City and this comfortable job and return to Liberia to build up a farming business that will boost food production. If you want to make to impactful change, then you have to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. You have to be in the storm in order to fight it!” Of course, at first, I thought I was hearing voices in my head. ‘This is crazy!’ But I followed a decision making process that my mother had faithfully taught me well. Pray about it. Investigate it. Then make a decision. So I struck a deal with God “If I can get through the first two steps and it makes sense, my decision will be to resign and go along with your plan.”
Of course it checked out. Agriculture, particularly sustainable agriculture, is the surest way any nation can begin on the trajectory to economic growth. No current developed nation obtained that status without resolving the issue of how to feed its people.
So here I am two years and twelve acres into the process of setting up my own agribusiness. The sacrifices and challenges have been so huge but I can begin to see that benefits and payouts will even exceed those startup problems. What amazes me about shifting development to grassroots and entrepreneurial initiatives is that the people truly benefit in an equitable manner from investment. I once wrote that the cost of aid delivery far exceeds what aid actually delivers, and that assertion still remains true. We have to find effective, impactful, and efficient means of building societies that allow the investor(s) and the investee(s) to both walk away with dignity and pride, and to experience profitability in a manner that does not allow the other to feel exploited and abused.
After university, Nyamah Dunbar spent two years volunteering with the Peace Corps in Benin, before working for UMCOR, the United Methodist Commitee on Relief, where she directed the Imagine No Malaria program. Today she is in the second year of running Sankofa, her own agribusiness in Liberia.