The Educated Is Not Always The Solution

I don’t mean all but often the ‘educated’ is the problem.

Let me explain with real experiences.

Five years ago, a senior colleague (an African Expat) and I went out for a business trip in to one of the country sides of Ethiopia to see if the project we used to supervise was going well. In one late afternoon, while we were on the field full of bushes and shrubs, my colleague disappeared from the scene and I was worried that something bad might happen to him given he was a complete stranger with no good grasp of the local language. After a few minutes of up and down searching, I found him safe sitting and talking with a farmer who happened to be around. To my wonder, both were having a great time smiling and chatting drawing the little words we taught to the expat colleague.

Ensuring he was safe, I had to ask him what interested him to leave me and join the farmer in an environment he was not familiar with. His answer was awakening.  You know what, he said to me:

This man (the farmer) is a leader in the bush; he farms his own land and feeds his family; he polices and protects his community; he educates his children; he does everything by his own; he has every survival skill acquired from generations of practice and experience; he has no place to go or consult except himself in difficult times.  

The colleague continued to say, you know what:

I may have a specialization at a certain topic but I have to get support from people who specialized in other areas; the farmer manages his own affairs informed by generations of experience and wisdom; he developed full rounded survival skills not just for himself but also his family and community.

 Therefore, you know what he said, 

It made me happy spending time with him even if the language has been a barrier. 

This same colleague shared to me that he had a related experience while he was working in a factory back home. At one instance, the factory output was of an unexpectedly bad quality and all of the management and the workforce started to trace the problem. It was not easy to find it.

Then, he decided to talk to every labor inside the factory asking every one of them if they saw anything different. One of the laborers raised his hand and told my colleague that the inputs to the factory contains unusual moisture. My colleague immediately blew it dry, put the material in to the machine and everything run perfect. He found the moisture content interacting with the magnetic nature of the rotating machines resulting in defective outputs.

He did the reporting to higher management stating that they identified the problem and cleared the defect. The happy management organized a recognition event to my colleague and, while he stood there, he passed the award to the laborer who first located the problem. The intrigued management asked, he is a laborer and how do you dare say he located the problem.

My colleague replied,

Yes, he is a laborer and he might not relate moisture to magnetism, yet he is the one who felt the moisture in his bare hands.  

My colleague then said,

He deserved the award and to all the people who tried their best to locate the problem.  

A big applause followed from the crowed leading to every member of the factory becoming my colleague’s fan ever since helping him went up the management value chain in the factory until he resigned at his own will. 

In another instant, about 3 years ago, a group of us went out for a power transmission line inspection, which follows a path full of rugged ups and downs and dense forest inside the then Sidama zone of Ethiopia. While we were walking through, I recognized an old man who walked well ahead of us in the same direction and stopped at some place. I thought he was walking for his own sake. I asked myself why he traveled so long and stopped here. In fact, he walked back in a direction where he came from.

To my surprise, he was leading us ( the rest of us unconsciously following him behind) in the right direction so that we never got lost in the bush. From the look of us, he knew we were following the power line and ensuring that we were in the safe zone he wanted to go back. We never asked for it and we were almost missed the favor we were granted. Although we are fellow citizens, we do not speak the same language and I could not say thank you in words. Rather, I bowed my head down and shook his hands for showing us a great heart even without us recognizing it.

I still recall his memorable elderly smile. 

Life teaches you a lesson even if you do not own formal academic credentials. Societies survive millenniums passing norms, practices, cultures, experiences, knowledges and collective wisdom generation after generation like a stick relay. If you are a young man or women with a strong sense of desire to bring a positive change in your world, look around you and ask the right question to the people who has ever existed before you. You are connected to the community of interest group means, the work you do is sufficiently grounded, and you have the chance to start equal if not better. 

Do not assume you got it all just because you are educated.

At worst, you must acknowledge the free will you are granted and recognize at heart that your presence or action does destabilize their way of life one way or another, and at best, be accountable and devise a path to appreciate and minimize the impacts of those actions. 

It always fascinates me to see young graduates who has never been in a farm trying to dictate a farmer who dedicated his or her whole life on a farmland.

Leaving the quality of education aside, graduates may acquire some theoretical and scientific methodologies. I argue, those methodologies should be progressively and contextually tested on the ground before they are consulted to the farmers. Otherwise, it is almost advising the farmer to leave his whole season yield to chance. Think of yourself working for six months with a fifty percent or less chance of being paid at the end of the six months period. 


Can you take it on? 

Whether you are running a new project in a new location, managing a sales or operational undertaking, usually, it is not the big thing that make the biggest help or impact but the small ones that you think are not that important. The hidden stakeholder or the lowest level employee that you think has a marginal contribution will break or make the path you want to follow. Engaging communities at all levels is no longer a task you sidelined for so many reasons. Looking around, capturing the cumulative wisdom, putting it in to action is the way forward in today’s and tomorrow’s work order. 

Education is a solution when grounded.  Otherwise, it is the complete opposite. If you still have doubts, just pause for a moment and think of all the messes created around us. And ask created by who?



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