The word “sustainable” is mentioned nine times on the Prosperity Catalyst website. When searching Google for the word “sustainable” I found that results ranged from the Olympics to the United Nations. A word that is most commonly associated with “green” businesses, sustainability can be seen as over-used, almost rendering it meaningless. This idea however, is of course just a figure of speech. The meaning of the word “sustainable” according to dictionary.com is “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level,” or my personal favorite, “able to be upheld or defended.” With such a vague definition it is no surprise that businesses, advertising and non-profits over the years have fully taken advantage of the word.
For Prosperity Catalyst “sustainable” has never lost its meaning. To us, sustainability means creating a program which is not only beneficial to the individuals who participate but is also beneficial to the community in which each participant lives. Sustainability means empowering women through education and the tools necessary for independence. Sustainability means incubating an environment in which women learn and women teach. Sustainability means independent candle enterprises run by the women, artisans and beekeepers using the knowledge fro our workshops. Sustainability is a cornerstone of our operation, and we want you, as a donor, ally, supporter and reader to know why.
In Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s national bestseller, Half the Sky, the essay titled “Investing in Education” ends with the following idea;
“So let’s freely acknowledge that Murphy’s Law plays a role in the aid world. Foreign assistance is difficult to get right, and it sometimes is squandered. Yet it is equally clear that some kinds of aid do work; those that have been most effective have involved health and education.”
This statement is undeniably true. In 1980 the United Nations created a water pump initiative in Honduras. The UN was incredibly successful in both fundraising and constructing the water pumps. Once one was built for almost every village, the UN left the country. It was later discovered that many became rusted beyond repair because they were poorly constructed without consideration for both the dry and rainy season of Honduras’ climate. Those that survived the first rainy season often were attached to a limited water source or in an area where no one was informed about how to care for the pump, and as a result, all fell into disrepair.
The UN is not the first organization nor the last to commit this blunder. Half the Sky offers many more examples and is definitely worth a read. Regardless of how honorable the UN’s intentions were, the execution, which lacked ground-level education of how to maintain and repair the pumps, was flawed. As Half the Sky explains, aid is extremely fickle. Donating a school won’t necessarily increase attendance.
What has been proven is that investing in education yields the best results. We know as we come to the end of our fundraising campaign that there is no shortage of incredible organizations that our supporters are asked to donate to. We also know that our program revolves around educating our women entrepreneurs directly with the aim that each individual can be a successful business leader. Our program in Iraq has already seen incredible growth in just a few years. With your help, we can give the women artisans and beekeepers in Haiti the resources necessary to grow at the same rate. Help us make “sustainable” mean something again.