Sunday, August 9, 2015

What I've learned about global leadership from cab rides

Often we Americans see awful television images (memes on FB) of starving children in Africa, India and other parts of the world.  We are brought to a deep sense of guilt and contrived shame through the embarrassment of our riches, and at the same time, we also feel a general sense of frustration that we cannot resolve these terrible problems.  Sometimes we give money to great causes.   (My wife and I donated to World Vision for multiple decades helping small children to be raised to adulthood.  We were glad to do so.) We know we helped someone, but individual help cannot override the greater tide of leadership failure that is a significant part of those countries.  How do I know that? My source of information? Cab rides from men who have fled their own countries to find safety for themselves and their families in Canada and the US.

Throughout my travels, I have had cabbies from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Somalia, Pakistan, Egypt and a host of other countries.  Their view of their own countries has provided me with a rich education about how their leadership has failed their people.

The themes of the conversations are often the same: corruption and lack of leadership are the roots of failure that lead to a lack of basic sanitation, starvation, homelessness, malnutrition, orphans and death. They say the leadership of their home countries are prone to corruption of wealth that prevents aid from reaching people in critical areas of their homelands.  They say people suffer because leaders are self-interested.  I have heard this story many times, during many rides from many cabbies hailing from many countries.  They see the failure of their leadership as the root cause of suffering.

I suppose it sounds hypocritical for a white male American to disparage leadership in other countries, knowing we have issues of our own at home.  I'll take that criticism because the US has plenty of 'first world' problems.  And clearly there are things we can do.  Our apathy is not helpful, but I simply think we cannot repair from afar what local leaders refuse to address, and whose responsibility it is to work hard in the service of others.

I do not live in those countries, and I do not know the magnitude of the issues.  I do not know the impact of decades of war and religious violence.  I do not know the difficulties of managing through centuries of partisan conflict.  But I do know that leaders can overcome those things to assuage the sad plight of their people, if they resist corruption, if they decide to work together for the greater good, and if they determine to make things better for all.  But only if ...

For those great leaders who work tirelessly for their people, I applaud their efforts.  And I believe their people will too.    These are immense challenges, influenced by culture, partisanship, ideology, religion, ancient wisdom - both good and bad - geography, history of rulers and enemies, victories over tragedies and trauma.  But leadership can overcome even these things in the face of poverty and sorrow.  But only if ...

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