Ernesto Sirolli once worked in the industry of foreign aid – but soon realised he was far from having the impact he dreamt about. In this remarkable TED talk he explains his first hand experience with the sort of attitudes displayed by development’s “planners”, whose recipes for growth tended to be detached from real world experience. Sirolli’s talk nicely complements the work of Bill Easterly, including the last “The Tyranny of Experts“, the most libertarian book Easterly has written so far.

Mr Sirolli has an article in the FT in which he urges people with different views on development “to work together” to fight poverty. The article isn’t quite as impressive as his talk, but it is somehow intriguing that he reworked the “development professional” into an “enterprise facilitator”. This is

a profession I have modelled on counsellors and rural family doctors – a trained local who neither initiates nor motivates anybody, but instead helps anyone who passionately wants to improve their lot to establish sustainable enterprises.
Enterprise facilitators link solitary entrepreneurs to the abundant resources that exist somewhere in the world and then help with creating management teams. It is the Silicon Valley model at village level. It is the opposite of the old “push” model, where so-called experts deliver knowhow to developing country recipients through their agents spread across the developing world. Our model turns that on its head by shifting the direction of the conversation. Instead of delivering knowhow, our Enterprise Facilitators listen to those who seek help and facilitate their receiving the kind of knowhow they are after.

Sirolli claims that his institute over the years has

trained some 300 enterprise facilitators around the world, but among the best projects is the one in Kamina, Katanga province, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In just a few years, Fabrice Ilunga Mujinga, enterprise facilitator there, has helped to start 54 new local businesses, expand 41 businesses and created 656 jobs. There is no geography to passion, there is no geography to intelligence.

I don’t know if this is the way to go, but “enterprise facilitators” seem to answer a rather obvious need. “Business” wasn’t built overnight: if we suspect people are wired with a propensity to trade and some people perhaps also with a propensity for being adventurous and enterprising and channel that adventurous spirit through business, there is a legal and even more important a cultural infrastructure that is needed for a successful market environment. How come some people develop an idea and tell themselves “I want to be an entrepreneur”? It has something to do with self-representation, besides incentives and opportunities to grab, and – at the very basis – it has to do with viewing the making of a business enterprise a thinkable venture to initiate. The Sirolli institute provides links to some of the projects it has undertaken but it would be interesting perhaps to read or listen to the actual words of “enterprise facilitators” active in the development world.