Anyone who wants to change anything or improve anyone else’s life has to see this arresting TED talk by Ernesto Sirolli.

An anguished observer of the comprehensive failure of western aid in Africa, Sirolli innovated a seemingly radical approach to community change:

“You never initiate anything, you never motivate anybody. Instead you become a servant of local people’s passion. People who have a dream of how to be a better person. So you shut up. You never arrive in a community with any ideas …we sit with local people in a café, or at the pub and we become friends and we find out what local people want to do. The most important thing is passion. You can give somebody an idea. If that person doesn’t want to do it, what are you going to do? The passion that the person has for their own growth is the most important thing.”

Sirolli says the most useful role for a change maker is to be a servant to entrepreneurs by connecting them with the resources to act. And since no one can simultaneously be an ideas-person, a marketer, or a good administrator, the most important resource is the people who can fill the missing roles.

I love how he describes that “planning is the death of entrepreneurship” and why community meetings are always failures (because the local entrepreneurs don’t turn up).

There is so much in this video that I’m using it to introduce my Changeology training workshops this year. It captures exactly the leap we need to make from paternalism to enablement and the way success or failure depends, above all else, on the assumptions we bring along with us.

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