What is dignity

At Excellent, we often talk about helping people to work their way out of poverty "with dignity". This last word is such an essential element in our development approach, we wanted to explain a little more what we mean by it.

Jonathan Glennie wrote about the subject in the Guardian, saying that dignity knows no social, economic, gender or ethnic barriers. Some of the poorest people are the most dignified. Patrick Mutisya Makau, Munyuni self-help-group, KenyaAnd some of the richest lack dignity.

"I have become an expert in grafting mango trees. I visit homes and train people on how to grow mangoes. I want the entire community to have knowledge on growing mangoes... People have become more knowledgeable and informed."

Patrick Mutisya Makau, Munyuni self-help-group, Kenya.

This is our experience too. When we visit communities in rural drylands, we often speak to some of the most dignified people we’ve ever met. Proud and stoic in trying to make a living in incredibly tough conditions – conditions many of us may not cope with in a very dignified way.

So when we say we want to help people escape poverty with dignity, we don’t mean that we need to give them their dignity. Instead, we are very mindful of not taking their dignity away, by not just giving hand-outs or trying to tell people what they need.

Opportunities not hand-outs

We listen to communities’ problems and challenges as equals, supporting them to make plans that will address their most pressing issues, as identified by them. If they decide to build a sand dam, they collect the stones, sand and water needed, they construct the dam, dig the terraces and carry out any other activities they decide on. We are there to provide the necessary kick-start, like technical advice, or tools and seeds that are hard to get hold of.

Patrick Mutisya Makau, a farmer in southeast Kenya for example wanted to grow mango trees but lacked good quality seeds and the skills to do so successfully. With some training and provision of seeds he was given the opportunity to take his farming business further than he thought possible, on his own esteem.

"I have become an expert in grafting mango trees. I visit homes and train people on how to grow mangoes. I want the entire community to have knowledge on growing mangoes. Last time buyers came here, they bought mangoes from all the farmers who were growing them. People have become more knowledgeable and informed.”

No sustainability without dignity

For development to be sustainable, people need to own it and feel that they can create a bright future for themselves, without depending on anyone. Otherwise, the cycle of dependence and aid is unlikely to be broken, and hopelessness and resentment prevails.

So we wholeheartedly agree with Jonathan Glennie that dignity should be at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals, as development without dignity is not worth having.

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