What does it mean to leave no one behind?
If you work in development, you must have heard the “Leaving no one behind” mantra a million times by now. It has become a lingo for anyone in the sphere of international development. But while these are great words, they are much harder to deliver in practice, especially given the rising inequalities we see not just among countries, but also within countries. No wonder the SDG Goal 10 calls for reducing inequalities and ensuring no one is left behind.
My journey working in development began a few years ago when I quit my job in a fancy polo club to pursue a master’s degree in Sustainable Development Practice. Everyone thought I was crazy, I mean, how does one quit a job that involved luxury travel, Argentine thoroughbreds, and wine tasting? Especially in a place like Nigeria where the labour market is saturated with unemployed graduates. It just did not make sense.
But my motivation was simple – I wanted to do more.
Along my personal and professional sojourn, I have encountered an array of people with diverse challenges and experiences. Rural women with little to no access to healthcare, vulnerable out of school children, smallholder farmers dealing with lack of access to markets, etcetera. While some progress has been made to address these challenges in many countries, inequality is particularly on the rise, despite interventions by both state and non-state actors to reach the bottom quintile. This is why working in development resonates with me – the idea that my work could serve to enhance the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable groups, and that my contributions, even if only a drop in the ocean could create lasting impact towards a more inclusive world.
In 2018, I got my first development job working as an intern in the UNDP. I remember working through the doors on May 23rd, full of excitement, that finally, my work was going to count for something.
It has been a few years now, and sadly the fantasy is gone. It has been replaced with realism – more questions than answers. The more we try to solve one problem, the deeper we unravel new layers. There is no gainsaying the fact that the challenges of our time are multi-dimensional and complex. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these challenges and revealed how interconnected the world is. In addition to the challenging global health systems, we have seen rising trends in poverty rate, inequalities, gender-based violence, unemployment, disruptions in education systems, and the list goes on.
While we try to solve for education, for example, by developing innovative digital learning tools to ensure children are not out of school, infrastructural challenges such as lack of access to electricity, or the lack of internet connection still presents a barrier for a lot of children and families. By trying to improve agricultural production through expanding agricultural land and conservative tourism, we could potentially increase deforestation, biodiversity loss and GHG emissions. These are just a few examples of how problems are intertwined, and thus new challenges unravelled in our efforts to solve others. I find myself constantly wondering what it really means to leave no one behind and how the current efforts to drive change in different sectors is solving that problem?
I recently joined the Blum Global Development Program as a Global Fellow and I have been excited by the possibility of addressing some of these development challenges. The fellowship provides young development practitioners with the requisite skills and training necessary to build innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing development challenges. My fellowship project is focused on addressing post-harvest losses along the grain value chain in Nigeria, an area of particular interest to me having grown up in a farming community in Northern Nigeria. The process so far has been nothing short of enlightening. Speaking with rural farmers, and industry experts showcases the depth of the problems faced in the agricultural value-chain in the country. When I began to design the fellowship’s project proposition, I had a relative idea of the problems I wanted to solve; grain deterioration, farmer’s access to storage facilities, access to credit, transport cost of storing grains, to mention a few. I also had a few ideas on how I wanted to solve them. Needless to say, this has been far less of a straightforward journey. In my proposition to establish grain storage silos to address post-harvest loss issues, I realize how one solution may exclude the most vulnerable smallholder farmers. For example, in my proposal to establish field-side storage silos to address the grain storage problem in Nigeria, I am bewildered by the complexity of the proposed solution- the land use issues, the infrastructure, the transport modalities, the financing mechanisms, technology, the multiplicity of stakeholders involved, etcetera.
So,I stopped and asked myself, what storage solutions have worked in the past? Why are farmers still having post – harvest losses on grains? What other solutions are out there besides field-side storage silos that can significantly reduce the income and grain losses to farmers? how can farmers have access to such solutions? What will the cost be and how would the financing of these technologies be designed? I realize even more so now, the need to thoroughly examine and design development interventions with an all-inclusive lens.
After several consultations, and writing and re-writing value propositions, I recognize the problems are a lot more interconnected than I imagined. So, for me, leaving no one behind (LNOB) means being open-minded while asking questions; being able to let the farmers, off-takers, processors, and other stakeholders in my sector of intervention guide me as we co-curate a solution to the problem. Leaving no one behind also means I do not have all the answers; I am certainly not the expert, and neither do I have the key as an individual to unlock the solution, but through collaboration and active listenership we can navigate the journey to reducing post-harvest losses together.
What does leave no one behind mean to you? I am happy to hear your thoughts on your own (LNOB) journey, kindly share with me in comments