the keyword dilemma

Mbuzimoja asked me about some present figures on the water & sanitation situation in Nairobi, so I took this opportunity to superficially scan all those various pdfs, docs and xls files I had gathered on my computer for any information which might help her on her current project.

“Linking sustainability with demand, gender and poverty”, it said on one document.


Maybe I am just way tooooo simple and naive, but whenever I open a document where I read keywords such as MDGs, sustainability, gender, poverty, Worldbank, UN, UNxxx, stakeholders, policy, NGO, framework, indicators, capacity building, community, etc. etc. – I scratch my head and wonder about:

a) who’s supposed to actually read all these papers? *yawn*
b) does the production of these papers with the theoretical outlining change anything in affected areas?
c) what do the authors feel about their work?
d) how come no one complains about all these keywords if, in reality, maybe about half of the world’s population doesn’t even know what sustainability actually means?

Sure, it’s good to have a plan and/or a strategy, but real change – in my opinion – comes with actions. Think of Wangari Muta Maathai and you get the picture. Did she ever require sexy keywords to get her message across although she’s dealing with different stakeholders on different levels? No.

I had this professaaa in universitiy who used to be the Senior Advisor to Martha Karua when the latter one was still in charge @ Maji House, and I once told her straightforward that I just couldn’t stand all these theoretical models on how to tackle environmental issues. In this complex world, where problems relate to each other and address different levels, there’s no holistic model which could explain everything. Instead, I think, we already know what to do (like Wangari did) and just start somewhere. After all, actions speak louder than words. But then, the culture of debating issues and elaborating various plans is something, some folks in Kenya have brought to perfection.

Point is: development aid is a business. And so are these useless, keyword-enriched papers whose only purpose is to keep the money flowing.

I urgently need my own business. Yeah, now that’s my dream :-)

p.s.: i am currently dreaming about a business plan that comes without any sexy keywords. something simple that instantly sells to investors…

Author: jke

Hi, I am an engineer who freelances in water & sanitation-related IT projects at You'll also find me on Twitter @jke and Instagram.

2 thoughts on “the keyword dilemma”

  1. Like you I’m really impressed that Wangari Maathai is quick to make the point that when she started out she wasn’t dreaming about The Green Belt Movement but rather trying to respond directly to needs on the ground. You’ve got it right about doing something. And your sense of urgency is exciting. I hope you remember you’ve got fans out here in the blogosphere, or more importantly in the peerosphere, as a friend calls it. Starting a business is something where at least you’ll have a cheering section, but I suspect we’re worth more than that. Give us some ways to be helpful in your endeavor. Keyword: JKE!

  2. Finding your dream is not easy. It is scary, it is tough, it seems undoable, it may even seem silly.
    I believe it helps to not focus on yourself when you search. Forget self – rather think about what it is that REALLY gets you motivated, moved, moving about others? What is it that makes you come a alive because you feel deeply about a situation, a tragedy, an injustice, an idea, a people group. What inspires you? What would you wnat to change? How would you really want to impact others? Where would you see yourself, and why? Forget fame, money and power – those don’t lead you to your heart. Search for the noble, the good, the world-changer that you have always dreamt about – and you will find your dream!

    Secondly, take that one first step!

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