Heart of Giving Blog: Interview with Mesky Brhane - Innovation Meets Activism

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calendar icon Aug 09, 2021


On an international scale, charitable efforts are closely linked with innovation: How can we understand and prevent ongoing cycles of poverty in the developing world? In this episode of the Heart of Giving podcast, Mesky Brhane—Practice Manager for the Urban, Resilience, and Land Global Practice in Africa (East) at the World Bank—discusses fostering economic growth and supporting global communities. Overseeing a multi-billion dollar operational portfolio, her current work spans policy engagements, risk and disaster management, infrastructure improvement, and other initiatives in 12 Eastern and Southern African countries. During her doctoral studies at the University of Chicago, field work with formerly enslaved people in the settlements of Nouakchott, Mauritania, inspired a deep commitment to social justice, defining a career that has taken her across the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Showcasing her expertise in applying a spirit of activism to urgent questions of development and sustainability, the episode includes three themes crucial for aiding developing nations.

Understanding the Importance of Cities: Throughout Brhane’s experiences in multiple countries, urbanization proved key to economic prosperity. In China and South Korea, the shift from rural to urban communities helped create a middle class through trade and broad collaboration. As she discusses in the interview, however, urban development in Eastern and Southern Africa poses a range of challenges and opportunities for intervention. What types of infrastructure projects and policies contribute to a well-planned city?

Breaking Cultural Barriers: The transition to urban centers generates a powerful dynamism, connecting people, ideas, and cultural perspectives. While in Kenya, Brhane discovered M-Pesa, a branchless mobile banking system more efficient than many in the United States. Successful entrepreneurship is already part of daily life in many African countries and throughout the developing world. Her respect for local citizens’ ingenuity is a benchmark for activism. How can organizations leverage their knowledge and experience without a savior mentality?

Combatting Urban Poverty: Innovation and creativity are essential for sustainable economic growth. To ensure lasting change, Brhane’s programs of assistance in Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda rely on feedback and intervention from the communities they serve. This broad outreach—encompassing nonprofit organizations and local leaders—helped establish a higher standard of living by improving access to clean water, sewage and sanitation, emergency services, and land rights. But with high stakes and multi-layered approval processes, the pace of change can be slow in the short term. How can governments and other organizations continue to promote citizens’ skills and economic potential?

To listen to the full interview with Mesky Brhane and hear more about change in the developing world, please click here.

This article was composed by Emily Hershman. 

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