“The world is our campus” and “enter to learn, go forth to serve” are more than just school mottos for Brigham Young University’s Global Supply-Chain professor, Kristie Seawright. She lived with her family in Belarus just a few years after the country’s creation, took many trips to and from the Asia-Pacific region, and most recently led several study abroad trips to sub-Saharan Africa. Not only have her travels helped her enlarge her knowledge and understanding of the world, but they have enriched the lives of many. In her Cultural Conversations podcast, she helps us understand how we can best help struggling countries despite cultural differences.
While educating BYU students in Malawi, Kristie witnessed first-hand some of the needs the men and women there faced. The forests are quickly shrinking, making it more difficult and time consuming to retrieve good firewood. The country has very minimal access to electricity and petroleum and insufficient access to trade. Cooking is difficult and health is declining. Sadly, governments struggle to enforce laws as conflicts persist between tribal and government officials, with bribery and corruption running rampant.
As many of ours would, Kristie’s heart ached as she got to know the people and understand their circumstances. When she visited new villages and was introduced to new individuals, they would often ask what she was going to give them, anticipating material goods or services similar to those delivered in the past. But was that what they really needed? Was that how they would learn self-reliance and continue to improve after she left? She quickly realized that giving material goods wasn’t a sustainable way to help and finding different goods to give wasn’t the challenge. “The primary challenge is figuring out how to help [the] people…help themselves.”
With this broader perspective, Kristie led students in teaching the people of Malawi how to make coal from various materials that would burn longer and deplete the forests more slowly, how to filter their kitchens so the mothers and children wouldn’t develop lung problems, and how to create devices that will accelerate routine tasks like pulling kernels off corn stocks. All these different gifts were sustainable, meaningful, and helped people help themselves. If you’re ever in a similar situation and deciding how to serve sustainably, it’s often best to find things that fit into the following list: skills, ideas, technology, and hope.
“The more we interface with each other around the world, the more we realize that we’re all from the same family… We’re all citizens of this big beautiful world.” As we educate ourselves and get to know the world and the people who aren’t like us, we will be able to grow to understand what we can give that will help them help themselves—a more sustainable way to serve. For more great stories and advice, listen to Kristie’s podcast here.