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Ernesto Sirolli learned a big lesson, thanks to a group of hippos.
“Every single project we set up in Africa failed,” says Sirolli. “I was distraught. I thought — age 21 — that we Italians were good people and we were doing good work in Africa. Instead, everything we touched, we killed.”
Sirolli’s first project in Africa was teaching people in Zambia how to grow tomatoes, zucchini and other Italian favorites. He shares, “Instead of asking them why they were not growing anything, we simply said, ‘Thank God we’re here.’”
Sirolli and his fellow aid workers were thrilled to see the crops grow remarkably well. But, as harvesting time approached, they watched in horror as 200 hippos stormed out of a nearby river and ate everything in sight. All of a sudden, Sirolli understood why the locals hadn’t been interested in growing food.
Aid from Western countries tends to come in two forms, says Sirolli — paternalistic and patronizing. And yet after decades in international aid, he has seen that neither works. Instead, Sirolli champions a type of aid he calls “enterprise facilitation.”
“The first principle of aid is respect,” shares Sirolli. “You become a servant of the local passion, of local people who have a dream to become a better person. What you do is you shut up, you never arrive in a community with any ideas, and you sit with the local people … become friends. Find out what that person wants to do … You have to create a new profession — be the family doctor of enterprise, who sits with you in your house at the kitchen table and helps you find a way to transform your passion into a way to make a living.”
To hear more about why Sirolli believes the key to international aid is listening to local people with ideas, watch his passion-filled talk. Here, watch seven other TED Talks that stress the importance of listening.
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Julian Treasure: 5 ways to listen better
Human beings only retain about 25% of what they hear, shares sound consultant Julian Treasure at TEDGlobal 2011. In this fast-paced talk, Treasure gives five simple exercises to boost our ability to listen to each other, from seeking out three minutes of silence a day to taking time to savor the sound of a washer and dryer.
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Evelyn Glennie: How to truly listen
Listening to music isn’t just about allowing sound waves to ripple through your ears. In this talk from TED2003, deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie shares how listening is a full-bodied and brained activity.
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Ethan Zuckerman: Listening to global voices
The internet does an impressive job of surrounding people with voices that sound a lot like their own. In this talk from TEDGlobal 2010, Ethan Zuckerman stresses the importance of listening to those from completely different backgrounds, living very different experiences, and gives advice on how anyone can open up their Twitter and Facebook feeds to get insights from across the globe.
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Stanley McChrystal: Listen, learn … then lead
Stanley McChrystal is a four-star general, the former commander of U.S. and International forces in Afghanistan. In this talk from TED2011, he explains that leadership is about far more than giving orders. According to McChrystal, it’s as much about listening and taking in knowledge from those under you.
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Neil Harbisson: I listen to color
Artist Neil Harbisson is completely color blind. But at TEDGlobal 2012, he shares how he is able to experience color through a robotic eye that renders the palette of the world as sound. As Harbisson reveals, this amazing eye makes going to the supermarket “like going to a nightclub,” thanks to the different noises it creates.
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Evan Williams on listening to Twitter users
When Twitter co-founder Evan Williams spoke at TED2009, the web service was new and growing fast. In this talk, he shows some of the fascinating ideas that can bubble up through the 140-character platform, as well as how they inspire a different type of sharing that requires a new type of listening.
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Honor Harger: A history of the universe in sound
What does space sound like? In this talk from TEDSalon London Spring 2011, artist Honor Harger reveals what the sun, stars and planets sound like. But beyond that, she shares how she converts the radio waves emitted by celestial bodies into “the oldest song you’ll ever here.”