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This week’s best questions, ideas and debates from TED Conversations

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TED-Conversation-generic-imageTED Conversations is a unique space where any member of this community can get feedback on an idea, ask a question that they just can’t get out of their mind, or start a respectful debate on an issue they hold near and dear to their heart. This week on TED Conversations: Challenging conventional wisdom on aid to developing nations, thinking about the value of a college degree and weighing the meaning of the Nobel Prize.

Innocent Ukomba asks: Can donor funding really fix African challenges, or should we empower African communities to address their own challenges?

Charity gives but does not really transform. For a very long time, donor assistance has been chanelled through to Africa and that really hasn’t changed much. Could it be possible to birth a generation of people who are willing to be empowered with a means of generating income that eventually gets channeled back into communities for the purposes of delivering renewal and transformation? How do we get communities to participate in the engineering of a promising future both for the continent and individual nations?

Aissatu Sila replies:

The answer is no.

That’s not just my personal opinion, it’s the reality — a reality in which I live. I’m from Guinea-Bissau and I know for a fact that although donations can have a very big impact and help solve many issues, they are not the solution mainly because they cause dependency.

I deeply appreciate individual donations to global causes, but isn’t it convenient to Western governments to keep funding our dependence and underdevelopment, so they can keep exploring our resources?

How do we get communities to transform the future? By educating them and providing a stable economy in which they can prosper. As Deekay Mgbekemdi said and I agree — it’s a leadership issue. Once we have the right leaders, we’ll follow the right path.

Don Anderson responds with a helpful link to Ernesto Sirolli’s recent TED Talk: “Want to help someone?  Shut up and listen.

And Lynne Goldammer adds:

Another excellent insight into what happens to donor funding in Africa is found in Micaela Wrong’s book It’s Our Turn to Eat. Most of the funds in these NGOs never reach the people who need them. The NGOs including the World Bank and Co. are channels for redirecting money from the lower echelons of the world’s societies to the bank accounts of the wealthy and powerful. So, no, donor funding cannot fix Africa’s problems and in fact is a huge part of Africa’s problems, making billions available to despots to entrench their power for purposes of their own enrichment on the backs of the people.

 Meanwhile, a question from Joshua Frekleton: What’s a degree worth? 

In America, college degrees mean less and less, and it seems like what’s often more important is real-world experience and a competitive portfolio/skill sets. So the question is to put yourself in the following situations to answer the following: As an employer: Would you rather hire someone with your required skill sets/a competitive portfolio and no college degree, or someone with a degree and good grades but little experience? (everything else held equal) As a high school graduate: Would you be willing to self-teach yourself to the point where you had marketable skills and an impressive self-made portfolio while risking not having a degree? 

Dan Clark responds: 

A degree is becoming less about what an employer is looking for and more about the skills it enables some-one to do. As an employer, I’d rather take on someone who I can mould to my company’s way of doing things (a non graduate — a blank canvas). On the other hand, as a third party investor, I would be far more inclined to bank on a more educated person, who understands and values research as they are far more likely to build an original business based on cutting-edge expertise. 

And finally, the welcome return of TEDinClass, hosted this semester by students in Nina Tandon’s class at Cooper Union! From Osaze Udeagbala, a challenging question: Are Nobel Prizes overrated? 

Do you think Nobel Prize are awarded effectively? And with respect to science: Who is better at evaluating the value of a scientist’s research? Peers? Awards committees? Especially given the fact that it often takes many years to see if research can stand the test of time? Are Nobel Prizes overrated?

Join us in tackling these and other big ideas, questions, and debates this week on TED Conversations»