I was starting up a disaster risk reduction program in the rift valley in Ethiopia in 1988. The Derg military “Albanian Marxist” style government was still in place. The local government controlled women’s association asked us to help with buying a small grain mill for them, to cut down hand grinding, or paying extortionate prices to the local mill owner to grind their grain. At the time, when I ran the numbers, I thought this was a marginally useful investment. It would have a hard time making a profit and would not really save the women that much cash or labor.
Btu, when the military regime fell and looting was wide spread across the area, the women took it in turns to mount a 24 hour guard on their mill, forming a cordon around it and safeguarding it.
The true value of the mill was not financial but through the sense of empowerment and hope if bestowed.
The lesson: Start by dropping your own preconceptions and try to see things though the eyes of those you seek to assist. Taking the time to listen and understand rather than being enamored with one’s own cleverness is a good starting point.