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The SEVEN Fund is sponsoring a global competition seeking the best essays written in the spirit of “In the River They Swim: Essays from Around the World on Enterprise Solutions to Poverty”. The competition will run from April 1st to September 1st, 2009. The top essay will be awarded a $10,000 prize; the best submissions will be published on www.intherivertheyswim.com to be read by a global audience, and, perhaps, in a future book.
What are we looking for?
We give you the same instructions that we gave our authors. From your experience living or working in the world's poorest countries (or poor regions of developed nations), tell about a personal journey you have had doing enterprise solutions to poverty. Teach us something about your work, a useful experience, a person you met, or a framework you have developed or used. Tell us about something you contributed, or more interestingly, some action or assumption that turned out to be wrong and what you learned from it. Give us your beliefs, goals, attitudes, and assumptions. Do not settle just for self- expression, though; give us high-level craft and try for art. Your writing can be loose, exploratory, and digressive; it can be about failure with or without redemption. But locate yourself in the solitary endeavor of writing, at the crossing of the self and others, process and outcome, experience and meaning. Recognize that what you write is important. It shows what you do, and who you want to be.
Submissions should be 2000 words or less; should be well written and a pleasure to read; deeply introspective and probe the author's emotions and journey within development, globalization, and enterprise solutions to poverty. Take a theme from the book, or from life, and make it your own by infusing it with your insights and your story.
We believe that the short essay format is a powerful and underutilized mechanism in development thinking. It is a versatile medium that requires succinct, insightful writing that can be published in multiple venues. We look forward to your submissions.
The following excerpt from the Introduction to “In the River They Swim” further examines the essay form, and what we hope competition authors will aspire to.
Why the Essay?
The essay represents a long proud tradition of a humble form, that of Montaigne, Bacon, Johnson, Woolf, and Orwell, to cite a few of its masters. And though we cannot pretend to reach the height of their eloquence, we do attempt to take the rules of their form and to apply it to the domain of economic and human development - specifically to enterprise solutions to poverty.
We asked ourselves several questions: What if we changed everything about how we work? What if we used a “second - class genre“, the essay, that reached the height of its popularity a century and a half ago and that some have called the “formless form”? What if we adapted the premise that we can hardly advocate the merits of change without changing ourselves first? What if we stopped preaching and eschewed the epic pretension of advisors to nations, and revealed our greater discontentment with our ability to change the world than with the world itself? What if we displayed all our warts: our vanity, exaggerations, misplaced hopes, rage, and ignominious failures? If failure speeds up learning, would it help to show others what worked and did not work for us? Could it help others who want to try to help the world to feel grounded and less lonesome and freakish? If success comes after learning to fail fast, frequently, and most importantly, originally, would writing essays be a start?
Essays allow us to become the crucible in which our own experience is tested. There is a personal nature to our work that rigorous analysis alone cannot explain. We have the freedom to explore, in these pieces, a learning process that is iterative, messy, and sometimes deeply introspective. The essay is supposed to be digressive, reflecting the sloppy process of how one learns; more than any other genre, it shows the learning taking place, almost in real time. We want to show life itself as it is forming on the pages. Though some of the authors achieve it better than others, there is merit in the struggle that each has faced.
These contributors come from and know every part of the world; they speak over twenty languages including Swahili, Wolof, Pushtu, and Kinyarwanda, but that is not what was important to us. What was important was whether they could turn an eye inward to find and know better places in the mind; to know that, while education exists outside of oneself in the mundane world, each person is an education unto herself, interminably engaged in the apprenticeship of knowing himself better, through his or her relationship with others and, in some instances, with God.
We, the editors of this book, gave the contributors the following instructions: from your experience working in the world's poorest countries, tell about a personal journey you have had doing enterprise solutions to poverty. Teach us something about the work, a useful experience, or a framework you have developed or used. Tell us about something you contributed that turned out to be wrong. Give us your beliefs, goals, attitudes, and assumptions. Do not settle just for self- expression, though; give us a high level of craft and try for art. Your writing can be loose, exploratory, and digressive; it can be about failure with or without redemption. But locate yourself in the solitary endeavor of writing, at the crossing of the self and others, process and outcome, experience and meaning. Recognize that it is important what you write. It shows what you do, who you want to be. You can be confident that some development experts will read our essay book, but will some lovers of the essay read our development book?
We assured our authors that these pages would be a safe place for their idiosyncratic voices, the margins of their drafts, a happy hunting ground for their best ideas. In an era of total global competition for resources, of hollow advice, of poverty that degrades and destroys progressive human values like trust, civic- mindedness, and tolerance for others, we asked them to write as if these essays may be our last resort. We also told them to reconcile with the fact that they may never rise above the nameless unproductive babble of practitioners and celebrities in development. Above all, they should bear in mind what the Marxist theorist and literary critic György Lukács referred to as the “wonderfully apt” label of essays, which means simply to try.
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