Kinshasa: Day 1

Our Founder, Nate Houghton, is currently in Kinshasa visiting the team. He’ll be updating us periodically on his activities there.

I haven't visited Kinshasa in quite some time, which made me feel a little ashamed. A lot can happen in four-and-a-half years (and a lot did). I think I was worried that things would have passed me by somehow.

If I'm being honest, it can sometimes be difficult to work and live here. I don't currently have running water. Wi-fi is spotty. But somehow, stuck in the traffic jams on the way from the airport last night, I couldn't stop smiling. Robert - who I met in 2009 and helped get CLI off the ground - greeted me at the airport. We hugged like old friends do... greeted each other with "Bonjour mon frere."

One thing I've come to realize recently is that this work isn't going to make me famous. I've been reading Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas. It's powerful and hits close to home. I also think that many - maybe all - of the points made are absolutely correct. More bluntly: We're not really making a dent in problems that actually matter (or improving people's lives in places like the Congo) because rich and powerful people (which, to some extent, includes nearly all of us) don't want to risk losing wealth and power. There is an embedded and institutional self-interest that means people will continue to be forgotten. The system is rigged.

I used to think that if I took enough bucket showers and spent enough time heroically jet-lagged that I too could be a "thought leader", to steal Giridharadas's term - which he stole from... thought leaders. I believed that if I was tough and smart and great enough, I would be famous, revered even. That's not going to happen, because "important people" don't care. Moreover, if if it does happen, I don't care. At least in my good moments.

As I type this, Jeremy, a man who works at the guest house where I'm staying, is sweeping the dust off the floor around me. He's bafflingly wearing a Papa John's polo shirt. I'm sure he does this job every single day. I wonder if he ever gets frustrated that he has to do it again and again.

So the point is this: Congo Leadership Initiative is not going to win any awards. That may actually be a good thing given who gives these awards out. But feeling like I was coming home when I landed at the airport in Kinshasa is more than enough these days. We do work that matters for people that matter, and we'll continue to do so again and again.

Nathaniel Houghton