Talent is universal, but opportunity is not. How can one play a role in connecting talent with opportunity?

In the Thursday plenary speech of NAFSA’s 2013 Annual Conference, Rye Barcott shared his insights on this question. Insights he gained through his experiences both as a U.S. marine and as a founder of Carolina for Kibera.

As an undergraduate, Barcott travelled to Kibera, a slum of Nairobi, Kenya, to conduct anthropological research. His original plan was to create a report based on interviews with local youths on what difficulties they encountered in Kibera. During the course of his interviews, Barcott met two of his future partners – Tabitha Atieno Festo and Salim Mohamed. Barcott soon learned through their work together that to create real change the community must actively participate in its own development.

Carolina for Kibera made it possible for Tabitha to establish a medical clinic, allowed Salim to expand his youth sports program, and was responsible for creating a waste management program to improve the living conditions in Kibera.

Barcott stressed the importance of finding ways to become involved without excluding the participation of those one is attempting to help. Risk-taking in the service of others has been one of the recurring focuses of his career. Barcott pointed out that the passage most highlighted by Kindle users in his book, It Happened on the Way to War, is one of his favorite quotes by cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Twelve years after founding Carolina for Kibera, Barcott emphasizes the importance of participatory development and finding new ways to connect talent and opportunity. Tabitha’s clinic has grown to treat 30,000 patients annually, creating dramatic change for the small investment of $26 that Barcott provided at their first meeting.

How can international educators connect talent and opportunity? Share your ideas using the comment feature below.