It Happened on the Way to War

April 26, 2011 By Jane Kaminski

Rye Barcott, a former Marine Corps captain, knows the role of effective international development work in stability and national security strategy.  He recently published a book, It Happened on the Way to War, detailing the simultaneous development of his military career and NGO he co-founded as an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina.  Through his experiences, he crafted an organization that has garnered great success in improving the lives of the people living in the largest slum in Africa,  Kenya’s Kibera slum, by providing stability, curbing ethnic violence, and developing leadership within the slums. Barcott’s  methods,  which include addressing problems by involving the local population, and building on success in nearby regions to address local issues, follows the same vein of innovation that U.S. foreign assistance programs are working toward today.

As a student at UNC, Barcott delved into African studies and eventually won a grant to do on-the-ground research in Kenya.  Through his experiences, he identified the largely ignored problems in Kibera that threatened to bring widespread unrest to the area – namely a lack of employment opportunities, ethnic divisions, and lack of access to medical care.  By studying the failures of an old-fashioned, top-down foreign assistance program and the successful programs in other slums, he co-founded a new nongovernmental organization called Carolina for Kibera.  He started an inter-ethnic soccer league and medical clinic, which provided medical services and training, taught cross-community cooperation, and provided leadership opportunities for disaffected youth.   The program, which was founded in 2001, expanded to include 5,000 participants in the soccer program and treated 40,000 patients by 2009.

His new book, beyond chronicling the work of a small group of committed individuals, identifies an innovative method for providing effective foreign assistance.  USAID Forward aims to make U.S. foreign assistance more innovative through the evolution of program structure and engagement with local partners, similar to how Barcott structured his NGO.  The book also identifies the role of development in security.  Barcott’s military experiences and humanitarian work complimented each other as he worked to address the destabilizing factors in a fragile African state.