A theory, revisited in reality…


When I first heard about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – in an outstanding lecture on civil wars by Monica Toft (http://ksgfaculty.harvard.edu/monica_toft) – I thought it was brilliant. Maslow, a psychologist, lays out a pyramid with five levels of human needs and argues that the highest need, of self-actualization, cannot happen until more basic needs are met.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs


I revisited Maslow’s hierarchy today. And while there is something to it, my current environment offers a different perspective. Take Kibera, where people are at the bottom-most layer of the hierarchy: at times even physiological needs of food and water are not met, and safety and security is certainly not a reality for most.



And yet the top of Maslow’s hierarchy – of morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem-solving – can be as powerful here as anywhere else in the world. In the perceived chaos of Kibera, entrepreneurs like Millicent persevere with her CFW clinic, powerful family and community structures exist, and people come up with creative solutions to the deepest of problems. Without more basic needs met, people in Kibera will never reach their fullest human potential, but it seems to me that they often succeed in flipping this hierarchy upside down.

3 Responses to “A theory, revisited in reality…”

  1. Jawad Says:


    That is an amazing observation, and really requires some reflection.


  2. Kj Says:

    A pyramid seems so hierarchical and elitist. Perhaps a pie chart would be a better way of representing each person’s basic needs as well as his/her creativity,spontaneity etc. The idea here is that we all float between different states eventhough most of our basic needs are met. This can probably help explain your observations in Kenya.

  3. Jasmine Says:

    What a beautiful observation, Catherine. It actually reminded me of one of the beatitudes: Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth”. As for how this should affect us, I thought of Luke 12:48, “…For unto whomsoever much is given him shall be much required”.
    Keep up the great work! We really hope to try and make it out sometime while you’re there!

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