The best metaphor for the process of exiting successfully is like your son or daughter moving out and going to college. The process of finally reaching that age when they need to be on their own and carve out a life without their parents is a scary but a necessary element of growing up and living an independent life.
While as parents, we always one day, know that the inevitable will come. They are no longer kids and their decision must be respected, however, silly or foolish it may sound or appear. Hopefully, the years of inculcating the values do not go wasted and wherever they go and whatever life’s challenges throw at them, they can withstand it.
The parent-child dynamics is of course not the same with the development sector. But you get the point.
Below is the continuation of the interview with Ben Hoogendorn on successful exit strategies in development. Thank you Ben for sharing your thoughts on this important topic.
How to end it with grace?
If there is a good relationship based on trust, and knowing everything promised was delivered, ending a relationship is not difficult. It can be sad for all parties but shouldn't be difficult if everything was done according to plan and timelines.
Is it really an end or a new relationship?
It is not the end (or shouldn't be anyway) but the start of a new relationship. It's almost like a friendship of peers since the new relationship will consist around encouragement, mentoring and sharing about how and where to get access to other training and resources to grow the community even more after the agency exits. It's actually quite a beautiful thing!
Other related thoughts
One of the biggest issues that keep people locked in chronic grinding poverty is an incorrect and damaging worldview. This is why it is important that development programs are more about teaching and training (including understanding and challenging the worldview) and less about giving things.
This is a topic that will take a lot more time to unpack, but it's something that is important to understand.
What stood out for you and why? Let me know what you think.
Ben Hoogendorn, a tireless humanitarian of many decades based in British Columbia Canada, a former Executive Director of China Concern and a former Executive Director of Food for the Hungry, Canada talked about his experience and insights in successful exit strategies for organizations with development relationships with communities.
1. What do you think are successful exits require?
Successful entry and exits require a high level of trust that comes from strong and loving relationships.
It is not possible to have a successful exit unless the community has understood from the very beginning (before any programming or funds were introduced) that there is a timeline for the agency to exit. If that is not well understood the community leaders will not see the necessity of engaging everyone in the process of being able to identify and solve their own problems.
Many communities fail to understand this and the result is ongoing chronic poverty, or a best-case scenario of lingering in a state of dependency on outside resources, but never reaching their potential. Giving back the dignity that has often been stripped from marginalized groups and empowering the leaders are key to being able to exit successfully.
Community leaders must understand and be able to communicate the message of developing their own assets in order to become self-sustaining. People need to know they are not victims but part of the solution to a better life.
2. How to prepare?
Besides the common problems of marginalization, injustice, and oppression that result in many communities stuck in a cycle of poverty there is often a lot of chaos, disorganization, and lack of structured leadership.
Even if the issues of marginalization, injustice and oppression have been identified and overcome but there isn't strong gender-balanced leadership within a practical and functioning structure, communities will soon fall back into a state of disorganized chaos.
Everyone in the community needs to understand their value and worth and that their skills, time and talents are valuable to the rest of the community. Dependency is believing you "can't", but a healthy community working together "can."
3.What pitfalls to avoid?
It is very easy for an agency to become part of the problem by remaining in a relief mode far too long before moving into a rehabilitation and development mode. So when beginning to work with any community that is in a relief situation you must respond with the mindset of moving out of this type of aid and introduce programs that will bring sustainability in the early stages.
Be sure to fulfill all of the commitments made and just as careful not to "give" more that you had originally communicated.
Be very careful not to align yourself with any one particular group that may not represent everyone in the community. Doing that can isolate some members of the community resulting in disputes and jealousies that will hinder progress at almost every level. When beginning any program it is important to involve everyone to participate in the discussions. Because many cultures do not recognize women in leadership you need to be intentional to include women in the discussions and decision making.
(To be continued...)
It’s a whole new world for those who wanted to make a difference at the global level.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, cryptocurrency, cybersecurity and privacy issues have proliferated in the last 10 years. The rise of social media and the “me-media” has changed the landscape of activism, organizing, communicating and receiving feedback from the recipients of development work.
It also presented ethical, security, and privacy questions and dilemmas, that were not presently on-your face a decade ago.
It also opened the door for more attention and focus on stories where people and communities can take control over their narratives. eCommunities and emovements have arisen to build up local stories and ideas that have become possible and feasible in this day and age.
Here are the top tips in engaging social media for good:
1. Create compelling human interest stories that people can be moved to action. Be humane- it is not for publicity stunt or propaganda. These stories should be authentic and real. Real stories for real people.
2. Create a community of passionate supporters. Infuse it with relevant content-stories, facts, and people that have a strong connection with your cause and can also bring in the right support for it.
3. Do not join the bandwagon and start joining all the social media. What is the ROI of investing in such platform? What is the outcome? What is the best place to be for your work and organization?
4. Learn that marketing is about building relationships with people, not talking as trolls over FB, Twitter, Instagram.
5. Your self-worth and organizational worth are not tied to the number of likes, clicks, and shares. Do not believe in gurus that sell SEOs and marketers that sell marketing to marketers.
6. The lines between personal and public are thin and porous. You don’t have to be personal but be personable. If you are not proud of putting stuff in public, don’t do it! Fact-check your work and make sure it is accurate.
7. Make it easy to share and let authentic community members add their perspectives, thoughts, and opinions. Remember, in the long run, true communities win over haters, trolls, and wannabes.
Use social media to connect, empower, and elevate your stories and your charities. This is the new medium for this generation. It is not perfect but it's free and can be powerful.
One of the things that are beginning to be present in many development efforts is the interest, capacity, and commitment to experiment with what works in the field. Today, design thinking, neuroscience approach to changing behaviors and fostering sustainable change, and the newest innovation in block chain has opened the doors for conversations around what we can borrow in other sectors, industries, and other disciplines that complement the role played by experiential and participatory, people-centered technologies.
Instead of focusing on problems and needs, these thinking revolve around solutions and takes into account the experience of end users of solution-based interventions. Rapid feedback from users engenders a series of testing that encompass the process of finding the most optimal products and services for the target users. Instead of using the traditional monitoring and evaluation, the feedback to market approach is a sure way to validate and test assumptions immediately with fewer costs and less time. The traditional development approaches have become archaic and ineffective in most of these cases.
The obvious path of using best practice from elsewhere may not be useful in many contexts. Best practice internally is the better best practice. Demonstrate where is the best practice and who are already doing it in the organization or community and magnify it for the others to emulate. That works more than imposing an alien idea or concept or model of thinking to people that have no clue as to its origins and benefits.
What to look for when using a borrowed idea?
1. Check the origins, benefits, and contextual usage. This may not fit in many contexts and situations. Is there an indigenous idea or concept that can be used instead? Are these ideas stem from a larger systems thinking or a product of innovation from other disciplines that complement existing knowledge systems?
2. How will it be embraced politically, socially, intellectually and culturally?
3. Budget the time and training costs of training people to the idea. It takes time before an approach is integrated in an organization more less in a community context. Look for advocates and champions.
4. Who are the resistors and what are the reasons for resisting? Look for underlying reasons and needs of people. Always, there is an organizational and personal objections. Find these out.
5. Reinforce new learned behavior and thinking with incentives and practical application consistently.
6. Always prepare for social proofing. That the idea has been tested, proven to work, and cost less than most of its contemporaries. Social proofing is the lubricant to cement community buy-in from leaders and early adopters.
More on these for sure. What are your thoughts for ideas borrowed and taken to new meanings and applications in development sector?
I had the pleasure of interviewing Eric Rajah, the Co-Founder of one of the province’s top international development organization based in Lacombe, A Better World Canada.
A Better World works in 5 areas: education, health, water, agriculture, and income generation in recipient countries for typically 5 to 10 years. They partner with government, local agencies, and the people living in the community to manage and operate the projects, ensuring they become permanently independent. They work primarily in Eastern Africa, but also invest in communities in need around the globe, for example, Bolivia, Afghanistan, and even Tibet. They have a strong volunteer base from Canada that visits communities throughout the year, monitors, and prepares progress reports.
Talking to Eric Rajah, the Co-Founder, I noticed three points that stood out from our interaction.
Like other forward-thinking organizations, he is very candid about the failures they had experienced in the past 28 years of the organization. When he started the organization in 1990, A Better World decided not have offices in the countries where they have projects because they believe in training local leaders to be responsible for their change efforts. They still believe in that principle up to this day.
There was one failure that stood out from their journey. Six months after the grand opening of the school that they funded to be built, Eric came back and visited the location. He found out that classes were not being held and nobody used it. Upon further investigation, he found out that the classroom was sinking. This was a construction issue. The local school board managed the construction and handed the contract to one of the relatives of the board director.
The result was very clear. He told the school board the ABW will not work with them again unless they fix the problem. The school board went to their MP, where the MP chastise them for the unethical practice.
The experience was a lesson to be learned. After the incident, any project with the community has to have a strong assessment in terms of capacity and actually working with them on the design, management, monitoring and evaluation of the project. Listening to the people, understanding their concerns and needs, and estimating their capacities, abilities, and existing assets are very important to get a good grasp of the context on the ground.
Corruption, tribalism, competition, bribery, and other unethical practices/mindset have posed as challenges in the success of their projects in the developing countries. There was one incident that they decided not to work in a particular community in a particular country. They discovered that the community leaders’ real intent was money. There was no intent to improve their situation for the better with an outside support. “They asked for things that they don’t really need,” added Eric.
There were other related issues on this interview. Here is the short excerpt. Enjoy!
When we fail in our organizations, companies, and as individuals, there is a tendency to hide it as it is embarrassing, deflating, and ultimately hurts the ego. But if this not a life and death situation, or flying in a commercial plane, or undertaking a heart surgery, failures should be instructive.
Failure should enable us to see that it did not work and learn from it in a constructive way. Instead of assigning blame, firing employees or suppliers, or doing a drastic action, it is important to get the key lessons and move on.
In international development and community development, there are tons of mistakes and clear failures that have been made. Some organizations are open about it like coffee houses that are open to anyone who would like a nice coffee. Some organizations have put in under the rug and kept quiet because of fear that if funders and donors would find out, they are dead ducks.
But to be honest with you, this is an extreme situation. The lack of funders support is not about that you have made a mistake or failed in the projects funded, it's because either it is an unwinnable pursuit in the face of evidence in the first place, or second because of unethical, dishonest, and other practices that prove misaligned to their fundamental principles and values.
Great funders do not pull out because of failures. They actually encourage experimentation and creative problem-solving.
It is important that lessons learned are encouraged including great failures and mistakes. What happens in many conversations and roundtables is that, they pat each other in the back that everything is going well, but, these are rarely genuine conversations. No one wants to be vulnerable and to be put on the spot on issues that might affect their public image or reputation.
What happened is that people discuss what works and did not work? These are discussions that are very much watered down and never instructive. I looked at a lot of evaluations and evaluation findings and my favorite spot is the lessons learned section. While some organizations are truly being honest about their failings and inadequacies, and laying it all bare and dry. Some have not really come up to the integrity test. Again, fear of donors not funding them again or investors going away.
When you cover and hide it, then you see it repeated in other organizations. They don’t know any better. Some of them have just started a non-profit, put up their first projects in one developing country with the advice of so and so, etc. Nobody has told them. There is no book that gives light. There were textbooks in the policies and politics of aid but there are no books on the practices that work and the basics of doing good. Conversations in the sector are more fluff than actually useful.
Like other sectors that embrace failure or integrate failure constructively in their learning and evaluation eco-systems, it is high time to put failures in their best light. As the wise adage says, the wise person is that one that learns from someone’s mistakes and doesn’t have to make it himself/herself. Let’s share our failures the way we do with our successes. Let’s make it a conversation piece next time we talk about innovation, results, and impact. Let's us help those who have just started and needed a clear -don't do these things, please! caution.
Share with us your failure and what have you learned from it?