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!
Last week, I attended a Roundtable Member’s Forum on Effectiveness.
What is effectiveness? Effectiveness is one of the major foci of my consulting work. The private sector, governments, civil society, and the individual humanitarian must contend about this element all the time.
Effectiveness runs through the gamut of all development efforts.
Effectiveness is asking, "have you accomplished what you set out to do?" It means measuring your impact, effect, and the results of your interventions on a continuing and sustainable basis. It means asking the right questions about what exactly has been done versus what exactly are the outcomes of what has been done.
It means being honest about unintended, unanticipated, unexpected, and the negative consequences of actions done. It means understanding that these consequences have to be mitigated and addressed without fearing ostracism and being a failure.
When consequences that are unintended are greater than those that are anticipated, it begets the question of how exactly did it improve the situation or make the situation more worse.
Effectiveness is looking at your methods, systems, and approaches that bring the full participation of community as a partner, stakeholder, and ultimate owner of the development.
It is effectiveness when it is replicable but oftentimes, being replicable should not be the main goal. It should be sustainable, tenable, where generations can benefit and lead from that change. That people are not dispossessed, uprooted, from their own environment just because somebody said a dam should be erected here and there.
Effectiveness is saying that there is a long way to go to achieve the future state but right now it is making sense already- improvement of quality of life is incrementally being achieved without sacrificing the values and cultures of people and their environments.
Effectiveness means that donors and funders commit to listening what works on the ground and avoid being prescriptive about what approaches, tools, and current flavor of the month should be adopted. Monies are used wisely and that corruption charges or allegations are seriously investigated. That personnel health and well-being are part of the effectiveness discussion. The best asset of the organization is the people, period!
That effectiveness is a continuing pursuit, like mastery, excellence should be the norm not an aberration. And that organizations and people that have failed should not be shunned but get to share this to everyone that cares to listen and learn. Like everyone attempting to make a difference, failures can lead to massive learning and success if the positive potential is discovered. Being wise is being able to learn from the mistakes of others.
These are the real issues about effectiveness. No political correctness should water down the clear prerequisites for an effective organization, effective project, effective management, and effective development efforts.
While insteadof asking development efforts to be methods-oriented, it should be results-oriented and outcomes-oriented.
Q: Is it okay to start a local change rather than making it a big global change?
Start where you are.
For those needing to go to Afghanistan, to prove something. Please don’t. You don’t have to.
Proving that you are good enough. Proving that it can be done, whatever idea, project or humanitarian aims you have. Proving a personal, spiritual crusade. Whatever!
No, don’t try to get into conflict environments and hostile situations where your life or health will be in danger. Even if you escape alive from it, the scars will be there in your psyche. It can heal but the post-traumatic stress disorder can scar you for life. It is not worth the accolades, promotion, recognition, and other externalities that might come afterward.
The risks are too high to make a substantial investment and effort on the ground. That’s why they have drones, remote surveillance, and other technologically powered systems to do that. Machines are better suited for these times of environment.
Well, you would say that some people went to Afghanistan now and they were fine. While the capital and other locations are perfectly safe, there is no guarantee that these areas are 100% safe. A bomb can explode in any place, even at 5-star hotel or airport (usually).
They came knowing that there were risks involved and accepted that fully well. Some of them have been in the battle zones and have coping and safety experiences that have been proven to alleviate the risks involved in their operations. There is always a choice to go or not to go.
Start locally and see where you can advance from there. Your life and mental, psychological health will need you for the rest of your career.
Local change is different than global change. Local is hands-on, doable, easy to measure, and changes take time too but it is felt right away.
For a global complex change, no one organization and/or person can mightily say that they have turned things around. It is always a confluence of many factors, forces, and occurrences that have promoted the direction of change or improved the lives of people for the better. Some of these are external to the country and cannot be controlled by any single entity. Macroeconomic forces such as capital flows, globalization, world wide web /Internet, ICTs have made profound shifts in many countries’ development.
The world has put a premium on global change because it has more glorified icons attached to it. Local heroes are the same as those global heroes. Same DNA make-up and characteristics propel them to the level of stature.
What is important in the end is, have you made your country, community, village better than what it used to be by your contribution?