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...)
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