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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.
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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?
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Q: How do I do something meaningful in my career while still being able to sustain myself?
This is a very important question. A young person has asked this and I am impressed by the honesty that this is brought out. Young people are expected to work after they reach a certain age and then figure out hopefully what they want to do with their lives. The person obviously is looking to find a career in international development and wanting to also sustain herself.
Well, the sector is not for someone that wanted to be a billionaire. While saying this, we also don’t want for people to not stay in the sector because they can’t make a gainful employment enough to provide for their families or their own needs. I am sad that many millennials are turned off by the low level of income and opportunities in this sector compared to the corporate sector. This has to change!
Another point of sustaining is Self-care. And this comes with self-awareness. How much is too much? As I was telling this crowd of young people, this is a long game! You need to pause, take a stock, rejuvenate from time to time to get a better perspective on things. These have to be done on a regular basis in order for you to avoid burn-out and all of its negative consequences. Check and monitor yourself when you have become mechanical and apathetic to what you are doing. These tell you that you need to have a break.
It happened to me. Burn-out had crippled me and reduced my ability to be effective in what I was doing. I was traveling out of the country, sometimes 3 times a month for 3-6 consecutive months. The time in the office was used for issuing invoices, making reports, checking in on office matters, preparing for the next trip, engaging the contractors, etc. There was no time for social downtime or for recreation. Weekends were used to complete unfinished projects or think about the next proposal. In the beginning it was great but later on, I was tired, worn out, and ready to quit. I had lost my creative juices.
I also found out that it is important to look for people, network, and allies that could re-energize, restore, and re-establish the reasons why you are working in this sector. You have to seek out and nurture the networks that are genuinely interested and truly cares for your well-being, not only about what you can offer as a contribution.
Sustaining oneself on a regular basis is what keeps you going and thriving in the long game of this work. Instant gratification is not the goal.
I don’t believe in starving all the other elements in your life to be successful in one game too. This thought has proliferated and is the one to blame for the suicides and depressions people faced while building up their businesses or careers.
As I told someone, it is not selfishness that you take care of yourself and discover your self before you can take up the world’s problems.
I think it’s a smart and healthy thing to do. Balance and moderation win the day.
What are you thoughts? Share it here.
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Q: How do I figure out what group or organization to be involved with and what are good pre-requisites to have?
There are many organizations, startups, enterprises working in community and global development.
It is up to you to pick and choose which ones would lead you to you closer to your desired career, contribution or business pathway.
As I have written in the blog, Why is passion overrated? unless you have determined your interests and skills set as part of self-discovery, this is going to be an endless task.
There are no perfect organizations but a few signals about them would reveal if they are a good organization to work with either as an intern, volunteer or paid staff.
-Are they self-sustainable or are they living from one grant /donation to another? Are they downsizing or on a growth spurt? If they are having difficulty retaining staff, they are not in the best shape for sure.
-Do they have a good, dynamic, and effective Board/Trustees? Do they retain their Board for a long period of time but also get new Boards to take up new responsibilities and provide fresh insights? Both of these signal interest and continued commitment to the purposes of the organization.
-Do they take care of their staff, volunteers and their Executive Director? How is the structure of the organization convened? Do they have a non-hierarchical and flat structure or they have an overwhelming red tape that it is cumbersome to get things done on time and with less hassle? Do they value self-care and leadership development for their staff?
-Are their programs and services continuously being improved? Do you see a lot of innovation and assets-based engagement? If yes, then you will learn more from these types of organizations who are always striving to increase the effectiveness of their efforts.
-Are they a learning organization? Do they carry out studies, evaluations, and assessments about how they are impacting their constituencies? How frequently do they take a stock of their achievements and the changing environment they operate in? Are they market-oriented and future-oriented?
This is not an exhaustive list but I think you get the point. The more you look at the operational and strategic elements of the organization, the more you will understand where the organization is headed and if it's in the best health moving forward.
Large organizations do not mean they are successful and impactful and smaller organizations do not mean that they have a smaller impact.
It is not about the size but how their strategies and the resources are deployed for their intended results.
Small can be way more efficient, effective, and smart about its footprint in the world.
Big organizations have more complex systems, operations, and people to look after and develop.
Make a choice. Try working in a small organization and a big organization (one at a time) and see the difference.
In your sector, what are the elements of a good organization? Share your thoughts here.
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A couple of weeks ago, I attended an event entitled Domestic Violence Report to Community regarding Immigrants and Refugee Populations.
There were pastors, ministers, RCMPs, victim’s services, non-profits, service providers, colleges & universities, and other important stakeholders in the community that attended.
What I learned from the conversations in groups is important. While the issue of domestic violence is not new, the fact that this is also prevalent amongst the immigrant and refugees needs to be addressed.
This is not talked about because of the stigma attached to the issue. Under-reporting is very common. Immigrants and refugees do not talk about this for fear of being deported or threatened to be deported by their sponsoring spouse or family members. Families of immigrant tend to resolve it through informal channels that sometimes increase the risk of vulnerability and decrease their options that can potentially remove them from further risk of harm and violence.
While this is not culture-specific, the pressures and tensions of immigration are one of the causes why immigrants and refugees resort to using violence in resolving their family issues. Women and children are mostly the vulnerable parties in this situation.
The changing gender roles in the family is also a factor since most immigrants come from a culture where men are responsible for providing for the family while women take care of domestic responsibilities including child rearing, care for the elderly parents and other household chores. The economic strains of holding two to three jobs at a time to put food on the table for immigrant families have an impact on their emotional health and physical well-being.
What can be done now?
The local research showed that institutions that welcome and provide information, services, and resources to newcomers and immigrants must have an information on domestic violence and resources available from a wide variety of service providers, institutions such as churches and other religious authorities, the law enforcement agencies and the legal organizations, and immigrant-serving organizations.
Involving men and boys to foster positive healthy relationships in the family is an important step towards changing the perspectives, behaviors, and attitudes towards gender roles, conflict management, and seeking professional support when necessary. Specific funding from the federal, provincial and independent sources allocated to increase supports and behavioral change programs towards positive, healthy relationships
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This is a big question that I have to pause when I heard somebody say that they don’t want to be fundraising for the rest of their life.
In a traditional NGO lifecycle, there is fundraising, and fundraising, and fundraising. It is the starting point (never-ending point) of an organization’s life and there is no end in sight.
Maybe unless you hit a jackpot- a billionaire just pledged their whole wealth on your program. Then, you are freed from raising monies.
If one is not fundraising, where is the money going to come from?
Is there a way to detach fundraising from our work and let some platform do it for us? And how about the fees for service?
Is there a machine/robot that can just do a lot of crowdsourcing for a small fee?
Is there a way to run a social enterprise /income generation part of the organization to get the revenue coming?
Is there a way to leverage existing partnerships to create new business opportunities?
Is there a way to remove parts of the organization that have become stagnant and source of burden all the time?
Is there a way to form a network for the sole purpose of fundraising for the projects?
Is there a way to tell donors to stop funding those that have not shown impact/proof of impact so we can get a bigger pie?
Is there a way to teach newer NGOs/non-profits to become market-driven and do not emulate the traditional ones that just ask for monies all the time?
Is there a way to elevate the conversation about fundraising to fulfilling your need to give before you die?
Is there a way to match money per impact, i.e. how many communities did get out from poverty? How many girls went to complete tertiary education? This is happening I know.
Is there a way to create an Uber-like project from the communities in need and then get it funded by people all over the world? When the communities get back on its feet, they get to return the monies.
We need more imagination to deconstruct fundraising for the future.
I have many more questions than answers. I think you get the drift.
What do you think about this question? Share your thoughts.
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The Who, What, When & Where
In my presentation, I posited that this is the time of their lives to figure out first and foremost, who they really are! This is the foundation of everything about what will happen in the next stages of one’s life.
What I offered is an exercise to understand themselves through interests/skills/values meshing. When these three things were factored, it is a potent formula to determine that perfect permutation.
That right fit between who you are, what you stand for, and what you are skilled at -is what people say, purpose, calling or vocation.
The sector of international development is vast. There are no clear roadmaps as in other fields, wherein you take a medical degree and then specialize, and then, you are on the right path. Even when there is a specific sectoral specialization, it is still broad and there are many entrance and exit points to it.
If you are taking International Development as a graduate degree or undergraduate degree, it means that you are a generalist. Then, you have to further specialize.
In our disrupted economy, the jobs of the future call for greater specialization than ever. 10 years ago, the generalists had a hard time finding jobs in the field. Today, there is no way that they can get the juiciest jobs without being a specialist in one area or another. Even as a generalist, the core functions of running and managing projects, organizations, networks, and movements call for a skills set that is transferable across these platforms.
I get this question all the time- local versus global?
As a beginner in the field, get experience at the local level. There are tons of organizations that would be needing volunteers for their programs. Do not try to reinvent the wheel. Once you have built your skills, networks, strategies, and perspectives, it is time to move forward to the global level if this is your desired track.
As the world gets interconnected and interrelated, there is a blurring of the line between local and global as far as influence, authority, and reach is concerned. The information and communications technologies have created an expansive state where global actors can make a difference wherever they are.
I have built my business on both local and global platforms and increasingly there is no problem with being based in North America while attuned to developing country contexts and needs.
When is the right time to start in humanitarianism or international development?
Some of these high school students have been on different trips abroad for their school’s project in the developing countries. While they have started, they are still learning the ropes. At this stage in their lives, there are many things to consider -- further studies, getting a job soon, being involved in the community, among others.
There would be time to clearly decide if this is a career for them or something to do on the side. When deciding a career, like any other occupations, the first thing to do is to get a good toe-hold of the sector they want to specialize.
Some people have to delay or stall this part considering other things that life will throw at them and then eventually, later on, pursue it with more vigor and focus. While others, consider humanitarianism as a mindset and gladly tackle what is present in their communities.
I would say that if they are serious about getting somewhere, they need to put the focus, time, and effort to that goal in mind. The perfect time will not come. There is always something happening simultaneously. The ability to balance those priorities is crucial.
They will only be 16 once, and then, life happens. Self-discovery is a must, and this is a continuing process.
Like any other profession, the more you are attuned to yourself, your values and your skills, the easier it is to get to that perfect place and space in humanitarianism whether locally or abroad.
I hope that there are more opportunities like this for young people that have expressed interest in the sector and willing to have a head start in terms of knowledge, understanding, and capabilities needed to navigate their career paths.
To the millennials, the sector welcomes your fresh inputs, ideas, and designs. Disrupt, reinvent, and revive it!
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Over the weekend, I was one of the presenters at the First Annual Act: Humanitarian Leaders of Tomorrow Conference sponsored by A Better World Canada in partnership with the Centre for Peace and Justice here in Central Alberta.
I am very impressed with the caliber of the young people that participated. Some of them have been part of successful fundraising campaigns of their schools raising monies for humanitarian projects of A Better World in Africa and other places in need. Some are into local volunteering and very aware and interested in community development, rehabilitation, health, education, to name a few. And some are eager to learn the ropes and get into small projects that they can quickly implement. Some are still figuring out who they are, what their interests are and how they can make a difference.
In my presentation, I posited that this is the time of their lives to figure out first and foremost, who they really are!
Why is passion overrated?
When I was that age and people say, follow your passion. It wasn’t helpful. I didn’t have a clue as to what I want to do and what to be (when I grow up) so to speak? There are many options and ideas presented. There are also many voices and unsolicited advice telling me what to do.
While some of my high school friends have serious inclinations of being a doctor, a nurse, a journalist, a professor, an engineer, I don’t have those strong interests. I figured out later on that I was just being normal. There wasn’t anything wrong with that. I was still searching.
Based on statistics, the average person would change careers 7x in a lifetime! While there is a lot to learn in international/community development/humanitarianism in terms of skills, career paths, and overall landscape, they can definitely learn all of that as they move along the process.
The Who is the bedrock of everything
To discover who you are as a person – your strengths, your weaknesses, your story, your unique abilities and inherent talents, and your personality/disposition is important to begin to understand what you are capable (potentials) of doing --as a vocation, career, occupation. What makes you joyful, feeling alive, being happy and contented? What makes you angry? What makes you feel fulfilled?
The school, teachers, institutions, projects, and situations can provide information clues as to who you are, the unraveling part is your doing. Nobody will do that for you.
To be continued........
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How do we create the vision for the community?
The leaders look to the people --the masses for ideas, to galvanize for action, to demand certain things, so that the leaders will say yes this is what the people want and we will do it, we will deliver.
The masses minding their own business, doing their daily grind do not care about their community governance so much unless it affects them like taxes, services, pool schedules, etc.
When there is a call for engagement or participation, the masses would ask, what are our leaders’ vision in our community? What is the framework that we can unite on and engage in collective action? They look to the leaders to provide the vision, the inspiration, and the will to act.
What happens is both the leaders and the masses wait for each other to create the vision for the future? Most of the time, this happens.
When the leaders do not have the audacity to create a compelling and inspiring vision, they renege on their leadership function. They become expendable. There are already too many managers but not enough leaders in our society.
Do not expect the masses to create a vision for the community. It is like asking them what they want to have for dinner.
What about the hungry pack? Those who cannot wait for the next 10 years before the citizens get awakened and start to vote for the right people with the vision and right skills to take them to the next level.
The hungry pack will be those who have a lot of stake in keeping a strong economy within the community, where the status quo is not enough, where dynamism is a prerequisite to growing industries that will attract and retain local talent and investments. These are the individuals, organizations, and enterprises that would like to protect the assets that exist but also enhance the uniqueness and strengths of the community. They can be consulted to help shape the general direction of change that needs to take place.
The livability and vibrancy of the community come from the shared vision of a healthy, dynamic, safe and prosperous society.
In your organization, who are the those that will not settle for the business-as-usual and would like to strive for better, smarter, and stronger outcomes. Seek them out and you might be surprised at what you will discover.
Share your thoughts right here!