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Who certifies the certifiers? Who accredits the accreditors?
Recently I found out that public engagement is beginning to be standardized. Meaning there is an association that protects, extols, and exemplifies the practice of the “profession.”
Like any standardization process, it leads to professionalization, focus on ethics, foundations of practice, accreditation, certification.
My question is Who certifies the certifiers? Who accredits the accreditors? Who makes the rules about these things? Who will benefit from the standardization? The practitioners, the association, the clientele, the industry?
Take the case of the safety movement. One accident in the family farm involving deaths of small children and the next thing you know, there are rules, more rules, and stringent rules on safety in the farm that actually creates more risks, work, and expenses utterly not safe, secure, effective to the farm owners! This is what I abhor and this is hopefully not what this public engagement standardization is going to be.
Standardization is only good as far as when lives of people are at stake like flying commercial planes, doing work in hazardous environments, undertaking heart surgery, etc. Unlike lawyers, doctors, engineers, and architects whose practice should be well-regulated for obvious reasons, public engagement is neither here nor there- it is a narrow profession as a profession, it is an approach, a methodology, a means to an end. Public engagement for whom, for what purposes and objectives, and for whose interests? Public engagement is context-based. It does not stand alone. In the grand scheme of things, there are many factors that operate with public engagement. It comes with other tools, approaches, and considerations.
Regulation will only suffocate the practitioners and inhibit the practice. The client and those that use the services of public engagement practitioners will judge what is acceptable and not acceptable, what is subterranean and not. Leave the sector alone. Let the best and the brightest thrive.
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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.
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Have you ever said no to a request and felt really happy about it?
Yes. That's what I felt with a considerable No that I gave recently. After a careful examination of my internal dynamics, what is going on with my day-t0-day load versus my strategic priorities, I have to say No!
Saying No is an affirmation to myself to clear what needs to be cleared and maintain that life-work balance that puts everything in the right perspective.
Saying No is a validation of my internal GPS. When the feeling is that you need time for the self, for peace, for things that you want to do as a person, and for things that you want to accomplish, for things that matter most in life.
The distinction between busywork and strategic work is very important to me these days.
Busywork can be disguised as good, lucrative, productive, and promising work but it ended up eating a lot of time, effort, and with unclear direction- it's like aimless driving! Aimless driving is very stressful.
Strategic work is different. It is aligned with your goals and priorities. You can see the results that will bring enough benefit for the short-term and long-term. Every time I do strategic work, it is always redounding to plentiful opportunities. There is no guesswork as to how it will help me get closer to my goals.
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Engagement is the lubricant to effective change management efforts.
Once the solution has been identified and a plan has been set in place, the question now is how to implement the plan and ensure that all the stakeholders are in the same page and would be able to support it.
The engagement process is very similar to many change management process in many organizations, be it in the public and the private sector.
It starts with understanding and knowing who are the authorities who need the approval of these mechanisms so that it is set for adoption throughout the organization.
Who needs to lead, articulate, and champion this at the public level? They hold the accountability role. It is with them that the buck stops, so to speak.
The second tier of engagement in the organization is the middle management and the staff. They need to be on board in the whole process.
At the implementation stage, they need to fully agree and provide the best support or facility to ensure its successful implementation.
The third tier of engagement is the public.
It could be your shareholders, stakeholders, volunteers, constituencies, customers/clients, and other important public entities that have a clear stake in the process.
They should be engaged throughout the process but in implementation, they should have a clear role to play - to be involved, to support, to be informed/updated on the progress, etc. They hold the keys to wider support from the communities they represent, can speak on behalf of your organization, and can oftentimes, clear the cobwebs of doubt, negativity, and pessimism about the changes that are being espoused.
The engagement process can be a long process for very complex projects and initiatives involving multi-stakeholders with varying degrees of involvement and agenda/interests.
It could involve a considerable amount of staff time, financial resources, and even public media campaign to solidify the changes in the minds of its target audience. It cannot be rushed though.
Taking the time to really get down to the target audience and create trusting and open dialogue bridges an otherwise hostile and indifferent crowd.
The key is to create the environment where people can trust the changes are for the better, that it welcomes their inputs and participation, and encourages healthy debate and discourse.
Between planning and implementation, the engagement is a must and cannot be taken out from shortcut purpose.
When this is done carefully and wisely, the long-term benefits outweigh the initial short-term growing pains.
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Acquisitions are fraught with many challenges, some inherited, some are newly created because of the transition, and some are mixed of both.
When an independent organization has been subsumed by another organization, the transition is never without instability and difficulties. The challenge for most executives is to create the environment where the transition provides the best avenue to sort things out - the past, the present, and the future scenarios.
The past - the subsumed organization is probably facing some challenges before the transition happens. This is compounded when the transition occurs. Personnel is confused, maybe upset, and completely feeling powerless to feel any sort of consideration about the changes that will take place. Maybe, some are against the move, some are in favor, and some have to leave the organization. Maybe the organization in question is completely disorganized and suffering from many organizational crises. When this is the case, the headaches and ills are transferred unfortunately.
Compounded with the transition, this can create a plethora of toxic and unhealthy behaviors which can lead to underperformance or non-performance of certain important keys tasks in the organization.
The present- the acquisition process with all the strategic and tactical considerations can boil down to two main things; 1) the preponderance of the acquisition- weighing the risks and the benefits to the organization taking over; 2) the long-term alignment to the strategic goals of the organization- could be a growth strategy or for another altruistic/ and non-economic reasons. Whatever the basket of perceived benefits, the present need is to review what works, did not work, and what needs to be retained, removed, and revised.
To chart the future that is aligned with the organization, strategies must be developed fully with change management in mind. Without the former, the latter becomes arbitrary, myopic, and rudderless. Without the latter, the former tends to fail big time. These two needs to come hand in hand, like a glove to the hand.
Where are you now in your acquisition or change management efforts? Have you considered these processes to keep your strategies front and centre and not be drowned by the sea of good intentions?
Tell me what you think!
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Planning is very abused these days. I want to challenge many companies, non-profits, governments, and citizens to stop planning for the sake of planning.
Create clear implementation strategies that are tied to performance goals, department goals, and management goals, in order that these plans actually get to be executed.
90% of plans fail because it is very good in paper and never implemented.
Executives forget to integrate the plans into their day-to-day forecasting, predicting, management, supervision, and strategic considerations.
So much money in billions is wasted on planning retreats that 1) do not yield any meaningful implementation; 2) put the plan to backburner because there is no political will or resource to fund it; 3) become irrelevant as days, weeks, months, years pass by.
A decent plan with a great execution detail and clear accountabilities can get you somewhere between 15-20% improvement from your current state.
It’s better than those grandiose plans that gathered dust in the shelves.
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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?
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"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." - Michael Jordan
When you failed at something, it's not as if you are the worst in the world. It’s just that you didn’t succeed.
Do not generalize one failure into your character or that it represents your whole life. Well, so what?
It’s never too late to go back to it and do it better, more, faster, lesser, and just use plain common sense.
The muscle that you should be exercising is your resilience muscle.
Any time that you hit a snag or a setback, or failed in something. It is not the end of the world.
Or the alternative didn’t work out or failed from the outset. The passion and mission are still there.
Take hold of the opportunity to learn from what happened.
Next time, get better at it. Chip on it slowly until you get what you dream of.
How can you motivate people? You can’t motivate people. Motivation is from within.
Those motivation speakers are fluff. They do the song and dance but afterward, you go home the same person.
Nothing has changed.
When organizations pay for motivation speakers, the CEO or executive is literally putting monies down the drain for no ROI at all. Only fluff and drama.
Motivation speaking is a billion-dollar business without any evidence of gain or return on the part of customers. Who are they kidding with their antics? T
hey cry and laugh and cry again in their whole speech. At least, with clowns and comedians, you know what you going to get.
The best motivation is finding out what you really love to do.
This is the fundamental question that will actually make you feel better and your life better.
I advise high schoolers on wanting to enter the international or community development sector to find out where their interest lies and hone in on their strengths.
These interests and strengths are the stuff some great careers are made of.
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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!
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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?