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In the purpose-driven space, sustainability is a catch-all phrase for planetary, social, environmental, and economic well-being in communities, nations, and in the world. But how many in this space are actually financially and organizationally sustainable?
Doing good, being good is a good mission. But being good but not being smart is deadly and bordering on hypocrisy. To become a truly sustainable force in the world, your organization must walk the talk and talk the walk.
One organization is a one-funder business model. Another one has one staff and hundreds of volunteers trying to get to another impact goal. Another organization is penny-pinching on much-needed reorganization costs just because the Board didn't think they need it. Another one is simply mired with employee issues that do not reflect well on their values statements.
In this circuit, the holier-than-thou attitude is almost always invoked. Yet, this complacent, self-congratulation is partly the reason for why the same sector proclaiming sustainability isn't sustainable either.
Best practices are out there. When corporates and profit-seeking ventures are hit hard on sustainability, the sector must face the same music and should be held accountable for it.
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The politics on vaccines is another issue that can potentially escalate into another time-bomb.
We have several vaccines that have promising results for the prevention of the COVID-19 virus. We know that these can take a few months before initial groups of people are monitored and the side effects of the drug are taken into consideration.
We'll have the vaccines as our (Canadian) government committed to this a long time ago. Other countries have to wait until it becomes affordable and that preliminary results come out. No one wants to be the guinea pig, I suppose.
Vaccines are one thing but the equitable distribution, affordability, accessibility and appropriateness of these vaccines to differentiated needs of different populations come into question. Another issue is about protecting consumers who have elected to use these vaccines under development, which calls for regulation and complete transparency for public welfare.
We live in ambiguous times. We cannot trust our health systems and authorities that are overwhelmed and overworked to decide for our health, well-being, and safety. Like all systems, when it's saturated, it either collapses on the sheer weight of its load or dissipates into mediocrity or irrelevance.
We also cannot turn a blind eye on the suffering and hardships that are experienced by our neighbors in the developing South. That's why we call on health equity across the board. Those that have multiple vulnerabilities and needs must be given equitable priority and attention and consulted adequately.
Be your own health advocate and become a health advocate for others around you. The world is hyperconnected to risk being the weakest link.
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The vista post-pandemic will be entirely different, if not ambiguous, to say the least.
The things that we previously say 'no' to, becomes 'yes, we can try.'
The things that are off-limits or too-distant, become possible.
Barriers are starting to fall, to make room for adaptation.
Doors are beginning to open up, when previously shut on your face.
Since the crisis, I have been speaking with or training people from distant lands such as Nigeria, Uzbekistan, Hongkong, and recently Bangladesh. I am honored to be learning alongside them in this time.
People are missing the in-person connections because presence is WHAT MAKES US HUMANS!
We long for the day that we can travel again or visit folks or hold parties and weddings the way we do.
But the future will be totally different, we might as well accept that fact and make room in our minds for the inevitable modifications.
Yes, we can adapt to changes, without being fearful, forced into it, or depressed.
We welcome the ambiguity and we mine it the opportunities presented by the crisis.
We will wake up everyday ready to be surprised!
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Facebook has recently announced its new cryptocurrency which is called, Libra. Libra will be independent of Facebook and will evolve not only as a currency but a financial institution eventually. Facebook being one of the three tech giants, entered the cryptocurrency race and this is not surprising.
Governments and regulators are uniquely aware of the benefits as well as the concerns about the dominance of the big 3: wiping small competitors, disregarding regulations and rules, and imposing their heftiness on every one else.
When giants ruled the earth, a billion years ago, the rest of the species grew too. And yet in the era of uber-competition and massive technological race, it is really a zero-sum game- the swiftest with the mostest?
If the government can't battle with the billion-dollar corporations in terms of implementing regulations to support consumers' interests, where will the consumers go for protection, support, and welfare?
In geo-politics, the rise of the two superpowers 60 years ago culminated in the dominance of only one big superpower- the United States of America which became the 'accidental cop' of the world. Yet, regional powers have emerged with renewed vigor, upsetting the hegemony of a superpower using trade, economics, and partnerships to leverage their reach amongst other nations and impose their interests.
This echoes what has been the current narrative about it: it is good when it is benevolent and moral, and it's really bad when it acts like an evil empire- which can be embodied in one organization at any given time.
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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.
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Diaspora, immigrant communities, global travellers and citizens offer more than global stories and exciting exotic foods-they hold several assets that needed to be maximized. Cultural knowledge, international perspectives, remittance, know-how, linguistic fluency, heritage, connections. These are some of the links that needed to be made in the minds of decision makers, executives, planners, leaders, and doers.
In this day and age, the local is global and the global is local. People that are comfortable with the binary of either local or global is obviously missing the whole point. It is the same people demanding a practitioner to either specialize or die. I would say specialize and die!
Here are some of the pointers to bring full circle the wealth of international and intercultural assets found in the diaspora/ immigrant/ and international/global citizens.
1. Companies, organizations, and governments are beginning to reflect the diversity found in the population, consumers, employee base, and their neighborhoods. This brings back to the question- the global is local and the local is global. It is no longer a foreign idea to seek out global talent from the pool that is right in your backyard at the same time look for global ideas to enhance your local situation.
2. The global remittance should result in improved lives of families working overseas and the kinds of infrastructure, support and growth opportunities should reflect that in each country.
3. The bridge between the new country and the old country must give way to a fluid interconnectivity that is not alien but an inherent identity of the immigrant community. Our sense of nationalism comes from our sense of humanity. Regardless of whether we have strong clear ties to another nation, the same ills, sets of problems and issues beset other places, and there is more reason to collaborate than to compete for competition’s sake!
4. Companies with global reach across the world cannot afford to alienate local cultural characteristics that made each country, region, cultural group, tribe, and community different and unique. McDonald's with the global franchise can afford to culturally adapt to the local taste in order to compete with the local favorite. Cultural intelligence is a pre-requisite for a successful business internationally.
5. It is time for globally trained people to push back and be proud of where they come from, the countries and locations they worked, the things that they have seen and experienced, the cultures they have tasted, learned, and imbibed. This sets them apart from the competition. Do not forget your assets and relegate it to lower import just because you have moved to a new country and wanted to assimilate and not appear different- be proud about it.
The next generation of jobs and employment and careers for the near future are those that cannot be done by robots and artificial intelligence. Are you honing that intercultural, international, and global expertise and talents that you possess? Bring it out and dominate your field.
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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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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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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?