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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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