Sunday, July 12, 2009

Use what you have to secure what you have not

This will be my last post under this thread. The conference ended Friday evening with a bunch of my new friends and I heading to a progressive restaurant in downtown Halifax. In just 3 short days I had made numerous friends, one who took me into her home that night (the hostels were all full because Paul McCartney was playing) and the other who spent the Saturday showing me the province's beautiful country-side. This experience could have come from the EWB conference. But instead it came from a gathering of other social entrepreneurs from around the world through the Coady Institute. For me personally, this conference has been an interesting experience of exposure to a network that is not so unlike EWB's. It is a testament to the Coady Institute that they were able to bring 100 intelligent, thoughtful and passionate individuals. I think we, in EWB, could benefit from staying connected to this network.

At the end of the conference I was part of a small-group that discussed how we could better engage youth in the ABCD concept. This was in part because the average age of attendees was around 45.

From the network who was gathered, EWB is one of the leading organisations in Canada that is engaging youth in social justice. We are doing it through an asset-based approach. We start by recognizing the talents in everyone - from a chapter level where individual members are encouraged to find their place in EWB, to EWB's role in development which is built on the analytical skills of engineers but humbly recognizes the limitations that an engineering approach brings to development.

We are also big advocates of the strength and talents of individuals and communities in developing countries. We specifically talk about these people by their abilities to combat the relentless propagation that people in developing countries have tons of NEEDS and that we can help. One participant at the meeting, a baptist minister told a story of getting the people receiving the food to go behind the counter and go the giving. People grow more when they are on the giving side. So if we want individuals in Africa to grow, why to we keep on giving? Does that only help our growth? What I love about our overseas program is that it provides people in Ghana an opportunity to give. We send volunteers to live with families. I often hear volunteers say 'I feel I took more than I received'. This is great! We are swimming up-current when the majority of the development industry encourages people to 'communicate what you don't have - your needs, problems and deficiencies - to secure help from the outside.'

For the second half of ABCD, the citizen-led development, I think EWB understands this. With our new distributed model of an organisation, we strive to embody pushing as much power as possible down. Or rather, not taking the power away from those who are closest to the ground. This concept comes through Robert Chamber's books quite strongly - Who's Reality Counts, Putting the Last First, Putting the First Last.

Around the 'CD' there seems to be two definitions. One: citizen-led development, the other community development. I do think that EWB differs from the latter in that we don't see communities as homogeneous entities. We see them as having power disparities. We see that jealousy can sometimes prevent a community from cooperating.

My biggest recommendation for us within EWB, is to look at our work with a stronger asset-based lens. For example, with new members, we need to leverage their strengths better. With our work in Africa, we need to learn how to encourage our partners and us to start with what communities are able to do and move from there. This is a shift that I'm increasingly seeing is important to make with MoFA. One of the MoFA volunteers, Suzanne Fish, worked with 20 field staff in Upper West Region of Ghana to develop new ways of working with field staff that recognize that technologies don't need to come from research institutions but that farmers are able to innovate.

A life lesson I took away from this conference: label people more by what they are able to do than what they are disabled to do and they'll accomplish a lot more.

1 comment:

Hans said...

Reminds me of a quote: "If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming." (Goethe)

Not quite perfect, but I like the sentiment behind it. Interesting to hear about the Coady Institute network.