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August 15th, 2015 - 8:00 am § in Reflection & Rumination

Admitting failure, proposing change

In the fields of global development and philanthropy, we are often left to regulate ourselves.

Unless we are lucky enough to work for organizations that build on indigenous expertise and leadership, and that value real-time, on-the-ground  knowledge over risk management, you are frankly not ever held truly accountable. Beyond the massive failures from which people cannot look away, when was the last time a late, crappy logframe resulted in job loss? Really though, look at the many flailing managers left to their own devices, that you wish would be held accountable.

It occurs to me that in this situation, self-reflection, or the admitting and sharing of failure, might be the closest thing to regulation our sector can muster. Yet, admitting failure is not enough.

Anyone can criticize, find the holes, the lapses, the gaps. For me, the success of embracing failure can only be seen at the next step. Yes, it takes guts to say “here’s where we went wrong.” But it takes even more courage to offer a solution or an idea for taking things forward, for making sure that mistakes never happen again, for doing things differently.

Anything that breeds humility in our sector is welcomed. But the bravest people and the most exciting organizations I know in the sector not only “fess up” to how they learned and evolved (no matter how painfully), they offer up new ways of working, and often being.

So thanks to the people with the guts to stand up and say, “Hey, this isn’t right.”

But these days I’m saluting, supporting, and swooning over the people that dig deep, and then suggest, “What about this?”

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