In order to build authentic relationships with grassroots organizations, these qualities, attitudes and abilities will really make a difference:
8. See organizations as living systems.
If we see an organization as a machine (consciously or not) then we pay attention only to the visible things like its structure, its governance and decision-making procedures, the formal policies, and the workplans. Of course these more visible characteristics are important, but if we want to really understand what makes an organization tick, we also have to relate to these characteristics:
- The actual practice – not only what the plan says but its “real work” and the deeper thinking behind the doing;
- The actual culture, values and principles which guide the behaviors and actions of people in the organization;
- The human relationships between the people and between the organization and the outside world;
- The organization’s development – the way it responds, learns, grows and changes over time.
9. Expect and use language and culture differences.
Relationships can be hindered or broken over the smallest of misunderstandings, the chances of which are amplified if working cross-culturally. It helps to look out for different meanings for the same words in different cultures, different notions of body language and personal space, and ultimately, the way in which things are done. In many strongly traditional cultures, for example, if you don’t go through extended greetings people will not be very open to your questions or suggestions. Don’t be afraid to admit it or ask for feedback when you’ve flubbed up. And when it happens (because inevitably it will), laugh at yourself and give permission to others to laugh at you—it makes you more human!
10. Encourage, encourage, encourage!
The work of improving the lives of children and families can often be difficult, slow, and heartbreaking, however rewarding. For people working in grassroots organizations in resource-poor settings, the challenges may feel overwhelming at times, with all the people coming by their home or office to ask for help, or the volunteers who need supplies, or the board member who has questions, and of course the donor who needs a report. But sometimes the most important thing we can do is to show “care for the caregivers” (both physically and emotionally) to reduce stress and prevent burnout. A kind word, a listening ear, or an honest compliment goes SOOOOO far. Encourage people to renew their commitment by also caring for themselves. Ultimately, people just need more recognition for the good work that they do. Find ways to demonstrate how you admire, honor and support the amazing work that grassroots organizations do every day!
Adapted from: The Barefoot Collective. (2009). The Barefoot Guide to Working with Organizations and Social Change. Cape Town: Community Development Resource Association. Retrieved March 18, 2009, from www.barefootguide.org