Trying to Quit

An analogy occurred to me recently:

Imagine that your best friend is quitting smoking. This is something you’ve really wanted her to do for a long time, as you’ve seen the teeth darken and heard the hacking cough for too long now.

So after much soul searching and commitment on your best friend’s part, she takes the first step on their journey. She reduces the number of cigarettes she smokes per day by three! She has been smoking a pack a day.

It has required more effort and commitment than she ever thought she was capable of before. She is proud of what she has done for this first step and this is what she knows herself to be capable of right now.

As your friend tells you about this, you balk, “Only 3 less per day?! Why aren’t you using the Nicorette [an anti-smoking medication]? That’s what’s going to help you really quit!”

How would your friend take this?

You have now negated what she was able to accomplish, which was a big difference to her, even though it was not up to your expectations.

The question: How often does this happen in aid partnerships, especially those with local organizations and on-the-ground implementing partners?

In my experience, much too often.


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  1. I see your point, and I don’t disagree- and I know no analogy is perfect- but there’s one flaw in it that’s giving me trouble, and that is with your friend quitting smoking, you’re a peer and a bystander, not a financier or project partner. In other words, you play no role in your friend’s effort to quit aside, maybe, from encouragement. She is driving her own project, independent of you. With implementation partners that’s not really the case, I don’t think, and thus the analogy turns into one with an upstairs-downstairs patronizing pat-on-the-head– or at least there is a danger of being perceived that way. Just a thought, hope it makes sense! I do think you’re right in the sense that projects like these take time and success is or can be incremental. 🙂

  2. Thanks Carol! I think indeed you have described the analogy well. For me it’s not only about incremental change and the importance of encouragement, but this whole peer/bystander vs. financier or project partner. One sentence you wrote really stands out to me, “She is driving her own project, independent of you.” I believe that this is exactly what’s necessary in aid partnerships. When local groups become the setters of priorities, the controllers of resources, and thus the drivers of development, donors will actually be able to build local sovereignty. I would like to see aid practitioners questioning the whole paradigm of what it currently means to be a “project partner.” Until then, aid partnerships are and will continue to be plagued with the pats on the head, subtle and overt, which perpetuate dependency.

  3. I appreciate this post and the discussion in your comments above. Jennifer, you say that when the CBO becomes the “controller of resources” then there is local sovereignty, but it is still the granting organization that controls future grants to the CBO, in a larger way controlling the resources. Do you agree?

  4. I think that when a local organization becomes a “controller of resources” in the sense that they are determining what the money will be spent on, there is more of a chance for local sovereignty and the “demand” for development to be present. You’re right, Tanya, in the sense that an organization would still be dependent upon donors for future funding. This is true for all non-profits operating without an endowment. However, from an organizational development standpoint, I believe responsive grantmaking (e.g. funding requests as they come in rather than silo-ing funds in health, education, IGAs, etc.) can significantly increase local organizations’ sense of autonomy and thus their relationship to the people they serve.

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