How to build strong relationships with grassroots organizations, Part 3 of 3

Re-posting this series from the early days of…see Part 1 and Part 2 here.


(cont’d) 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 families and communities 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.


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  1. minal

    I truly believe that the sub culture of the organisation affects the overall growth of the organisation and its formation of strategies and policies for the larger good.

  2. shingayirayi majaya

    It is a brilliant approach, its amazing how this approache matches with what l have been practising when l was doing social marketing for health products and services in Zimbabwe. A lot of programs have failed in communities because of non involvement of CBO’s and yet these reside within the communities and they know and understand the community better than someone coming from a different community, who will need to invest time on studying the culture of the community ans so on. Brilliant, lets have more of these ideas and it will make this world better.

  3. Elhadji Abdou GUEYE

    Hi, I work at Séngalense’s USAID/Economic Growth project and interested of this discussions. I send my contribution
    For me partnership on a shared vision and a shared sense of inclusive processes and approaches call for a selection grid. Experiments show that in this area, all, from not working.
    – Having visions of convergence
    – Mode of decision making within organizations facilitating the negotiation and not imposition, domination or assert
    – Choice friendly alliances and networking
    – Interest in horizontal and transverse links
    – Area of sharing and learning
    – Functioning of democratic organizations and respect for intercultural values diversity;
    – Mechanism for monitoring and evaluation as a means of access to knowledge and control.
    – Value of experience helping the people and teamwork (duration, partnership with other institutions and donors).
    – Specify how to support the target must be convinced.
    – All areas of activities have their support: they have to know.
    – Methodological consistency supports (eg logical framework to be respected)
    – Avoid juxtapositions and “cut and paste”.
    – Clearly state the method of achieving results.
    – Technical tools and approaches much about.
    Leveraging social capital
    Mobilize networks of relationships for: (i) be aware of opportunities, (ii) have a monitoring system, (iii) to associate with winners (iv) no deal: this is undermining the long term, (v) valuing long immersion in the control of the issues

  4. As a career educationist, Peace Practitioner and Humanitarian worker, my heart bleeds at the sufferings inflicted on peaceful citizens all in the name of political turmoil not to mention of natural disasters. As a teacher and Development Consultant, I have a passion to identify myself with Communities that have suffered the agony of war and crime and my service through Khadarlis For Sierra Leone is like a dream come true. As Program Director, I am designing programs and forming linkages that will enhance valuable support for our people in need and ensure that projects are implemented with all the technical variables including monitoring and evaluation, community participation and community involvement. A journey of a thousand miles begin with a single step..

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