Does aid need a 12-step program?

With all the hype around the World Humanitarian Summit this week, it seemed like a good time to reprise this post from 2012

“Let go and let God.” It’s a mantra of Alcoholics Anonymous. I’m wondering if it’s time for international aid to adopt the same approach to recovery (with more secular references of course).

Last week in DC I attended [three different meetings/conferences not worth the links now]. But it was the framing questions for one event that helped to shape my mindset over these three meetings:

  • Are you ready to let go and let countries/locals lead?
  • How will we know that US dollars are being used effectively if we let countries lead programs?
  • How do we let go?

All week I’ve listened to old school “experts” in suits. I’ve listened to leaders from the Global South via Skype. I’ve listened to people who identify themselves squarely as supporters of grassroots activists and community leaders. And in each of their presentations and in the pursuant discussions, I’ve been listening for answers to these questions for insight into how the shifts needed to make aid more locally responsive can occur.

My conclusion? The international aid industry (and the people that make it up) might need a 12-step program to overcome what ails the system in order to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

So I offer these 12 steps, reworked for us aid workers, philanthropists, social entrepreneurs and volunteers, written to help us successfully go through the program and come out the other side—stronger and more devoted to our purpose.

Step 1:  We admit we are powerless over a project-based mentality–that when we consider the changing world, our frameworks and tools as they have come to define us have become obsolete.

Step 2:  We believe that notions of complexity and resilience, as powers greater than ourselves, help guide us towards more adaptive programming.

Step 3:  We make a decision to turn our will and our roles over to this reality and to the adaptability of natural systems.

Step 4:  We make a searching and fearless inventory of our character as do-gooders and of the limitations of our internal systems in relation to the people we aim to serve.

Step 5:  We admit to ourselves, our organizations and to our partners (implementing and funding) the exact nature of our faults and misdeeds.

Step 6:  We are entirely ready to practice responsive mechanisms of support (funding and accompaniment) in order to remove our defects of character.

Step 7:  We humbly use the feedback from our partners in the removal of our shortcomings and resolve to work to remove these faults by utilizing robust feedback mechanisms.

Step 8:  We make a list of all persons we harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all.

Step 9:  We make direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Step 10:  We continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong, promptly admit it.

Step 11:  We listen, study, and meditate to improve our awareness of the natural laws and forces that govern the real and valued contributions of changemakers at all levels, focusing only on accountability to the people we serve and the strength to follow that pursuit above all else.

Step 12:  Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we carry this message to others and practice these principles in all our affairs.

Many people and some organizations have started down this path.

Folks, if you haven’t yet embarked on your recovery, what are you waiting for?


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