An estimated 25,000 participants from more than 185 countries will assemble in Washington D.C. next week for the XIX International AIDS Conference. How many of them have cared for a dying neighbor or comforted a grieving child?
Highlighting This American Life’s Episode 444: Gossip (Originally aired 8/26/11), which covers research relevant to HIV prevention in Malawi.
When a privileged few frame the conversation about fighting AIDS or reducing poverty, remedies from above are imposed on the excluded. Yet it’s those on the ground who have the most important knowledge, ideas, and resources to deal with the immense and complex problems of this century.
Who will revolutionize the development industry? It’s those with a professional, but more importantly, a personal resolve to nurture alternative models of “development” that genuinely build on the dignity, knowledge, skills, culture, and abilities of local people.
One largely overlooked cause of low levels of staff and volunteer motivation is the internal dynamics of organizations. Development organizations can be more effective if their members pay attention to what can go wrong inside a group and take steps to keep people engaged and committed.
The bottom line question for many people working internationally is seemingly simple—How many people were reached? This question often becomes a huge drain on financial and human resources, especially for under-resourced local organizations.
Work on the ground can often be difficult, slow, and heartbreaking, however rewarding. 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.
Under-resourced and under-recognized local organizations face immense challenges on the ground. Yet we as outsiders most often choose to express frustration or impatience if an organization does not appear to be responding to our expectations.
As resourced outsiders, when we meet with suffering people, we create high expectations, in them and in ourselves. Or we feel completely helpless in not being able to offer enough and in so doing may even reinforce feelings of hopelessness.
The fact that people, under the direst of circumstances, are able to pull themselves together and organize themselves is a celebration of the fact that the impulse to develop and organize is inborn.
Answers to: “If you personally could do one thing to change “the system” of foreign aid and development assistance, what would you do?” The number and diversity of responses has been overwhelming…and it keeps coming.
This American Life 408: Island Time (Originally aired 5/21/10) brilliantly covers the “byzantine system of aid agencies, NGOs, and government bureaucracy” administering the $9 billion(!) of pledged Haitian relief.
Though “the system” of foreign assistance and international aid is made up of well-intentioned people, it most often falls far short of changing people’s lives. As we enter the 21st century, we have a unique and blessed opportunity to explore the alternatives to business as usual.