It’s not a contradiction. It’s a tension that represents the duality we all face whenever we try to help others in some way. No one wants pity, and often what you think is help actually makes things worse. So how do you navigate this territory of personal commitment and growth, alliance, and support?
Help yourself before you can help others.
For the past year, I’ve grappled with the issue of how non-profits need to help themselves (infrastructure, data management, “overhead”) before they can most effectively help others. It’s not sexy for most people. Donors want blankets for babies, not gamification strategies to improve staff knowledge.
So many non-profits don’t have the courage to help themselves so they can help others. They don’t have the resources, but more importantly, don’t have the confidence to stand up to donors with a plan of what they’ll be able to do differently.
It’s time to do differently, not just think different
Starting in September, I’ll be posting from Tanzania where I’ll be for the next nine months. It will be a very different adventure than my past two-plus years on staff at TFA, and as a teacher before that. I’ll be working with an NGO to help widows build businesses to support themselves and their families through microcredit.
Equally importantly, I’ll be helping the NGO to help itself – taking my working knowledge of development and social business strategy and practices to a new sector. One thing is for certain: I will be consistently humbled and out of my league. But I’ll do my best.
Is best good enough?
Over time, I’ve realized the inherent danger in the phrase “I’ll do my best.”
What does that actually mean? It means we don’t know enough about the problem to better articulate what we’ll do. It means we’re passively approaching the problem by taking a prescribed approach without really understanding it. It means we think that “our best” is somehow different from what others have tried and will thus lead to better results. It means that there might be a situation in which we don’t give our best.
For all of the above, that’s a problem.
When “best” isn’t good enough
Part of the reason Katie and I chose the program we did was because we believe that while doing our best was mandatory, it wasn’t sufficient. We’re doing this in large part to change ourselves.
I have a lot to learn about Tanzania, mico-finance, and NGO operations in developing countries, but I do have a few very strong beliefs about the next 9 months:
- The people and families we’ll be working with lack resources, training, and opportunity… not talent. It’s not about me.
- I’ve got to bring my “A” game, and then some. It’s all about me.
Thanks for joining us.