There’s Too Many of Us, Part II

May 17, 2013

Earlier this week, we asked if there are too many non-profit organizations attempting to address poverty, injustice and development issues around the world. We asked whether the influx of small outfits, is exacerbating some of the problems arising from decades-long aid efforts by large organizations and governments in North America and Europe. In the last 10-15 years, these have been joined in their efforts by thousands of small outfits, like Africa Water and Life. Some have gained international notoriety even though their budgets are peanuts compared to legacy organizations involved in this work. But most are unknown except to their relatively small band of supporters and more importantly, the people they are serving around the world.

And therein lies the answer to whether there are too many of us.
Simply put, No.

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As people, we’d be foolish to think we can get things figured out, especially the mega-complex process of bringing communities to experience the life, hope, justice, freedom, and prosperity for which they were created. While we can know from God’s Word, the truth about him, people, and creation, and can glean the principles of building strong families and communities, the process of making those ideas a reality is much less concrete. The issue isn’t that we may get things wrong or cause more harm than good. We likely will. Rather, the question should be, “Are we close enough to the people and regions to recognize when things are not going as planned or our plans were a mistake?” And “Are we nimble enough to make the necessary changes to turn our work in a positive direction.” Taking these questions to the extreme, one could ask, “What If an organization runs into trouble for a season and realizes its vision, programs, and partnerships are ultimately misguided. What if they don’t have the capacity to re-engineer the organization? What if they just closed their doors, deleted the website, stopped fundraising, and ended their programs? How many lives would be impacted? How many orphans would remain parent-less? How many businesses would lose their access to capital? How many fewer church planters would be trained? How many people would be without clean water?” These are sad and undesirable scenarios. But in the grand scheme, the impact of ending a localized, regional program is far less significant than one whose scope is national or continental.

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The point of this mental exercise is not to minimize the consequences of dissolving development organizations working to improve lives around the world. At this time, we feel Africa Water and Life is involved in important work that is irreplaceable. The object is to show how thousands of small organizations working in the developing world are, in many ways, best suited to effect the change large organizations have worked on for decades.

We also don’t diminish the role the big players continue to play. We stand on their shoulders and aspire to have even a remotely similar impact. But when it comes to whether there are too many of ‘us’ out there, we say there’s too few. Small organizations are adaptable, relational, and specialized. We have advantages that get lost as the size of an organization grows. May God grant us increased capacity to use them for the benefit of the billions yet to experience the life he offers.

Next week, in Part III, we’ll look at some of the ways we can use our ‘smallness’ to have the greatest impact.

Part I