There’s Too Many of Us, Part III

May 25, 2013

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This is the final post on whether “there are too many of us” non-profits working in developing countries. We believe there are definitely not too many of us, and while we are small, lightweight organizations, we can use our size to accomplish great good, despite our mistakes.
Here are 10 ways we can use our size to our advantage, or hopefully to the advantage of those we are called to serve.

  1. Learn from the “Bigs”. They didn’t get that way by doing bad things. Bad things get bad press pretty fast and they don’t last, especially if they depend on the generous donations of individuals and foundations. We’ve looked at how organizations like World Vision, Hope International, Charity:Water, Blood:Water Mission, and others are organized, share their vision, and inspire advocates. Learning how they implement their programs and listening to them share their successes and challenges help us understand the world we are trying to touch.
  2. Be ready for change. Expect it. We are always asking, “What will we do if this program flops or we no longer have the same leader to work with.” People move, leaders leave, conditions change. We have to be ready.
  3. Apply changes quickly. We realized at one point several years ago that we were working with the wrong leadership structure in Southern Ethiopia. The leaders were fantastic people but weren’t established locally. We quickly reached out to the right leadership and began developing a relationship. This helped tremendously, minimizing conflict and allowing us to set appropriate expectations for each set of leaders.
  4. Quit bad ideas. Several years back we initiated a micro-business that was unsuccessful for several reasons. For the most part, the program was simple and inexpensive. Scrapping the idea was not a great challenge for us and we were able to maintain a good relationship with the village leaders in this area.
  5. Build relationships. This has been the most important factor, besides the sheer grace of God, in our ability to overcome mistakes and challenges. Our relationships with leaders, our partners, and others is the most rewarding aspect of working in Ethiopia, but also the key to growing and expanding the good and successful projects.
  6. Take risks, especially if good relationships have been established.
  7. Be honest with supporters and advocates about the challenges of working cross-culturally and in extreme poverty.
  8. Be patient with local partners and recognize how they are patient with us. As grateful as our partners are for our desire to work with them, we can put a burden on them. Some of the most helpful conversations have been learning how our understanding about life in Ethiopia was misguided or inaccurate. This education has helped us grow.
  9. If a local or international organization can implement a strategy we feel is important, come along side them and see how you can work together. This was easy for us because we had little experience in development, clean water projects, or church planting in Africa. But we had lots of ideas about what would work. We have been most successful when we are submitting ourselves to those who have the knowledge, skill and experience.
  10. Aim high. Dream big. Think large. If you have a compelling vision (we think we do!) then keep imagining the impact you can have by continuing to learn and staying the course.

These are lessons we have learned and continue to apply. Being a small organization has some great benefits. And we are thankful to be one of thousands, and hopefully thousands more bringing hope, life, and justice to the world.