They’re looking right back

When I worked for IMC, we used to take our Iraq country director around to meetings in DC and NY whenever he was in the US. It wasn’t just for fundraising or to raise awareness about Iraq. People didn’t tend to believe that you could actually do relief and development work in Iraq, because of the danger and the complexity. We’d take our guy to them and he’d explain how you could do it. His meetings were a powerful tool, much more effective than a report could have been.

One question he fielded over and over was “Do your partners in Iraq know that you’re funded by the US government?”

His answer was always the same. “We have Google in Iraq, too.”

In our interconnected world, you can’t hide from the communities you work with. That’s a good thing. It’s much easier to treat people with respect when you know that they’re watching you. Transparency is part of accountability, whether or not that transparency is voluntary. I think that’s part of development 2.0. We’re not just going somewhere and learning the local situation so we can do our work; they are looking right back at us, and they’ve got the tools to disseminate their views.

On a related note: Development work is slow and frustrating. Community partners can drive you completely nuts. There are cultural barriers you can’t get past, easily-solved problems that never find resolution anyway. It’s easy to get bitter and angry. Whatever you do, don’t blog about it. How would the people in this guy’s town feel if they learned just how much he despises them?


(photo credit: Onno B.)