#209 Having better participation than you
It’s aid-school 101. They’re not beneficiaries, they are partners. Actors in their own development. Nothing will happen if they aren’t fully involved. Communities know best.
While the casual observer may think that the battle for the heart and soul of aid is between the randomistas and the, erm, other ones, aid workers know that the real bun fight is over the fact that their participation is better than everyone else’s. Everyone else is imposing their aims. Or if they aren’t doing that, they’re just raising awareness. They’re merely consulting. They’re facipulating. They’re poor-washing, by decorating head office with huge high-res pictures of an empowered-looking programme participant. They’re extracting information that will get written up into a tidy peer-reviewed article that the cattle-herder in rural Amhara really deserved to be a named author on too. Their version of putting the community in the driver’s seat is to talk to servers they bump into in the hotel; to claim “I always talk to the taxi drivers. You’d be amazed what you can pick up from taxi drivers about what’s really going on in the country.”
You on the other hand, you always put the community in charge. You always let them spend the money on exactly what they wanted to spend it on. You accepted their account of what they did, and asked for no more. You definitely never spent hours begging them to throw you a bone, you know, some lessons learned or a photograph or something. You involved them in the governance of your international NGO. They took to logframes and spreadsheets and sequentially numbering receipts like a duck takes to water. Your donors always understood, and positively encouraged your approach, even though you gave them stories but not the numbers of people reached by the alchemy of the multiplier effect.
In fact you’ve become so good at this that, over time, you’ve gained a pretty good sense of what people are going to say. Slowly but surely you realise that you can anticipate what you are going to hear. That’s great – shortcuts. Efficiency! You can replicate stuff much more quickly, fairly safe in the knowledge that you’re hitting the mark. Of course, you keep yourself up to date by doing the odd transect walk and diploma ceremony, but you’re also awfully busy trying to convince the new donors about the importance of participation. And how your participation is better than everyone else’s.