People not projects

Well here goes. The first Irish Methodist World Development & Relief blog entry. I’ve checked some ‘golden rules’ on writing a blog and apparently I need to have a definite theme in order to maintain continuity and the massive readership that I assume is going to gather (individually) around their screens. So what is the theme? Well I guess it could be ‘development’ because that’s what WDR is all about (pretty much). And hopefully I will indeed be dropping in some nuggets on development and good practice as well as stories of the work from around the globe. However, I feel that the theme should actually be ‘people’. Those ‘golden rules’ suggested a broad theme so I’m certainly ticking that box.

At the end of the day, the work of WDR is about connecting people, all sorts, so that they can work together to change things and make life better. Many organisations emphasise ‘projects’. The word ‘project’ has been outlawed at WDR. If we emphasise ‘projects’ we may be tempted to focus upon funding, donor and recipient roles, schedules, evaluations, targets, timeframes, professionalism, success and failure and so on. At WDR we have replaced the ‘project’ fixation with a ‘partnership’ fixation. In Zimbabwe there is a wonderful organization called Dabane Water Workshops. They involve themselves in clean water and livelihoods work. When I was a mission partner in Zimbabwe in the mid 90s, unbeknown to me, Dabane staff regularly drove past the school I worked in as they travelled to rural communities in Matabeleland to work with them in improving their access to water. Coincidently, about 18 years later, Dabane and WDR became partners and I’ve since been out to see the work that they and we are involved in together. When I interviewed Stephen Hussey, one of Dabane’s directors, he said “I would like to think of WDR as a ‘friend’. I do have that relationship and trust with some partners. Trust has to be built, developed and proved.” WDR is totally committed to working with ‘friends’ and having a relational approach to its partners rather than a contractual approach that generally operates around money and meeting those project targets.

Improving people’s lives is the reason for any development work. It is people who give the funds (largely through the Methodist 1% Appeal) and it is people who implement the good ideas on the ground. People need to be at the centre of what we do. This isn’t just because it’s a nice way to do business. Much evidence from within the world of development theory and practice strongly suggests that long term relational and equal partnerships are the way to achieve effective long-term development. Conversely, this suggests that short-term projects are not actually that effective on the whole and indeed there is, sadly, an awful lot of evidence to back this up. To this end WDR has got ten trusted core partners with whom it intends working for the foreseeable future.

When you are genuine friends, you trust that person based on their track record and they trust you. WDR doesn’t need to spend a lot of time wondering whether this is a good way to spend donations. We know it is. And WDR hopes that the friendships do not just develop between Committee members and partner organization staff. In March last year we had some supporters out visiting WDR partner Kopila-Nepal which works amongst single women and widows in the hills around Pokhara. Stephen, David and Nicky were blown away by what they saw. As time goes on, they will forget details of projects but they will remember Bina, Thirtha, Surjanna, Bhim, Tek and many more. People of vision, strength and resilience.

So as we kick off our blog on the brand new website, I hope that these pages enable you to connect with real people and also help you to think through the huge complexity of issues involved in our desire to change this world of ours for the better.