Yesterday I posted a piece which has gotten a lot of attention that is questioning our human tendency to focus on the hero story rather than the impact of development work.
My complaints are not so useful if I don’t consider giving alternative options … so here we go. Here are some of my take-aways for the Would-Be-NGO-Fan-or-Donor which also apply to the Budding-Do-Gooder. There are MANY more ideas for guidelines than this and countless development blogs which focus on responsible development work (like this one), so don’t take this as a complete list. I will focus on a few topics relating to yesterday’s post in order to help us avoid the hero-story dilemma and to stop incentivizing people to move to a “poor place” and take immediate action. I believe that, if we all stuck to this code of conduct, we’d have at least slightly fewer failures in the social sector and our money would be having more impact.
PLEASE add your thoughts to this. It is not a thorough list, and I’d love to read more ideas about what I might have overlooked.
The Would-Be-Donor and Budding-Do-Gooder’s code of conduct
I, the soon-to-be do-gooder or donor to one, do herby commit to doing good through following these principals of high-quality do-gooderness:
1) I promise that, if I know nothing at all about a social issue that I would like to effect positive change in, before choosing which group to fund or starting my own project or NGO, I will ask others who DO know about the issue to educate me a bit more before taking action. If the project I am considering being a part of is in a country or area I know little about, I will ask a range of people who live in that area their opinions and value those over mainstream media reports.
2) If I can find a role model in this area, I will even go out of my way to thoroughly research or work for their project for a period of time so that I can better understand how and why their work is successful. As a donor, I will choose to praise and fund people who do research before starting large projects and who value and acknowledge that we have to learn before we can help.
3) I will do research to educate myself by asking a range of other organizations working in the same sector to understand the lessons they have learned and to try to avoid making the same mistakes others have made in the past.
4) I will ask a range of people working in the same field who they respect in the sector and why. I will ask people about their failures and what changes they have made to their programs now rather than in years prior which have increased the impact of the work they are doing. If they can’t or won’t answer questions relating to mistakes they have made, I will not give them funding nor will I consider theirs a highly respectable model worth repeating.
5) If I feel that I understand the sector, the common mistakes and the issues involved, and if my proposed solution is embraced, not only by my family who are pretty much obliged to love my ideas, and not just by local media in my hometown who know little about the work I am trying to do, but is supported by a range of experts and experienced do-gooders who are also working in the same area, only then will I consider taking action.
6) I will focus on designing and refining the impact of what I am doing first before I start thinking about branding, logos, and fundraising. If I am donating to a project, I will fund groups who speak about, focus on, and answer questions relating to their impact rather than being wooed by the NGO choices with pretty websites, main stream media, or late-night TV features.
7) If I am not the beneficiary, as in, if I am trying to help a group of which I am not a part (perhaps “the poor people of such-and-such place” or “people with a, b, or c problems which I don’t have”), then I will first seek to find a leader who IS part of that group, and consider partnering or working for them first rather than taking charge on my own. As a donor, I will value organizations which are spearheaded by a local person or member of the beneficiary group, or at minimum, a group working towards such leadership.
8) If I dare to then start something, knowing the hard work, the common problems, and the level of commitment this is going to take, I commit to admitting my mistakes along the way and sharing them with others so that they can hopefully learn from them too. I will admit and share my failures, and I will not try to hide them. As a donor or super-fan, I will “like” organizations who talk about and share the lessons they learn with others and I will value discussions of failures.
9) I will always remember that I am human and that I can’t solve all of the world’s problems at once. I will keep in mind that I have my own needs as well, and that I shouldn’t make life-long promises to anyone if I am not sure that I will commit to keeping them in the future.
10) If a donor, journalist, friend, or fan praises me saying that I am “like Mother Theresa,” thinks I’m so great for “dedicating my life to the poor,” or says “It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you go out there and do something,” I will correct them. I will let them know that development work done poorly CAN cause a lot of harm, and I will give them examples because I will have seen some of these while doing my research. I will remind people about the IMPACT of the work I am doing and tell them that is what they should focus on, not the fact that I’m so brave/cool/or nun-like. As an observer, I will become a fan of people who don’t let me compare them to Bono.
Please add more!