30 June 2011 ~ 1 Comment

Investing Time in People – Meeting Overview

Sorry for the delay in getting this up! I spent last week on a camping training trip with one of our partner organizations and some of our PEPY staff and then the last few days feeling sick and trying to get better!  So, better later than never we hope, we are some notes which were put together by some of us who attended the June 11th “Investing Time in People” meeting in San Francisco.  This first meeting was very ad hoc and one of the main lessons I personally took out of it is that it would have been great to have a variety of speakers/panels to add to our workshop-ing, which is something I am sure we will look into for future meetings.  In the meantime, read up, and please comment on if/how you’d like to see/be a part of furthering/improving this conversation in the future!

Investing Time in People: Summarizing the First Meeting

On June 11th, a group of us gathered in San Francisco for a meeting we entitled “Investing Time in People” (ITP). Here is the introduction slideshow used to open up the day:

We came with separate but united interests in seeing sector-wide pattern changes and growth in these two areas:

Organizations that ‘invest time in people’. Our beliefs hold that the best development work takes a flexible, adaptive, patient approach and devotes a substantial amount of human energy to the problem at hand. To change attitudes and actions and reach the global goals we have for the world takes more than things. For examples: Schools don’t teach kids. People do.

To achieve changes in attitudes and actions like fostering a culture of literacy, improving teacher and student attendance, or helping students gain more viable skills for future employment takes more than a focus on buildings and books. We believe in supporting models with a larger focus of “investing time in people” to put those things to use such as teacher training, leadership training for teachers and school directors, developing great curriculum, involving parents in the formal education of their children, establishing after school specialized learning programs, and of course working with the local government and communities to be the leaders in this change.

Many popular charity models focus on “giving things away”. For example, with water organizations, there are a number of groups focused on giving away expensive wells and pumps. This can create a lack of ownership, and the fact that deep-well parts are expensive often leaves them abandoned after they break. An ITP approach would be one supporting the development of affordable and locally sourced pumps and filtration options or one that invests time in helping people to acquire the skills needed to create well repair businesses. These type of model help ensure that even if the wells do break, there are local resources on hand to fix them right away.

We want to see more support for solutions that choose long-term approaches to sustainability. Financial sustainability is an easy concept to grasp. We also believe that long-term sustainability can be achieved when we help people acquire the skills, networks, systems and inspiration to create their own successful paths towards their goals.

Donors that funnel their resources to these types of high impact organizations. Recognizing that development work can cause more harm than good when not implemented properly, the meeting aimed to discuss how donors can be educated about effective development work, and what to look for when they make their donations. We don’t think the issue is as much about expanding the pie as it is about reallocating the already existing good intentions towards higher impact programs. (For more on this, see our “Why rating systems are probably not the answer” post coming out in the next few days!)

Our task was ambiguous and large-scale: defining the problem and exploring some ideas for how to make this philosophy a mainstream discussion and how to turn an idea into ACTION.

One of our main goals was to change the cocktail party conversation around international development work from:

Current conversation:

A: “I funded a school in Cambodia. See, here is a picture of it with my name on it!”

B: Oh, that’s nice. Maybe I should do that too!


Future goal:

A: “I am part of an organization that is committed to improving ABC situation. We do that by supporting to are leadership and all those who are also among those in ABC situation with the skills, resources, models, and supportive energy needed to help them reach their goals. Or goal is to help them achieve their XYZ goal in the changes of attitudes and actions* of people and we’re committed to monitoring and evaluating our impact as we test systems of reaching those goals.  *(aka X% improvement in literacy rates rather than  X # of books given away)

B: Oh, that’s nice. Maybe I should do that too!


A: “I funded a school in Cambodia. See, here is a picture of it with my name on it!”

B: Ohhhh……. Ummm…… well, did you invest in people as well? How are you catalyzing improvements in the quality of education offered as opposed to just providing a place for people to gather? HOW will the learning happen and be improved?”

A: Oh! You already get the “Investing Time in People” model, that’s awesome! Well, let me tell you about how the community based organization we were working with is improving education in their community…..”

We started the meeting by framing the situation and goals:

We then came up with many potential paths to getting donors and NGO workers to focus on the idea of “Investing time in people” – instead of things. Some ideas included:

  • Creating an online system for publishing information on different organizations
  • Using transparency as an evaluation tool through an only platform
  • Creating an independent advocacy group that was privately funded
  • Grassroots information sharing through small private events made up of high net worth donors and foundations
  • Creating an online commitment page
  • An  “I ask questions” campaign aimed at encouraging dialogue and research before giving

So what are we going to do? We’re going to take it one step at a time. For now, we will set up a simple website, have meetings with some organizations we think can further this discussion and in the coming months, we’ll meet again.

We’re also going to create a paper asking thought and movement leaders (especially those who are putting together popular conferences) to consider adding more:

  • Local voices to the conversation: speakers and panelists from communities who have been impacted by foreign “aid” to reflected on what is working and what is causing harm
  • Debate and discussion around METHODOLOGIES rather than organizations and forums to share these lessons learned
  • Publicize the danger of ‘hero worship’ in development work and encourage more focus on successful models so that social movements move beyond the cult of the personality
  • Focus on highlighting market based solutions and capacity building initiatives

Our first goal is to gather a community of like-minded people and those interested in engaging in this debate and then finding how we can all add value in elevating this conversation globally. Think you’ve got a better approach or ideas to share? Then post your comments below.

  • http://godsspiritinaction.org/ Tanya Cothran

    I really like the idea of an “I ask questions” campaign. That could be a good starting point for further casual conversations about smart aid. If the next meeting is in the beginning of October I might be able to join you!