04 June 2011 ~ 0 Comments

(Pari Project Guest Post) Lessons from StartingBloc: Learning As You Go as the Only Way to Grow – an Idea Permeates!

Guest Post By Allie Hoffman of The Pari Project

The development sector is famous for acronyms and grand plans. William Easterly calls them ‘the Planners’ – those who have fixed, set ideas about what is going to work, and are slow to change course. But he points out that history has shown that it’s the ‘Searchers’ who are able to have the most positive impact through their work because they are the ones who are willing to learn and adjust as they go. I have found this to be true time and time again in the 6 years I have been living in Cambodia working in the development sector.

I recently returned from a Starting Bloc (www.startingbloc.org) conference in New York City, where I was amongst a group of 150 social innovators exposed to an array of speakers whose titles included the following:

–       Vice President of Strategy

–       Transformative Action Director

–       Social Impact Management Director

–       Sustainable Career Coach

Usually when I come out into ‘the real world’, I encounter people like the ones listed above who are keen to tell me about what works in places like Cambodia, and how convinced they are that they have the answer/salve/solution/remedy/grand plan to fix all that is broken.

But this time was different: I was astounded to hear these speakers iterate ideas about development work that I have been formulating for years – namely that the best development and social enterprise work happens when you learn as you go, when you adopt flexibility and adaptability as core principles, and when you build from the bottom up.

Here are some highlights from the speakers consistent with these themes:

– Hubris is necessary for great ideas to penetrate, but humility is even more important.  If an idea is really valuable, then its creator needs to seed it, then abandon it. The only change that matters, is the change that happens after you leave.

– Hone your gut. You’re going to fail, and fail hard. Each time, get back up and eventually you’ll fall shorter distances.

– The cult of the personality is dead; citizen driven movements are far more representative.

– Share your ideas, resources and information; don’t go into partnerships thinking about what you can get out of it, but what you might learn. Collaboration is key; help people without being concerned about the outcomes, and 9 times out of 10, you’ll benefit in the long run.

– Do not rely on overly simplistic views of human nature. This is the reason the “Planners” fail time and time again – there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to meeting people’s needs.

It was phenomenal to me to see that there’s been a seismic shift in how development work is being articulated and approached. Salvation (“we’re going to save the poor!”), and guilt (“…and I’m going to do it cause I feel guilty about how much I have!”) often fail to support bottom-up approaches that empower and integrate, all while taking a long-term perspective. Having so many people reiterate the feelings I have been having and lessons I have been learning through my work in Cambodia makes me hopeful for the future. Those in San Francisco on June 11th should join us for a meeting that aims to put action to these ideas. To learn more: www.investingtimeinpeople.org

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This is a guest post by Allie Hoffman of The Parivartan Project. Pari is a social enterprise whose purpose is to empower the citizen sector; to do this, they provide fundraising, marketing and organizational development services. To learn more: www.thepariproject.com