Wednesday, June 27, 2012

maybe development work should be more like making good wine

I was hoping that coming to Timor would help me to write. Lately I find it hard. Hard to write without feeling I’ve said it before.

I’m doing interviews and sometimes I feel like I can almost finish their sentences, and this makes me worry. Am I not listening anymore? Am I just assuming that I know what they mean to say?

To me, when you say “of course it’s a priority” followed by “we don’t have the money for it”  what I hear is:  We have money, not a lot, and we’d rather spend it on something else. i.e. it’s not our priority.

Which is fair enough, and it actually often justifies even more for the aid industry to step in, because usually infrastructure takes precedent over education and social services. Focus tends to be on grand-scale poverty reduction projects without any thought to addressing inequalities within the society, to ensuring participation of women and minorities. Not if we are not there to fund it. 

It does in the third world. It does also in my world. So who am I to judge.

If only I could get the UN to increase spending in education in Europe and the US so that not only the rich can afford decent schooling. It seems like every politician thinks education is the cherry on top, when really, it’s the main meal. If things carry on like this, where is equality and the middle class going to be?  Where are all our gains going to go?  When the shit hits the fan they are worried about the banks, not the people that will go homeless as a result of the bank’s actions. That is just collateral damage.  

It’s not that I can’t see anymore. I still can. I still know how important a lot of what I (we) do is.  It’s just been the same format for a little too long. Even though I am freelance, I have been working under the  same structure  for three years now, longer than I’ve been with any firm before. I feel it’s time for a change. It’s time to start taking stock.

Over  the last three years I’ve flown across the continents to analyze best practices and lessons learned with all types of organizations and in all types of scenarios.  An amazing experience and a privilege. Maybe it’s time to put that knowledge to use.  But I feel like there are pieces of the puzzle still missing. So maybe there is another step. Maybe, like with good wine, I have to let the grapes macerate, age. And maybe this is where the current career ladder structure also gets it wrong. It comes across as a race, and a race implies you can’t get off, even if you don’t know which way you are headed. Maybe we need to start thinking about the need to think both fast and slow. Maybe we need to understand that to be really effective   and creative we need not only exposure to play  and variety, ( see recent Sandberg article for more details on this)  but also time, time for reflection, time for the dust to settle, for the crap to sink leaving clearer and fuller bodied ideas above.

Now a days it’s all about numbers.  How much you can do. Who have you met. What grade you are at. How fast did you get there. It reminds me a bit of those Europe in a week tours, where you get to tick off all the main sites, but really, don’t get to experience any of it.

Maybe we need to start thinking about the quality, not just the quantity of our years as professionals.  And maybe that means less, but better.

I’m just thinking out loud here……