Saturday, September 12, 2009

Differing Mindsets: a Goal or a Way of Life?

Western Non Governmental Organisations (NGO), funders and most Western volunteers tend to think in terms of projects, programmes, lengths of time, numbers of participants, amounts of money, outcomes, objectives, goals and targets. Of course, there needs to be accountability, there needs be a good level of monitoring and evaluation and all that. Things need to be managed.

But it's remarkable how differently local Community Based Organisations (CBO) and Kenyan volunteers work. Much of the work is never ending so things are not viewed as projects or programmes. Lengths of time are irrelevant, as are numbers and stated goals and targets. People are very pragmatic. Orphans are looked after until they grow up, sick people are looked after till they recover, if they recover, old people are looked after till they die.

There is no need to ask what a good or bad outcome is, either an intervention works, in which case it will be continued or it doesn't work, in which case it will not be continued. Of course, there are exceptions, foreign volunteers who become very pragmatic and Kenyans who become sticklers for measureable things, exclusively.

When it comes to money, attitudes vary also. Of course, people who have no money look for ways of making some. Everyone would prefer a job that is not too strenuous or stressful and one that is better paid. But some CBOs just get on with whatever it is they set out to do. Others get on with writing a proposal and waiting around for money. If they get money they may get on with the job, or they may see getting the money as an end in itself.

But some of the CBOs that just get on with the job and see funding as a longer term requirement often do amazing work before raising a single dollar. Even volunteers working for a small amount of money for a period often continue working just as hard when the money stops coming in.

Today, we interviewed four people to volunteer to work perhaps half a day, five or six days a week for six months. All of them said they would be willing to work for as long as required, a year, several years. After all, they have already worked as volunteers for three to five years. They were all asking for very little in allowances. And that's just as well because the allowance on offer is very small.

For some people, the work they volunteer to do is more of a way of life than just a job that has measurable, countable outcomes. Perhaps these differing mindsets explain some of the friction between those who always insist on targets and results and those whose aim seems to be to bring about some kind of change for the better.


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