What is development work like? The answer to this question is from my very limited experience and perspective, but I thought it would be an appropriate time to tackle it. An appropriate time because after several delays and uncertainties, I’m finally in the District of Kasungu, where my official longer-term placement will be.
It’s seems like it would be really important to define the type of work I’m doing, especially when I have to present myself to District Government workers, and have them understand what I’m here for.
It’s difficult because until you really talk to them to find out more details about what they need, how they operate, and what they want for the future, you don’t really know exactly what you’ll be doing.
This difficulty is more relevant to the EWB approach, which is generally different from most NGO’s. A lot of the time a big donor will be providing funds to the District and expect a lot of accountability from the District for their plans and resource usage, or have a specific plan for the district already made, or maybe be implementing a specific project without involving the District at all.
EWB goes into the District with some initial ideas on how to help with some common District problems, and hopes that they will move things forward on on their own, with only technical and thought process support from EWB.
So there I am sitting with some of the District staff who haven’t previously interacted much with EWB, trying to explain to them that it’s already decided that I will be around for an extended period of time, and that what I’m doing there depends on what they need, and what they decide to do… A lot of uncertainties on both sides.
Things move slowly in the developing world, and therefore development work moves very slowly. When the type of development you want to do is focused on helping existing systems in the developing world to move themselves forward, it’s to be expected that that there will be a lot of uncertainty and waiting.
So part of the purpose of me being at the district office on an every-day basis, and for the longer-term, is to be able to better influence the District to move certain ideas forward faster, and more importantly, to trigger them to continuously think about and develop their own ideas for improvement. Districts are often so busy, underfunded and understaffed, and subject to the influence of many well wishing NGO’s, it will probably be difficult to avoid initiating things forward myself. This may even be the most effective option at times, but the end goal is to have certain mindsets and habits become part of the permanent way districts operate.
To help ensure that this end goal happens, and avoid uncertainty regarding what I’m doing here, it will be very important to clearly and specifically define my purpose and role within the district together with district staff as soon as possible.
The uncertainties in development work will not disappear, but we’ll do our best to minimize ones that are at lest partially in our control.