Walk With Me – A Response to Leveling Playing the Field by Advancing Women Professionals

A Reflection on Leveling the Playing Field by Shifra Bronznick, Didi Goldenhar and Marty Linsky of Advancing Women Professionals (AWP)

It’s 11 p.m. you’re about to go to switch off the TV and head to bed when suddenly a thin child, face dirtied and surrounded by dirt appears on the screen.  She is hungry. The good news is that for only $25 a month we can offer her food and education for the next month, what to do? Do you give, knowing that next month there will be another $25 and that there are millions of other children just like her in the world? Or, frustrated with the enormity of the situation do you hit the power button and walk away?

We have all faced this dilemma.

What I love about our work in Kenya is that Be the Change gives people a third option, supporting the growth of structures in the community that feed hundreds of children …  contribute $25 to Be the Change and you support the development of Kenyan-lead feeding programs which reach a whole home of children.

You would think logic, these numbers and success stories would result in a desire to shift the way people support development in Africa but as an organization we face a severe challenge in ‘convincing’ people this new sort of work. Why?

AWP’s Leveling the Playing Field attempts to addresses this question by examining the difference between technical problems and adaptive challenges.

Technical problems live above the neck: they are susceptible to a good argument or to someone’s expertise. Adaptive challenges live between the neck and the navel: they are about values and beliefs, ways of being and sense of self. (21)

It is easy to approach asking people to join Be the Change’s efforts as a technical problem. I can assume the only thing required is to demonstrate why some one should support our work through proof and evidence. This viewpoint neglects the years of story that has been cultivated around the international donor and the child on the screen.

For centuries international communities have seen as the savoir, the parent, the solution. This sense of self has fed into the values of nurture, direct relationship and influence. Meanwhile, it abandons the structural issues facing the communities in which poverty exists.  Many times, the donor is aware of this lacking yet continues to give.

AWP continues, Adaptive challenges are not about logic. They are about the experience of loss – the loss of what is familiar and comfortable, including expectations and rewards and the loss of what people think of as the values that guide their everyday decisions.  (21)

In our work, we must walk people through this process of loss – numbers that prove their increased influence are not enough. We are coming up against years of action that have created a certain understanding of self. We are asking them to donate $25 but to realign the way they see themselves with the Kenya community.

True partnership between donors and organizations is not about getting people to see that “you are right” or that “you have an answer.”  Instead, it is walking through the act of the giving of their money, of themselves. Until we view our relationship with the wider community in such light we will remain frustrated and change unachieved.

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