I had previously written a post about the perfect mission opportunity, addressing one of the greatest issues that I think exists in the mission-aid world of helping people, and that is how to base our cross cultural service on genuine relationships between human to human rather than just giver to takers. But one of the other clear hurdles we have to cross in order to make sure our service is as effective as possible is ensuring that our intervention is locally desired and invited without imposing foreign ideas just because we’re using foreign money to accomplish them. As one of my readers pointed out after the last post, our money has extreme power and we need to be very careful about the effect that power has when implanted into a different culture. Although I am very curious to see what can happen when our foreign money is just gifted to local people without conditions, there’s another method that I would be curious to see the results of that I wish could be implemented somehow (by someone other than myself. So again, if anyone wants to brainstorm and run with this idea, let me know).
I’ve always thought that it would be ideal for an organization to exist that took advantage of the good hearts of foreigners to build relationships and draw upon their varying experiences and expertise, but not having to depend upon their money at all. Because the truth is, if I take Haiti as an example as usual, there is money here. The myth that development is difficult in these places because of a lack of money only encourages local people to ignore the resources that they already have at their fingertips that could do great things. There is money here and some of the people with that money are even willing to donate it to causes that they find important. I’ve seen Haitians raise so much money for things like concerts, soccer tournaments, parties, festivals, and the like, but when it comes to development projects they’ve become accustomed to depending on foreign funds to get that work done for them.
I think that it is possible to create a system in which those local financial resources can be exploited for the common good while still encouraging foreign travelers to get involved in the good that’s being implemented and bringing the world just a little closer together for all. Ideally, I think that every community that is interested in recruiting the services of foreign visitors should have a committee assigned with the responsibility of prioritizing possible projects for those visitors to get involved in and generating local support for those projects before ever accepting anyone from outside their community to enter on pretexts of service and aid. This would be something beyond the leadership structures of local organizations because those are always polluted with politics and self-interests. This would have to be an objective collection of community leaders that could legitimately determine the needs and priorities of their population. Which, I know groups such as this already exist within certain areas, but because of the nonprofit structures that overrule their authority, foreigners are able to volunteer however they want whenever they want, as long as they have the money to bribe locals into buying into their unneeded ideals which they call “help”.
The really important and unique part of this new proposed committee would be the local fundraising that they would have to do to render the prioritized projects possible. They would have to have a platform (a website) in which they could publicize the projects that they have determined they need in the community and then request the types of external professionals that they need to help them accomplish the projects. Based on their expected fundraising potential, they would publish what they can offer for someone who can come to help. Since it is their own decision on the level of importance of the need, they too should be able to provide the support that’s needed to bring someone or a group of someones in to address that need. That’s when those who are traveling to the site know for sure that what they are bringing into the community, whether it’s knowledge, physical skills, or certain social coordination, is something that is truly desired and welcome by those receiving it. This seldom happens when visitors come into a community for service or mission because they are the ones offering their skills into a place that they want to travel to so they find a way to force their skills, knowledge, or ideas, into the community. And the nonprofits that they facilitate their travels through encourage them because they know that they will benefit financially off of these visitors regardless of whether what they are offering is really needed or not. Whether they are really helpful to the community or not, the organizational leaders will make them feel like saviors because they know the visitors’ money will still go to help them whether personally or for the organization. But it’s still all politics and those who really need the help remain in the shadows of everyone else’s exploitation of one another across cultures that make the truth always evasive.
“But if there’s money available and local leaders who are able to raise funds, then why should we donate at all or fund projects during our trips?” This is a very valid question, but the answer lies in the timing of the question. At this point, many “developing” communities have become laboratories for aid experimentation to such an extent that the dependency that has been formed on both sides can’t be cut off cold turkey. These communities are not ready to take on the responsibility of funding projects on their own immediately because they’ve spent too much time being told that they are nothing more than a demographic for a charity. Yet, the scales must begin to tip at some point and the power for local development needs to start changing hands. I think that this sort of committee proposal providing project priorities and potential funding could be a good first step towards that eventual end. It could even become a source of regulation for the international nonprofits that are already active within a community. Because there is and always will be a role for these groups to continue being involved in such places, but as long as the money is coming from overseas, the priorities for what that money should do will also be imported.
This might sound even a little bit contradictory to my earlier post with other ideas on how mission moneys should be used and mission groups should be involved, but don’t worry, there’s actually a hybrid of these ideas that I think could be possible and actually extremely effective. It would require a lot of people on both sides willing to let go of all of the traditional models and taking a risk with something that would take some serious time to grow and thrive. But I think that we’ve reached a point in international service, where, at least within my generation of expats living abroad, it is agreed that the old ways of doing things is a big waste of time, money, and integrity. And if we don’t take steps to keep up with the progressive visions of our international peers who are looking for new ways of developing their communities and making lives better for themselves and the future, we will eventually be made fools of and be sent back to our home countries with our tails between our legs. This already takes place with those who enter a new culture without opening their minds to evolve and accept new perspectives on development, and when it happens it has a negative impact on both sides. And one of the hardest ideas to always let go of is that our money alone is what can make a difference and just because we worked so hard to earn our money, if we donate it, then we get to decide how it should be used. And then we get pissed off when we think it gets wasted. But the essence of these two proposals are 1) That undesignated money leads to local solutions and gives local people the power and dignity to decide for themselves, and 2) That using local funds from the start, but still encouraging cross cultural service involves us all within those local solutions. I think that is where we need to start.
Again, all of this may never come to fruition, it’s just a lot of brainstorming and thoughts based on my experience. Before we know it the cultural tides will change once more and even these ideas may become obsolete. But we need to keep thinking on what may be next if we want the future to be different for ourselves and the world that we live in.