Children await their new classroom in Malawi

One of the dangers of working with developing world communities is arrogance.  This shows up in the western donor trying to dictate to local, developing world recipients the kind of help they need.  Oh, let’s build you a classroom.  Or, a medical clinic.  The money will almost always be accepted.  Whether it is used wisely, or has its intended effect, is another matter. 

A more difficult, and time-consuming approach is to carry out a dialogue with on-the-ground NGO partners to learn what they think is most needed.  They will always know more about local needs than will remote do-gooders.  Perhaps it is clean water, or latrines, or vaccinations for newborns, or more calories for the local people. 

At this point, trust and transparency count for everything.  Perhaps the need they have articulated doesn’t fit with the donor’s investment profile.  Do you walk away, or try to persuade the recipient of something else?  If they accept, will their embrace of the project be half-hearted and poorly supported?  Will second best be better than nothing at all? 

These are real problems we encounter every day in deciding among scores of alternative projects and partners to support.  There is not a pat answer, only this:  without mutual respect and reciprocal commitment to success, the project will underperform, or fail altogether. 

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