Learnings from Last Year….

Despite discussing resolutions in my previous post, I actually believe the beginning-of-the year focus should be on reflection.  Surely the real learning in life comes from reflecting on the past rather than trying to manage the future?  And last year was so very special for me with the launch of SHAME.  It’s been a real joy ride discussing the book across South Africa (and with my recent BBC interview, around the world!).  Here are just a few things I’ve heard and learned along the way:

  1. Change is a-coming:  at every launch, in every interview, I had current and former aid workers recounting horror stories of numbing mediocrity and stifling bureaucracy. There is growing consensus that reform is needed to how aid is designed and delivered.  Question is how and when?
  2. “You are no longer the drivers of change.  And you have to accept it!”  Words spoken with compassion by a local South African activist, referring to international NGOs.  Given the rather patchy record of aid programs, we can no longer claim to be saviors, and most Africans don’t want us to be.  So are international agencies going to embrace a changing role in development or die an ignominious death?
  3. People are craving authenticity.  I keep getting told how “brave” I was to write SHAME, to admit to my naivete and the mistakes and misconceptions born of it.  From my perspective, I was just keeping it real.  But I think that’s what people need now—a bit of real.  Not in a Facebook-reality TV-look-at-me – brand of real.  Just something that acknowledges all of life’s beauty and blind spots and bruises.  Maybe that’s what aid needs to – a little more authenticity, a little less “look at me” doing good.

To be continued….hopefully my compulsion to reflect with extend beyond January….

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