What do you call it when I give you money, and you give me a report and a receipt? To me, the answer is simple. This is the relationship of a boss and an employee. A one-way street of authority and direction.
Perhaps you also receive the same emails and direct mail campaigns that cross my desk every week or so; all seem intent in offering a strange version of ‘partnership’ with all kinds of people from Sudan to Sarnia. At a World Vision event, I was one of the three guest panelists. In sunny Vancouver, the organizers offered a breakfast meeting in order to present some expertise on what effective partnership may actually look like. My fellow panelists were the author Dr. Harold Percy and pastor in an Anglican parish in Streetsville, Ontario; as well as Ernest Fraser from South Africa who presently works as World Vision’s Partnership Coordinator out of Swaziland. I loved the topic – International Partnerships,and we spent a great couple of hours telling the inspiring, frustrating and often funny stories of Short Term Mission teams attempting international partnerships. From emotional promises to dashed expectations. Short-termers sometimes see through sepia-toned glasses. They desire epic and enourmous personal achievement, And engage in the normal (and hilarious) cultural gaffes that are ever-present in any interaction in a new place.
This word, “partnership” definitely revealed a wide range of responses
I really enjoyed the give and take, as well as the informed and important questions. Important realities were discussed and the more awkward versions of this work had suggestions on how we might refocus towards newer and healthier plans. One issue I shared during the course of the morning was my thoughts on the questions we ask before we engage with others, here are some of my notes … For a long time, our process was to simply bring in our resources to help with the percieved needs of others. This was our goodwill attempt to answer the question,
“What do they need?”
This is the right question to ask in terms of relief work. Aid for people who will otherwise die today or tomorrow. It is the wrong question to ask if this is not the case! In terms of development, this tends to strip the person of dignity as they stand as recipients only. Additionally, they must take what we give, which positions us as benefactors and eventually corrupts us. This relationship quickly ceases as entitlement and power corrupt both sides – recipients may be ungrateful as they receive cast-offs and grow dependant, all while benefactors feel misused and an ungrateful attitude. Eventually this process changed, the new question was
“What do you need?”
Agencies simply began to ask what the community required. This was a much better process, people began to take ownership for their projects, volunteers began to come forward. Still, the position of benefactor and patron allows for inequality. People are subtly told that they cannot meet their own needs, others must solve their problems for them. Benefactors take on a hero role. The process may take longer, but this question also leads to a subtle dependency. Recently, the question has again adapted, now some agencies are asking,
“What are your dreams?”
As the answer to this question promotes the individual, other questions may also help get us to the heart of the question. What kind of community do you want your children to grow up in? This question positions the community as primary drivers and care-givers. The community takes on sole responsibility, and we are honored to assist in their responsibility. As my friend Julio from Honduras explains, If I have to have a heavy table in my house, I may need to ask for help. It is my responsibility, because I own the table, but I may need a friend to give me a hand. The key to remember is that when you let go of your end, you do not own the table, it is still my table. In the same way, I own the problems of my community, I may ask for a hand, but I know that the responsibility for the ownership is my own.
you do not own the table
I love Julio’s thoughts, and I love how I learned from him. How else have you received from others through international engagement? If we are truly willing to engage in mutual partnership, I believe that what is of real importance, is that we allow our international partners to also ask us that third question.
Are we prepared to receive as easily as we see ourselves as providers?