This post was written by Joanna Ashworth, Researcher in the Centre for Sustainable Community Development and Co-Director of Engaging Diaspora in Development.
We just finished a five-month workshop series with 25 diaspora leaders. Here is a glimpse into what we learned together.
1. Take time to grow a learning community
One day a month for five months we gathered with SFU’s project directors, advisors and 25 diaspora leaders in a workshop series. This gave us the chance to network with fellow diaspora involved in similar development work. We learned so much from hearing about the work people are doing and about how we might collaborate with them. We also wanted to gain more skills and knowledge on how to develop our projects. There was good chemistry between people—we all feel like family now.
2. Beyond Technical Information are assumptions about ‘development’
In the beginning, we were hoping to learn theories and techniques that would help us to start up a project; however, what we achieved was a profound understanding about the nature of the [development] problems in front of us and how delicate and important the relationship is between theory and practice. When we talked about what development means, we began by reflecting on the tensions between the ideal and what was described as the historically Western and/or colonial approach to development in the Global South.
Many of us are suspect about traditional ways of doing development, however we reached a consensus that development is about creating the space for choice and that development needs to address uneven income distribution and huge disparities between rich and poor. We noted that such disparities are present in Canada as well. Development needs to focus on governance as well as health, education and other poverty reduction strategies.
3. Design projects that place local people at the centre
Referring to the IDEO Handbook on Human Centered Design, we shared our project design models with each other. The IDEO resource asks: What do people desire? What is technically and organizationally feasible? What can be financially viable? From there we talked about ways to find out what is needed and desirable in a community and shared our own strategies such as the following: listen to the stories of a community, make observations, and push for a deeper understanding of needs, barriers and constraints. That is how we take ideas and then make them tangible.
For example, we heard from Dan about how he is working on Malaria prevention in Central America. James has set up sports programs for youth in Kenya. Sabrina is helping to build a school in Tanzania. The way we design our projects, manage them on a day-to-day basis and track results was all up for examination.
4. Tell our stories with energy
“I can’t tell you how important your story is,” says Umeeda Switlo from CUSO-VSO. Funders are looking for stories of success and possibility. One way to tell a story is through the photograph. Drawing from the experience of social documentarians from Narrative 360, we explored what a photo with energy includes: it shows human emotion, fans the heart, provides a window to the soul, tells the full story, can make you laugh, can make you cry, stimulates action, takes your breath away, sticks to your memory, reaches the emotional truth. Our own photos aim to do that. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they miss the mark. We will continue to pay close attention to the way we photograph our work.
5. Find allies who support our work
Throughout the series, we were introduced to funders, social enterprise specialists, professional communicators and academics and most importantly to other diaspora leaders who are passionate and experienced. Here are some of the conclusions we reached about how to keep learning and improving what we do.
- Research is important
- Relationships take time to create and are the key
- Learn first from the community
- Work from within the community with love for the community
- Networking is essential, you can’t do this work by yourself
- Working with women is important, i.e., “When you work with women you educate a community” (but also be inclusive of men).
- It’s important to work with people on the ground who will become the change agents
- A little goes a long way
Learn about how diaspora contribute to development at our final dialogue on September 14, 2011. For more information and to register, please visit our website.