I’m preparing for another visit to Nicaragua next week. The staging for each trip usually begins a week or two before I actually travel, as I contemplate our itinerary, the partners with whom we might visit, what I think I can learn, what opportunities for impact we might have, and why I never learned to speak Spanish. There is not only the physical readiness of packing, but also the mental preparation for being in a very different place from where most of my life is lived. And the weeks leading up to every visit are always filled with an internal excitement, an uncertainty, a familiarity, and an anxiety about leaving my comfort zone- if only for a week. I’m looking forward to all of that and more next week.
If someone asked me what, exactly, I expected to accomplish or to experience during the week, I’d likely have to look at our intended partner visits in order to respond with any detail. We haven’t completed that roadmap quite yet, but that doesn’t mean I don’t carry with me certain hopes and wished-for outcomes for my time there. And lately I’ve speculated about how our partners might anticipate our visits during the week. Do they feel excitement? Hope? Anxiety? A sense of necessary obligation? I’ve decided that my visits are only half-complete if I haven’t thought about expectations from both sides, so that I do whatever I can to help attain those outcomes.
For my part, I’m always hoping to come away from every visit in Nicaragua with a better understanding of the elements that conspire to keep poor Nicaraguans in deep poverty. The causes range widely (take your pick from issues such as politics, natural resources, history, education, economics and culture) and there are complex connections between all of these factors and more which make a complete comprehension very unlikely. But each time we’re immersed in the life issues of rural Nicaraguans, we inch closer to a true understanding of life’s realities for them. If Winds of Peace can acquire an authentic understanding of those circumstances and their root causes, there’s a better chance for us to make an impact.
I don’t travel with many preconceived notions. (I’d like to claim “none,” but I’d be inaccurate.) But I do hope to meet Nicaraguans who are focused on exploring their realities with objectivity and passion, so that best possible solutions become more clear. My expectations are not that we hear presentations from organizations who have become good at saying what they think we, as funding partners, will want to hear. My expectations are that we connect with potential partners who possess at least an emerging sense that there are certain universal truths about successful organizations and leadership and sustainability, and that those partners intend to seek the keys to those truths if given the opportunity. Those keys are pretty well stated in the “Cornerstone” considerations from Winds of Peace:
2. Participation of people in projects based on local analysis and plans
3. Social Change
4. Accompaniment of oppressed people
5. Community-based and self-directed development
6. Transformational education and training
7. Relationships and partnerships in grantmaking/microlending
8. Accountability and responsibility
If these Cornerstones resonate with the organizations with whom we meet, then my expectations are that Winds of Peace can be a resource for strong development.
No matter what my expectations might be, they will always be tempered by whatever our Nicaraguan partners might be expecting. Their perceptions of Winds of Peace, Mark, me, our funding criteria, or our Cornerstones will impact their real expectations. As they anticipate a meeting with us, I know there exists a hope that financial assistance is possible; I suppose it’s technically their bottom line. I know that they expect to make a representation of themselves and their needs as humbly and sincerely as they can. They hope to “make a case” for consideration, citing whatever important words or concepts they think might capture our attention favorably. Maybe they even have goals that are well-aligned with our Cornerstones.
What do our partners anticipate from our visits? Do they wonder why we’re in Nicaragua? Are they frustrated by our criteria and demands for information? (I recall hearing feedback from one organization which characterized us as “easy.” If they were referring to our openness to taking risks with unknown or unproven organizations, then I might agree with the label. If they were thinking about a long-term partnership with us, they might have been in for a surprise.) Whether their expectation is that we are truly seeking a partnership of development, or that we are simply another global organization looking for opportunities to place funds, I am certain that we have funded partners that fit both descriptions. It’s true regardless of the sincerity or the insincerity which may be written in the pages of a proposal. But naivete is not a characteristic of the Foundation. My curiosity about their curiosity stems from a strong belief that if the expectations on both sides of the development equation are in synch, if the desire for reciprocal teaching and learning is real, then the expectations of both of us can be met and exceeded. That’s not easy, but it’s worth doing.
I look forward to an interesting week, and I remain full of great expectations….