Our work in Nicaragua has been made up of wins and losses over the years, just like in any enterprise. I cheer the groups which seem to embrace the principles of transparency and participation and holistic well-being and I mourn the groups that at first step up to that difficult model and then back away, whether through habit or urgency or seduction. It’s hard for me to remember that the organizations with whom we work are not U.S. businesses, and that I can’t really look at them through the same lens that I might use to consider the workings of a company here. But there is one need that seems to apply to developing organizations no matter what structure they may have and wherever they may be located. That essential component is the ability to envision a future.
It’s important for you to note that I did not say the future, but a future. The future implies whatever is destined to be, something beyond both our control and our ability to foresee. A future suggests a point in time to come which is subject to our influence if not complete control. An organization is subject to all of the laws of Nature which will shape the future, but it maintains a hold on many of the cultural, social and relationship elements of a future. Good-to-great organizations around the world have come to recognize and embrace that difference. A future is made up of elements beyond our control, but many are of our own making.
That truth applies equally to any of the four priority initiatives undertaken by Winds of Peace. In order for women of Nicaragua to achieve an equal status with equal rights, they must first be able to envision a future where gender issues are not a hindrance to personal development, but rather an awareness of the enormous untapped resources within the country. If Indigenous communities seek to regain their ancient cultural and property rights as the original inhabitants of their lands, they must first be able to envision a future where they are willing to truly speak from the ancestral voice, as one, in bridging past and future generations within the framework of cultural stewardship. If the rural agricultural poor ever escape from the factors which isolate and oppress them, it may be a result of their ability to recognize their collaborative strengths and a future view of broad engagement and participation from peasants who are able to separate short-term relief from long-term transformation. In order for education to lead Nicaragua into a future instead of the future, leaders throughout the country will need to see education not as a problem with few solutions, but as the solution to a great many problems facing the entire nation. Those changes in perspective alone reshape a future in ways beyond measure.
But in each case, the change comes first from envisioning a future that is wanted and then from committing to that vision. The visioning is more than unstructured dreaming; it consists of objective components that are refined to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. Only if the resulting vision is compelling enough, will it have the strength to garner the commitment from others that will be required, because that dedication forms the essential energy needed to swim against a tide of status quo. Creating a future is neither automatic nor easy, but few worthwhile outcomes ever are. Just ask the members of countless enterprises that go out of business every year.
Whenever faced with a faltering initiative in Nicaragua, I ask myself whether there was a future in mind at its inception, or whether the request for partnership was born of short-term, immediate need. I wonder whether an initial vision became somehow corrupted by circumstance or self. It’s often difficult to discern where a group is in its thinking, and some folks have become very accomplished at telling a compelling story without a compelling vision behind it. Our evaluations will never be perfect. But the ones who stand to lose the most are not the members of Winds of Peace or the countless other funders who work in Nicaragua. It’s the organizations themselves, and the individuals within, who run the risk of having to face the future, whatever unknowns that may bring….