The Lesser Good

I feel as though I’ve learned a great deal since given the opportunity to work with Winds of Peace.  Moving from a corporate to a non-profit environment required a shift in perspective, to be sure, but also an enormous shift in the context in which WPF work is done: instead of thinking in terms of bigger- faster- stronger, the focus is on smaller- slower- weaker- more needful, terms which have tended to constitute the profile of our more typical rural partner.   Make no  mistake, our focus is on those who have the least voice and power.

WPF has taken its grants and loans deep into the rural Nicaraguan interior, precisely because that’s where relatively few other funders have chosen to go.  We know that it takes more work.  Locations are tougher to visit.  Credit experience of partners there is less.  The risks are higher.  Greater presence in the form of our accompaniment is required.  But we wouldn’t have it any other way.

In this learning cycle of mine, I am struck by the posture of some other funders who also claim to be “looking out for the little guy.”  There are organizations in Nicaragua which truly provide essential assistance and long-term development results to its small partners.  But all too often, I experience organizations which seem to have other motives at heart and which, in the pursuit of those motives, create as many obstacles as improvements.  Let me cite a couple of examples.

The small medical clinic founded by The  Union of Organized Women of Yasica Sur (UMOYS) represented a first for their communities and immediately became a source of great pride.  With important facilitative help from PRODESSA (a leading social and economic research, development and training entity), the women have become a strong voice for themselves and their families, as they have learned the lessons of self-responsibility.  Yet twice, a doctor serving the rural clinic was recruited away by a large U.S. funder working to staff their own medical facility.  One could posit that a nice, new medical facility in rural Nicaragua is a good and needed thing, and that providing medical professionals is essential to its function.  But the cost to the women and the residents of the Yasica Sur area has been high, both in terms of available medical services and the lessons that some of the women may have learned about an illusion of self-responsibility.  I have heard defense of the action as serving “the greater good.”    But in my view, the case represents one more example of the unempowered being further disenfranchised.

A second example involves another U.S. funder.  In turns out that WPF and this organization both supported a second-tier cooperative that defaulted on its coffee loans due to management malfeasance.  As a result, the tiny producer coops were left holding the note on more than $4 million that they never saw.  WPF funded an analysis in the aftermath, to help the individual coops re-group and hopefully survive the ruins, while the other funder undertook an audit of the activities, with both parties agreeing to share their respective results with each other and the producer-members.  The audit, however, was never shared.  While it might well have shed light on responsibility and ultimate culpability, and served as a stunning teaching moment for the producers, the U.S. organization has chosen to suppress it. Instead, they feel their interests are better served in working with the newly-elected successor board of the second-tier coop, which does not favor transparency.

The result?  The producer coops will still be on the hook for $4MM and will likely collapse.  They will have no insight as to the cause of the malfeasance.  No one will be brought to justice due to a culture of silence and control.  And the U.S. organization will choose its course based on the best chances for their own financial recovery, ostensibly to continue helping rural Nicaraguans,  presumably for “the greater good.”

There may be some truth in that concept, depending upon the context in which it’s being used.  Maybe there’s justification in turning one’s back on the least empowered among us to further the development of the majority.  But not here.  Not for WPF.  If an organization’s objective is to be a presence in the lives of those who have been most oppressed and marginalized, (“the lesser good”), then accompaniment must be reliable and consistent.  For us, that does not translate into naivete or allowing WPF to be taken advantage of.  But it does mean pressing for just results in an environment where injustices can be perpetrated even in the name of a greater good….


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