Which Is the More Compelling?

Kids4.jpgHaving raised two sets of twins in our household, I am well-acquainted with the frequent and inevitable observations that our kids make about equal treatment. From their earliest days, each child measured portions of treats, wrestled for a closer snuggle in the lap than the other, compared allowances and even tracked the number of miles put on a shared vehicle. For Katie and me, the tracking intended to create near-equal treatment. For each kid, there was little interest in equality unless a lesser consideration or portion happened to fall to her/him. And even though we parents came to understand the reality that the kids did not have equal needs, always in the back of our minds has been the quest for an even divide of the family spoils, whatever they may be.

Winds of Peace Foundation, perhaps like many organizations, struggles with similar questions. In our evolution we have come to seek out communities and organizations which are overlooked by many other potential sources of support. Women’s initiatives, the circumstances of Nicaraguan Indigenous people and the rural poor have become among our priorities. We have sought to identify entities which are in the greatest need of outside support and accompaniment, which are least likely to have the collateral, experiences or so-called sophistication of lower-risk partners. It is that degree of unworthiness, high risk, inexperience, and often inaccessibility that is frequently the attraction that such groups have for WPF.

Concurrently, whether engaged in grantmaking or microlending, WPF is focused on measuring success in any project. We study the objectives and their metrics and the process by which such measures are to be made. And at the end of the day we tend to judge the impact of our support against the achievement of as many of the objectives as we can count. So, the groups which most successfully navigate the cultural, social, financial and geographic obstacles- as measured against their objectives- are the ones which stand the best chance of additional future funding. Those which stumble or delay in repaying a loan or otherwise render sub-par performance run the high risk of becoming ineligible for future consideration. It’s a most reasonable and equitable cause-and-effect: the stronger organizations are more trustworthy and lower-risk, while the weaker performers are less reliable and higher-risk. As a private foundation which accepts no outside funding, WPF is drawn to the most immediate and long-term successes it can find, so as to leverage its funding as best possible. In the end, we tend to favor those organizations in comparison to their weaker counterparts.

And therein lies the struggle. The very groups we most wish to assist are the the riskiest and sometimes most difficult in which to effect positive change. Having made an initial decision to support such a group, how long do we stay with them if the traditional metrics of success falter? When organizational and cultural habits that are centuries in the making conflict with new directions and aspirations, do we back away in favor of easier groups? Or conversely, is there such a thing as an organization that is “too safe,” and therefore perhaps not truly as in need of our support? For that matter, what does constitute success in our accompaniment? I am fairly certain that WPF can be operated into perpetuity if we only consider the financial well-being of the foundation. But the mission is not to operate into perpetuity alone. There is a serving objective, a call to make a difference in the lives of other human beings, and some of the neediest on earth, on top of it all. That cannot always be best achieved by taking the more certain route.

At home, we sometimes made decisions with regard to the younger kids that we never would have made with the older, and vice versa. We monitored them differently. While we encouraged all of our children in their various endeavors, our expectations were often different. In measuring their academic successes, for example, sometimes a grade of “C” was something worth celebrating. Other times and for other kids, a grade of “B” felt a little empty. We treasure our kids uniformly; however, our relationship with each is based on the individuality that is in each. Which is the more compelling? There is no answer to that question, of course. And perhaps it is just so when working with communities or organizations which have different capacities and personalities. We need to recognize them for who and what they are, with all of their possibilities and risks, successes and failures, steps forward and back. The kids never stop growing and developing; maybe it’s the same with human organizations.

For many, this issue may be very black-and-white, with little reason for debate. But I know that I spend a great deal of thought around it, and often with less resolution that I would like. I’d be interested in what others might think.

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