Like lots of organizations, Winds of Peace Foundation has a mission and a set of cornerstones that it has established to help guide its decisions and directions. With painstaking deliberation, these written statements were developed with the inputs of many stakeholders, including the founders, employees, its Board of Directors, Nicaraguan voices and friends of the foundation. In total, these statements represent the values of the foundation, what’s important to us, and they are also resources which provide a touchstone for maintaining our consistency, focus and integrity. They’re dynamic, living statements that communicate what’s important to us.
So when we encounter partners along the way who deviate from the expectations and comportment promised early in the proposal stage, there is a choice to be made. We either overlook the variance and hope for eventual better compliance with the agreed-upon expectations or we seek a change in performance to allow our continued partnering. While the choice between the two options might seem obvious on the face of it, actual resolution to such a dilemma is frequently more complex than it looks. It’s tempting to “bend” expectations to suit behaviors, rather than vice versa, and over time those core organizational statements of intent can become relegated to just so many nice-sounding words. It’s a choice to be made by both our partners and ourselves.
Lately, we encountered one such decision-point. An organization which several years ago presented great promise and exhibited commitment to collaborative work, transparency and accountability- what we have called “institutional strengthening-” has stumbled in its efforts. A former president of the organization has become a “rogue” member of the board of directors; the elders of the community have avoided confronting the man’s behaviors out of misplaced fears of alienation; other members of the group look for enforcement of principles and practices previously agreed to as tenets of the community; and the objectives of the project have become compromised. In the wake of it all, the group has requested another round of funding amidst promises of reforming their errant ways and Winds of Peace has declined the request. What once held great promise for a community’s development has become, at least for now, a foundation footnote about the delicacy of changing long-held attitudes and the unfortunate influence that a single individual can exert over an entire organization.
But that footnote is also a statement about what Winds of Peace stands for. To ignore the erosion of responsibility and integrity of a partner is to compromise our own validity. The emotional urge to continue pursuit of the healthy aims of this group has been a persistent one which we have consciously acknowledged and respected; after all, the community has made some good progress during the years in which have we supported them. Through close accompaniment we have been able to see the rise of participative behaviors, and self-responsibility demonstrated by individuals who might otherwise never have displayed such initiatives. When we have the opportunity to witness personal and organizational growth like this, it’s hard to let go of the vision of what could be. Yet in the end, any group seeking support for its strengthening needs also to accept the cause-and-effect reality of its actions. Success is most often built upon success, a repetitive sequence that grows out of a self-fulfilling commitment to self and others. Without the commitment and the discipline, a group essentially relies on luck. And that’s not a strategy compatible with the foundation, regardless of the close affections that inevitably develop when we work with people over time. It might be an organizational form of tough love or a behavioral intervention, but it’s as necessary for the health of Winds of Peace as it is for the partner in question.
Strangely, being true to one’s values and beliefs is not an easy thing. There are continuous tests and challenges and enticements to bend those principles for what seem like reasonable reasons. But doing so almost never pays off in the long run and more often than not is harmful in the short term, as well. While inflexible policy creates an entity that will be ineffective in working with the realities of human life, values that change with each shifting breeze are destructive to the very pulse of development. We owe it to our partners to be clear and consistent about what we hold important in our work. We owe it to ourselves to tolerate no less….