I really like Father Richard Rohr. His wisdom is so profound.
Father Rohr speaks eloquently about the concept of stumbling over the stumble stone. In his book Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, he talks about the importance of stumbling stones as metaphors to help connect with purpose and meaning. He talks about the power of “stumbling downward” in order to move upward. Father Rohr describes the stumbling stone as a “rock that can bring you down into a larger freedom from your small self.” Rohr is calling us all to a transformation. A transformation that will bring us to a place of deeper life work. I feel like HBI is at a place of great growth – and the stumbling stone is deeper understanding of the true impact of our work.
We started Health Bridges to create an organization whose mission is to help build connections. Our focus is bridge building. We build models of care delivery - to act as guide posts for others to use to foster better health. In some instances, this has meant identifying and securing financial resources. In other instances, supporting our partners through training and subject matter expertise. And, in even others – we’ve been a collaborator to walk alongside our colleagues in the work they do.
All of our efforts have been predicated on the belief that the best way to make a difference in the world is through deep collaboration. I believe this wholeheartedly. And, for HBI this has meant a focus less about “doing” in our work and more about supporting the doing of our partners.
The other day an HBI staff sent me a link to a blog post. The post, written by an evangelical missionary in Cambodia had a big impact on me. In very eloquent terms, the author discussed the conundrum that exists when people want to “change the world” – but aren’t fully mindful to the impact of their efforts. He talked about the secondary effects of flying halfway around the world to deliver direct services in developing countries, without addressing the need for training in-country professionals to do the same work you are doing in your outreach efforts. He talked about the seductive allure of “doing stuff” and the need to strategically consider how our “doing” can actually have a greater impact when it is linked to local initiatives and in-country organizations. Most of all – the article was a wake-up call for me to reconsider how we support and collaborate with our in-country partners.
While I agree with the author, I am left feeling there’s another way to think about the challenge. To borrow from Richard Rohr again - we need to break from dualistic thinking or the notion that there is any one right or wrong approach to anything. Rather, Rohr points to the enormous “both-and” opportunities that exist all around us. This leads me to the belief that there is another way to think about our role in international development: Yes, we must be focused on preparing and advancing local capacity. This means training and supporting the next generation of change agents. It means looking to local leadership over international consultants. It means partnerships. It means investing in relationship development.
Time and time again the element that makes programs and projects most successful is not technical expertise or sophisticated staffing, or even money (as strange as that may sound). The secret ingredient that makes international projects most successful is relationships. Deeply developed, mutually respected relationships. And the act of cultivating and nurturing such relationships takes a great deal of investment . . . and a fair amount of strategic “doing.”
His Holiness the Dali Lama once said, “Learn and obey the rules very well so you will know how to break them properly.” There are no rules for the work HBI does. Certainly, there are best practices and years of research to support certain interventions over others; but the simple fact is – there is no one way for relationship development and social justice work.
So now, as I consider who HBI is in the next phase of our growth and maturation, I am reminded that stumbling over the stumbling stone is an opportunity to truly grow. I am drawn to really consider how we can use our resources to the betterment of the in-country partners we support and trust. And I am re-reminded that sometimes the “doing” of our service is more about supporting others to do and walking alongside them as they request.
Thank you for your continued support of HBI.
The HBI Blog is a rotating journal from our staff. Our Blog is a series of messages from the field, insights from our work, and lessons in service.