I’ve recently been re-introduced to the work of Father Richard Rohr. I say re-introduced, because I’ve been a fan of Father Rohr for years – I just forgot to apply his wisdom in my life recently.
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 us connect with our purpose and meaning. He talks about the power of “stumbling downward” in order to really move upward. Father Rohr describes the stumbling stone as a “rock that can bring you down into a larger freedom from your small self.” In essence, Rohr is calling us all to a transformation. A transformation that will bring us to a place to deepen our work. A place to deepen the expression of ourselves. I feel like HBI is at a place of great growth and change – and the stumbling stone for us in moving upward is deeper understanding of the true impact of our work.
We started HBI with the hope, with the intent, of creating an organization whose mission is to help build connections. Our goal, from our inception in 2006, has been supporting our in-country partners to identify the resources they need to do the work they are charged with doing. 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. This support is strongly predicated on relationships.
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. It was an opportunity for me to reconsider the “doing” of HBI.
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 the next generation of change agents. It means looking to local leadership over international consultants. And it means partnerships. And it means investing in relationship development. And it means connecting through shared experiences.
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 seem). The secret ingredient that makes international projects most successful, sustainable, meaningful 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.”
In addition, this relationship doing takes time and money. It takes long plane rides and extended periods away from home. And, the question I wrestle with . . . is it the best use of our, HBI’s, resources? Again, I don’t think the answer is a simple yes or no.
Rather, I think the efforts behind relationship development and facilitation serve a significant role. They allow us, HBI as an organization and our staff – as well as our partners and the communities we collaboratively serve – to validate our experiences together. The act of traveling and working together is a rite of passage that solidifies our shared investment and changes our thinking. However, we need to continuously re-examine that role and the costs associated with facilitating such a role.
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 that is the best way for international relationship development and social justice work.
So now, as I consider who HBI is in the next phase of our development, 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.