Friday, September 30, 2011

The need to look again

In development, in Ghana, in life; I believe we need to take time to look again.

Often times, at first glance we see something and from there we begin to draw conclusions and make assumptions that forever influence us. We can end up reinforcing perceptions that are actually not true. Some call it Confirmation bias

In the context of my life here, I see it so often. I realize I may sound like a broken record, and I've likely blogged on this before but it can be very frustrating when people don't take the time to analyze, to reflect, to check if what they believe is actually true. I believe in Development we need to move towards more thoughtfulness, openness, and humility. We need to be ever ready to question ourselves and our work. Question our assumptions, the hypotheses that are underlying the projects we are implementing. Especially when working in a culture that is foreign from your own, you need to have the humility to recognize when you've misjudged, and the courage to go back and try something different having assimilated the learning from your failure.

I have always been fascinated by this photo, but just recently discovered that it potentially dates back to 1888! It seems people for centuries have been fascinated by the ability to comprehend 2 contradicting perceptions at once. When you first glance at the photo, you can be so persuaded that it is a picture of an old, ugly woman. Someone can try to convince you that it is actually a beautiful young lady and you will think they are a fool, until you really take the time and suddenly AH HA! You have seen that it is true!

Our perceptions in the world are often like this. Sometimes it is so hard to see the other side of the picture because you are fixated on the image you first saw. However, seeing only one side does not negate the fact that the other side exists. This co-existence of 2 contrasting realities is so intriguing to me.
Something you deem to be so beautiful, may upon further scrutiny and new eyes reveal something more difficult to look at. Yet still, we cannot be satisfied with the young beautiful girl, and be blind to the reality that is the old woman.

It is my hope that the development community can strive to always bear in mind all that is poverty and development; the good, the bad, the ugly. I hope that we can take the extra time to step back and re-examine, and be willing to put aside the initial perception, even if it is exchanged for something less romantic or beautiful.

Monday, September 12, 2011

2 Years Down

Rather nonchalantly I recently told a colleague that I guess I've passed my 2 year anniversary of being in Ghana; I arrived late August 2009. Not exactly sure which day I arrived, but I nevertheless thought it an appropriate time to step back, give thanks, and share my plans for the coming year.

I am excited to inform you that I will continue to work with EWB in Ghana for a 3rd year, until Aug 2012.. I will continue to work with passionate people to create change in MoFAs Agricultural Colleges to develop entrepreneurial, farmer first graduates, and committed social entrepreneurs. In addition, I will continue working as Team Ghana's Human Resources Director to build and retain effective, motivated change agents in Ghana, and finally I'll be working in Accra to support National level changes in the Agricultural sector… all of this, so that at the end of it all I can see in our trail throngs of people who are better off now, than they were before, as a result of EWB's interventions.

You might be asking, "but why?"

Well, I'm excited to be staying because:
• EWB is an incredible organization built by and on outstanding people. People who are brilliantly intelligent, and ridiculously passionate. Hard work ethic is an understatement, and its matched with a striving towards humility, and an ultimate commitment to our bottom line- the rural poor. These people support me, and push me to be smarter and more thoughtful- its a privilege working with and for them.
• In this organization, we are given a lot freedom and input into the directions of our work. My work has been carved around my passion/skill/interest while balancing the strategic needs of the team and the broader changes we are striving for. I appreciate that my employers recognize my passions and interests and consider this as we co-create my work plans each quarter.
• I know enough Ghanaians that love EWB and our work that I believe we are on to something great. We are self critical, and we want to achieve more. Our ambitions for systemic, transformative change are great; we're not there yet but believe we are going about it the right way. We admit failures, celebrate small successes, we co-create with Africans, and continue to ask ourselves tough questions. I think we are on the right track, and hearing that from Ghanaians is reassuring.
• I keep growing in the person I'm becoming. I'm learning to love more. To be intentional. To connect and support. To empathize. Beyond the professional growth I have had- the greatest part is looking back and knowing I'm a richer human being, and that I have been truly alive. Its truly been an amazing experience for me as a person.
• I love Ghana. Many of you know this. I feel right here. The people are incredible. I have made countless friends and family in the last 2 years. They have taught me about sacrifice, giving, community, life, co-dependence, joy, purpose, perseverance... so much more. Thank you Ghana!
• Apart from missing sushi, my cottage, starbucks chai lattes, and the abundant opportunity in Canada, The hardest part is obviously being away from family in Canada. Special shout outs to my mom and Holly for their endless love and support, and to Tiki Bear (my dog). Tiki is just as happy to see me if I've been away for a day or a year. She doesn’t resent me or judge me, but just bubbles with excitement, joy and love when I see her. She is forever happy and living in the moment. She inspires me and brings me lots of smiles. I really do miss her.. and all the other amazing people I love in Canada.

This job and experience has to be very powerful to keep me from Canada. I am so grateful for the support, understanding and encouragement of my family.

There are many more reasons why I'm staying- but these are the main ones I'd like to share with you today. Thanks to all of you who have followed me and supported me along the first 2 years in Ghana.

Here's to an even more transformational 3rd year!
Love Robin