Once in a while I like to join in on communal gatherings with friends from the development profession, there is nothing like a congregation of young development specialists exchanging their ideas and opinions about development work over a couple of beers.
In fact, this is that perfect time to practice the use of those trending development ‘buzz’ words just to make sure that my professional vocabulary remains up-to-date in case I have to stand in front of an audience and convince them that we are spending that donor money appropriately. You know; despite spending heavily on those US dollar pegged salaries and allowances that we are receiving, and of cause our reluctance to spare a few kwachas for those community volunteers.
To be honest, that flame of passion that I used to have for making any real difference in this country has burnt out over the years. I remember a time when I was full of pride and joy, knowing that I was a part of something bigger than myself – A community of selfless individuals working tirelessly to eradicate poverty and suffering in my mother country.
But today; I do not know anymore. Khala ngati anthuwa tinawatulukirano. And all I believe in now is the ATM machine at the end of the month after 20+ working days of intelligent lies and deceptions. Just another day in the development sector. There are many things that I have seen over my short career in the development sector, however, today I would like to concentrate on tima modern day ‘Jargon’ used by our esteemed colleagues from the donor agencies, down to the NGO communities that blind us from seeing how 1+1 is just not adding up to 2.
This one is probably my favorite. Have you ever wondered why ma bungwewa rarely address the real problem in our communities and how they focus on things that even the people feel are more secondary? Yes. Apparently the more obvious solutions to our pressing challenges such as hunger and disease are not that obvious after all. I mean, if people are starving, it is not food that they need. No. It is a means of finding their own food that is a problem. Nanga ma NGO akazachoka anthu muzazidyesa bwanji? Sounds fare right? Maybe so, but would it really hurt to at least buy some food for the poor souls as you teach them how to make their own in future? Akuti zogawagawazi ndi ‘humanitarian’ kapena ‘relief’ work. Basically, the donors will only allow you to give out free food when some sort of famine or food crisis is declared. Timadikira kaye kuti anthu avutikisitse.
Only when things are out of hand
It’s all about ensuring that our programs are ‘sustainable’. Communities need to be able to continue our programs when we are gone – ati. I look back at the number of multi-year programs that have been implemented in our country with massive donor funding.
The only ones that have anything to show for after all these years are the ones that built structures and engrave their logos on the building so that we can remember them. The rest of their ‘sustained results’ ndi ma pot belly amene tikumakumana nawowa ku Chez. After accumulating years of salaries and field allowances.
Here is a bet. At least 99.9% of projects in Malawi will have this famously abused ‘jargon’ buried somewhere in their proposal or work plan. It is so common that it can now be interchangeably used with the word ‘training’. Whenever our development actors want to introduce, improve or compliment a certain kind of initiative in the community, there is always that need to ‘build’ the capacity of some group of individuals (volunteers, social workers, specialists, entire organizations, communities etc.)
This apparently can only be done through those expensive workshops at Nkopola Sun Bird Holiday Resort. All we need to do is purchase fuel for 10-15 vehicles from across the country, book food and accommodation at Malawi’s 4 star resort for a week at least, then arrange daily subsistence allowances (DSA) for drivers and other support staff. Where funding allows, you might want to bring in an expatriate or consultant to come and provide that much needed ‘capacity’.
I will not deny that some projects simply wouldn’t be possible without sitting everyone down for a week or two to understand the kind of development that needs to be attained. For instance, if there is a new and better way of providing a certain health service e.g. Managing HIV testing and counseling; then doctors, nurses and other health practitioners will need a thorough briefing to provide this service. But now, it seems like nothing at all can be done without ‘capacity’ building. In fact, I tend to wonder how much capacity building is required before we can finally start focusing on the real issues at hand. Nanga mabungwe anayamba liti kupanga build capacity ya anthu ku Malawi kuno? And at what expense. I have come to conclude that our old timers have probably just become too complacent that they are now formulating outdated and irrelevant programs in the country. You can’t claim to have a project that is aimed at ending teenage pregnancies at schools yet 80% of your costs are going towards ‘training’. Kumeneku nde kunamizana sopano. Of cause our supportive donors have picked up on this. But then again, where there is a will, there is a way. A training can be an ‘orientation’, ‘briefing’, ‘working session’, ‘drilling’, you name it.
Gender, gender, gender… If you don’t say anything about how your programs are incorporating gender, then we have a problem. I am not a gender specialist but then again, who is? So much talk about gender mainstreaming, gender sensitivity, gender inclusiveness, gender ‘chakuti’ that the true meaning has finally been lost and buried.
A good gender expert will obviously tell you that there is more to gender programming than promoting women’s rights, empowering women and their inclusion and participation. Akuti it a cross-cutting issue and must be considered throughout the program cycle including the organization itself (kumalembako azimayi nchito). One word: Bullshit! The gender mainstreaming of today is purely about girls and women. In fact, I am convinced that men and boys are the new ‘vulnerable’. Nanga mpaka having a multi-million dollar project entitled ‘keeping girls in school?’ I guess boys don’t need education anymore right? Our modern day development experts in Malawi have tarnished gender sensitivity.
They stand up in meetings and act all genius just because they have memorized the ‘gender’ bible. Sometimes even I enjoy feeling a bit smart using ‘gender’ to confuse people. All you have to do at a meeting is to ask how women were involved, or how their concerns were heard. If it is about targeting, how many of the targeted population are women and girls. We need to be ‘gender sensitive’. Zamabodza basi. I am not ashamed to say that some projects in our country are better off without gender experts at all. Waste of our time and valuable resources.
Program Integration (Integrated approach)
When I had moved up the ladder of development organizations (yes there is a ladder), I was introduced to this interesting concept of program integration. When you work for smaller NGOs (especially community or national), this does not come out as much of a concern because we are usually limited in terms of funding and therefore number of projects or programs. But come to the big-guns, then this becomes the new hot cake.
You see, the concept of program integration as the word suggests is about how the various programs of within or across organizations are linked and for lack of a better word, ‘talking’ to each other. Kodi ma program anu ali ndi ‘synergy?’ kapena ma ‘linkages’? At first glance, this sounds like a legitimate concern. Nanga anthu amodzi, working in the same districts and regions, unable to find a commonality among themselves? That doesn’t sound very organized does it now? Hence, ‘integration’.
Some organizations have gone as far as to employ specialists with the sole purpose of bringing together different programs to work closer together. Doesn’t sound like a bad idea as well? So why have I included this as one of those misappropriated jargon of development today in Malawi? Because it is. I have come to realize that our development friends are now using program integration as a twisted way to convince donors, government and communities that they are capable of doing everything. Basically pretending to be so organized that they have a better footing than other smaller organizations in getting things done.
Let me give you an easy example. If ‘chakuti’-AID are looking to fund a project that deals with ‘promoting economic opportunities for women in communities’, your organization might not be the strongest in ‘economic empowerment’. Infact, you might not even have a single project that deals with it. However, you have strong education and health programs. What do you do? Convince ‘chakuti’-AID that you will adopt an integrated approach whereby you will promote economic opportunities for women by improving their education and addressing their health concerns. After that you just have to throw in a few irrelevant studies that were done god knows when and where on how improving education improves women’s chances of economic achievement…
Before you know it, you have a fully funded project. Chakuti-AID will also be willing to pay the salary for the new Program Manager, Health Specialist, Education Specialist, and not forgetting the integration expert. I find this wrong, because kuli ma bungwe kunjaku who have developed proven ways of promoting economic opportunities for communities at lower costs and more direct means. Koma nanga sii iwowo chizungu cha ‘Integration’ sakuchidziwa.
To be continued …..