What Makes Someone an Aid Professional?
Posted on November 4, 2010 at 4:37 pm
I’ve had a front row seat to this most current amateur vs. professional debate and have taken part in previous debates on this same topic. I’m starting to see some consensus developing. I’ve tried to summarize below what I think are the points where most people are in agreement. As people have provided feedback and made suggestions, I’ve included their suggestions in italics.
- First and foremost – Do No Harm – whether what we do is right or wrong, we are doing it to the people that can least afford for us to fail.
- There are competent and incompetent people and organizations at every level – local, national, international. Not all volunteers/startups are bad and not all INGO’s are good.
- There is a need for fresh perspectives and a variety of ideas and approaches. However this must be tempered with knowledge of the factors that led to success and failures in the past so the same mistakes are not constantly repeated.
- Every person/organization is a burden in its own way, therefore every person/organization must bring something real to the table so that they are contributing far more than the burden they create. Contributions can come from a wide variety of skills such as fundraising, report writing, program design & implementation, organizational leadership, program evaluation, just to name a few. But enthusiasm alone is not enough.
- Everyone needs to be keenly aware that when we leave, the people we were trying to help are going to be left to deal with whatever problems our presence has created – be humble and honest with yourself and with them.
- Professionalism may have less to do with your job title/organization and whether you are paid staff or a volunteer, and more to do with how you approach aid/development:
- Have a sound basis of knowledge to begin with – don’t just out there winging it and learning as you go. This doesn’t have to be a degree, knowledge can come from past experience, independent research/study, mentoring, or some other way.
- Understand and actively try to follow best practices/standards or have solid reasons for why you’re choosing not to follow them. But know them.
- Work on progressing best practices/standards by constantly working to generate and disseminate evidence.
- Share your knowledge freely, even when you’re not being paid for doing so. Mentor and learn from others.
- Have a system for truly involving the participants in every step of the planning, implementation, and evaluation process.
- Support the work the that the community is already doing rather than duplicating or superseding their efforts. Do things “with” the community not “for” the community.
- Regularly gather feedback – from more than just the project participants – and improve the program based on that feedback.
- Stick around long enough for projects to have a chance to fail. Then try to stop them from failing and learn from your mistakes.
- This is not about us. No individual or organization should be doing aid or development work simply because it’s in their own best interest.
- Always bear in mind that aid may not be the answer.
Anything I missed? Any point where I’m dead wrong?
Numerous posts on this topic can be found here – Amateurs vs. Professionals: A complex issue.