Regional Planning for the Developing World

 Community Results Driven Approach and Maximizing ROI for Funding Sources

Working in the developing world is difficult in that it is fraught with too many good ideas, from too many people with too many good intentions.  So many good and effective solutions fall victim to a limited funding supply, or result in duplicative and sometimes counter-productive efforts.  Never is that more evident than when one gets in a room with a number of community leaders, NGO executives, and a handful of business people.  Such an opportunity is often an invitation to a form of paralysis that prevents the type of advances and progress that is intended at the outset of such a meeting.  The difficulty is always the question, “where shall we begin?”  Each participant is naturally drawn to represent her constituency by trying to push its ideas to the front of the line.  This inevitably leads to a log-jam that stifles all movement.

There is a huge opportunity in such situations for anyone who can break the log-jam by convincing the constituencies to work together, and providing and implementing a plan in line with shared goals.  However, the American means of breaking such a log-jam, by cutting through the logs and removing them efficiently and without regard for precision, often makes the situation worse by leaving the constituencies feeling as though they were not heard and their needs will not be met.  Attention to cultural norms and mores is essential.  Appropriate deference and the allowance for everyone to be heard is not only essential to crafting a solution that accounts for all players, but is also often culturally necessary.

Strategic planning requires time and understanding.  One must listen to all involved, and search out the common thread.  Once commonality is found, priorities can be set.  Once priorities are set, each constituency’s plans can be plugged in to the goal in proper order.  Most importantly, the plan can be drafted in such a way that all constituencies can both understand and trust that it will be implemented in order.

In such situations, developing trust and relationships must be the goal.  Moving forward with a plan that provides real and tangible solutions requires the buy in of all constituencies.  This means that each group must have skin in the game, and contribute to the solution.  When the offer of help is in exchange for no money, the communities may not support the plan as firmly over the long term.  Second, if a community has contributed none of its budget to a project, a change of leadership may lead to partially completed projects that cause more problems rather than solve those issues according to the projects’ design.  Third, the offer of free assistance is often driven by a particular agenda that may or may not fully tie into the ultimate goals, and oftentimes does not connect up with what should be a comprehensive holistic solution.

Working together offers the funding source two major incentives to fund the project.  First, the unity of purpose and the buy in of constituents creates a greater likelihood of completion and success.  Second, working together ensures that funds will be used more efficiently, reducing the likelihood of funding duplicative or counterproductive projects.

The free assistance that is available should be used if at all possible, but taking the help for particular projects without first developing a strategic plan misses an opportunity.  This is particularly true when there is an opportunity to get multiple communities involved in large projects that ultimately benefit all communities’ livelihoods.

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