How do we decide whom we support? This is quite a different question from how you choose proposals; it is a question about the core values of the organization. It was a thoughtful question, one that I am still thinking about weeks later. Of course, these are just my thoughts, and perhaps, other SIA Board members would have different ideas.
I think the simple part of the answer goes back to last week’s post. We support people we trust. And we actively work on building trust with people we may support. Del Anderson strongly believed in developing a working relationship with people before supporting them financially. This relationship is built through sending many letters (before email this could be a very slow process!), providing relevant self-help information, and sharing experiences, ideas, and prayers. Part of the process that I still employ faithfully is listening to the needs and ideas of the people who write me letters and responding with encouragement, information and ideas. *
We are upfront about wanting to develop relationships with people. I really like this letter that Marsha Johnson (the previous SIA Administrator) wrote to share about our philosophy with a new contact:
“We welcome new relationships like with you, and hope to get to know one another, pray together, and follow God’s guidance in how we can work together in service to those in need in your community and in our world. Our desire is to serve God and humankind, without encouraging dependency on us, but by working TOGETHER, developing ways that people can grow their own food, start small business when they have a saleable skill, and become increasingly self-sufficient and growing in their faith in God as well.”
We don’t just work in one area or one country, which means that we depend on recommendations from our international network when we are considering a proposal or building a new relationship. One of our strongest sets of connections is Camps Farthest Out International (CFOI), an organization that provides leadership training and organizes non-denominational Christian retreats promoting peace. Many of the people we engage with are also involved with CFOI and the camps create a built-in accountability system, especially since people traveling for CFOI are often able to meet other SIA partners and check in on their projects. Right now, most of SIA’s relationships are built on email and letter correspondence and recommendations from CFOI. I hope that someday soon I’ll be able to meet some of our international partners face-to-face and further deepen our connection!
Dennis Kiprop (Kenya) and Jacob Lipandasi (DRC) meet to exchange ideas about improving their communities.
*This is perfectly parallel with the findings of the Listening Project, which found that international aid recipients want more long-term relationships with aid organizations and crave more “listening in open-ended” ways. Read the very interesting summary.