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Why we take time to listen

Malawian farm with corn

Listening to Kubadwa Tembo in Malawi tell us about being a farmer in Malawi. Visiting and listening helps us understand the context of the work there.

Are you surprised that what many people really want is to be listened to? How are we really going to understand people and interact compassionately and effectively if we don’t really know the other person?

We recognize that listening is essential for international aid. Spirit in Action focuses on creating lasting partnerships and we don’t want to send money without a true connection and sharing on each side. And that requires listening.

The authors of “Time to Listen” asked over 6,000 people who have received international aid “how do you perceive aid?” Then they listened. (Read the full ebook here.)

Hearing Another Perspective

The answers were perhaps surprising, perhaps expected. Many of the beneficiaries responded that they didn’t want to be just receivers. “If aid wasn’t just given, but if there was a program that was much more of a give and take, it would be more beneficial for the whole community,” was one response from Karen, a local leader near the Thai-Burma border. A farmer in Mali wanted to be asked about his priority needs, rather than be given something that someone else thinks he needs.

Using What We Hear

These types of answers reinforce the importance of SIA’s flexibility in our grant-giving. We allow the new small business groups to choose the business that will fit their skills and the needs of their community. We encourage communities to come together and propose (and act on) their own solutions for empowerment and prosperity. These solutions come about by our asking questions, listening, giving advice, then listening again. This give and take sometimes happens over years before we find something that fits everyone’s needs and priorities.

Listening, writing, and sharing were essential to Del Anderson. (Read what he wrote about Listening here.) SIA was an official way to give money after many years of questions and answers with a friend had passed. And so, in part, our flexibility in funding comes from his legacy.

But flexibility also comes as a gift from our donors. They not only share resources with us, they give us their trust to pursue these conversations, to do this period of listening, and to develop relationships so that we arrive at a place where a grant really benefits a whole community and where our grant partners are really part of the process.

If you have ideas or questions, I’m always here to listen! Thank you.

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