Sunday, May 02, 2010

the Do Something conundrum

sometimes, world's collide.

lately, i have really been struggling with people who want to get involved in addressing human trafficking and want to volunteer with my organisation.  often, it starts off with an unsolicited email requesting more information from me or an offer to take me for lunch or coffee to discuss how they can get involved.

let me offer a full disclosure here and say that volunteer management is not my strong suit. 

if i spent time responded to each email (which i do) and sitting down with each person (which i don't), i would be spending all of my time, which is already suffering from competing priorities, explaining the same things to people and convincing them not to start another ngo, not to screen the same film that has been shown in this city 4 times in the last 6 months, and not to go busting down doors and conducting their own investigations.

i believe that i have sorted this dilemma by asking volunteers to organisation a volunteer information session where i will cover all of these things in a group setting and figure out what people can offer our organisation and how we can best use their skills and passion.  but what is interesting is that i feel as i am struggling with an issue that is being felt across the development sector board.

case in point:

i recently commented on a development-focused blog, Tales From the Hood, about why someone who calls themself an Aid Worker must defend and define that to other people and yet we all accept someone's answer of Doctor when asked, what do you do?  and i know that the whole concept of Aid Worker is a misunderstood and misrepresented one, but the jist of the original post seems to link well to what i have been struggling with lately.  in a nutshell, some american dude had an idea to collect 1 million t shirts in the states and distribute them to africans.  this is a bad idea.  i won't go into the details of why this is a bad idea here, but you can browse through the blogs i have listed on this page for a lot more information on why this is a Bad Idea.

the linkage is this: why is it that simply because someone wants to do a good thing do they seem to feel as they have a right to?  i am the first to admit, i don't know the answer to this question.

but the people who want to Do Something sometimes feel that just wanting to do that something is enough to justify their actions.  and sometimes, wonderful and innovative ideas can come from this, but often, bad ideas are pushed forwarded and supported simply because isn't it great that so-and-so is doing something!

what i find interesting about all of this is that people who come to me wanting to get involved locally (which i sincerely think is great) on trafficking-related issues and how do you harness that enthusiasm and energy to make their doing something into doing something meaningful and worthwhile?

i am still working through this and luckily, i have some experienced people around me to bounce ideas off and to support me to think of creative solutions to this dilemma, but i think at its root, it is the same challenge felt when bad development ideas are supported and implemented simply because someone feels they have the right to Do Something.

and maybe they do?


J. said...

You're the first person I've heard make reference to "their" belief that they have the RIGHT to DO SOMETHING. Interesting.

My personal view (reinforced by the whole 1millionshirts drama) is that "they" all (or at least mostly) start out altruistically enough. "They MEAN well..." But then, when someone calls them on it, the negative response very often comes in packaged in the language of "rights."

Somehow the moral obligation to care becomes reborn as the "right" to DO SOMETHING.

Good post!

lu said...

that is a good point and i bet many people don't start believing it is their 'right' to Do Something, but that they are genuinely altruistic at the beginning.

and the fur flies.

and then their rights come out.

which is pretty much what you just said! thanks for the comment, i will certainly be back to visit your place on the www, just as soon as i get back from exploring hanoi!