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Marketing Menstrual Maintenance in the Mara Region

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It’s been just over a week since our return from Tanzania and I’m still working to process all that transpired.

We had no idea that sanitary pads would feature so prominently in this trip or represent such a galvanizing focus for social entrepreneurship. Both Danielle and Lyndsey had researched this topic as part of their ELN independent studies and were well aware of the connections with girls’ education and public health.

But seeing Danielle working on the reusable pad project was an emotional experience for all of us. The idea had come from her final study abroad project and when she discovered Dare Women’s Foundation’s model via an internet search, they had offered to train our partners in Musoma. Danielle quickly raised the funds needed to support Stephen Marwa’s (Executive Director of Hope Revival Children’s Foundation) travel to Arusha. And here we were, returning just one year later with sewing materials, ready to support the start-up of a Musoma-based reusable sanitary pad project.

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To our surprise, the very next day Stephen delivered the first batch of reusable pads (see featured photo) and I was proud to be the second customer -Danielle being the first. Stephen explained that after the pads are certified by the Ministry, they will be manufactured and sold. Proceeds will sustain the sewing project while also supporting school-aged girls unable to afford appropriate menstrual supplies.

I was so pleased with the pads that I carried the prototype with me as we visited leaders and organizations throughout the area.When we were introduced to the Anglican Bishop of Musoma, Dr. George Okoth, he was so impressed with the project and our interest in menstrual management that he asked us to visit a Safe House in Mugumu Serengeti where village girls fled go to escape Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). He explained that they had acquired a disposable pad machine that was sitting in storage, without any institutional knowledge about how to operate or fix it. Although Muguma was a clear departure from our itinerary we were all eager to accept the invitation. With a recent Engineering grad (Mathew Falcone), our own Macgyver Librarian (Cindi Tysick), and resident pad experts (Danielle and Lyndsey), how could we pass up the challenge?

Our 2+ hour drive to Muguma was both fascinating and bumpy. We winded our way around the massive Acacia gold mine as we tried to anticipate what lay ahead. When we arrived at the Mugumu Safe House we received a brief tour of the facility while learning about the daunting challenges facing the girls. And then Melina (Director) showed us the pad machine.

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It was sitting in a a storage closet draped in plastic, obviously never touched or utilized. We all stood and stared at the impressive contraption, trying to comprehend what we were seeing. Then Lyndsey yelled, “It’s from the Pad Man!” We knew this to be a movie that our UB School of Management colleague, Debbie Grossman, who had visited Tanzania with us the last year had urged us all to see- but we hadn’t had had time. Within seconds the girls were texting Debbie and miraculously even though it was the crack of dawn in Buffalo, she immediately replied, confirming that the machine was indeed the same type and make of Indian apparatus featured in the movie.

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And then they were off- a quick assessment (with the help of YouTube) revealed that nothing was wrong with the machine. There was simply no Tanzanian adapter for the Indian power cord. Dan quickly surrendered his travel converter and the machine immediately purred into action. Between Cindi and Matthew the first prototype was produced in minutes and once the girls got the hang of it, the Muguma Disposable Pad Project was born before our very eyes.

But our biggest joy came as Melina recognized what she had just stumbled upon. Suddenly, her prospects for supporting and stewarding the Safe House and its girls were much more promising.

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How to celebrate the promise of girls’ empowerment in the Mara Region?  Early in our trip we were treated to unforgettable dancing and poetry by the new “Musoma Action, Girls Empowerment” group led by partner and friend Monica Achieng. These beautiful girls were gathering to celebrate their solidarity and share inspiring messages about education, self-empowerment and women’s health.

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As we reflect on the beauty and vibrancy of the young women we met throughout the trip and the promise of their collective futures we can’t help thinking about menstrual management and girls’ empowerment in a new way. Clearly, there is much to celebrate and infinite opportunities to learn, share and collaborate around this important topic.

Hope Revival Website

Musoma Action Girls Empowerment Website

 

 

 

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When we are ready

7As I prepare for my upcoming trip to Tanzania I am overcome with a palpable sense of readiness- the knowledge that this trip will usher in a new and more impactful stage of engagement. One that is worthy of our collective hope, inspiration and commitment.

The fact that it has taken nearly 10 years of travel and engagement to finally reach this point strikes me as somehow important and worthy of unpacking.

What do I mean by being ready? It’s as if the conditions for engagement have finally reached some magical threshold or tipping point, setting our partnership into motion. Like a fan whirring into action, I can feel the speed of collaboration accelerating, the ambient space expanding, and interest and possibilities literally swirling around us.

Why has it taken so long? While our collective readiness is a catalyst, it is itself predicated on smaller currents, each complex and fragile, inherently necessary yet insufficient on their own.

I am reminded of this fragility as I reflect on my own work at the University at Buffalo. Only now, after 15 years of stewarding strategic engagement, am I confident that we are poised to actualize our potential. With the embrace of high-impact experiential learning, the creation of the Experiential Learning Network (ELN) and our new Global Partner Studio (GPS), we can now support and leverage engagement toward greater impacts, sharing stories and building further capacity through our new journal, digital badge and curricular tools.

When I reflect on the readiness of our Tanzanian partners, the growth is undeniable. Community leaders who have embraced the gifts of communication and technology are emerging as liaisons and change agents, boldly seeking additional resources and support; higher education institutions are open to partnering and sharing course content, travel experiences and technology-supported resources.

But none of this would be possible without the students and faculty who are seeking more meaningful levels of connectivity- activating their learning, teaching and research in ways that will take us farther and deeper into communities, complexities and the promise of collaboration.

When I think of the perseverance that it’s taken to get to us to this point of readiness, it’s not surprising that we have been tempted to withdraw or retreat along the way. As human processors we are terrible at discerning progress until we pass through some undeniably tangible milestone or indicator of success. In fact it is often just before we reach that turning point that our frustration and fear pull us into the weeds and out of the game.

As I think about my upcoming trip it is clear that many pieces are now firmly in place. Our partners are busy leading and communicating, our institutions are ready to leverage the benefits of our engagement, and students and faculty are eager to get involved. Even my own family members are contributing and connecting as the boundaries and barriers continue to melt away.

Maybe this notion of readiness represents an exciting new frontier. Once we have interest and resources to share, the challenge is really one of activating potential, making sure that the structures, processes and people are in place to support, catalyze and harvest the fruits of our collaboration.

But if we are truly committed to the work, imagine all that is possible. Imagine what we will accomplish, together, when we are ready.

 

How far will we travel with our international partners?

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Hello Everyone. I know it’s been a while since I last posted, but I’ve been hard at work on some very exciting initiatives. And I think it’s finally time to share a sneak preview of what’s in store. Many of these programs and resources will be open to broad participation so I look forward to engaging in the weeks and months ahead, and would love to hear from you if these ideas resonate with your own work or interests. In addition to following my blog, be sure to visit our Experiential Learning Network (my center at UB) webpage and join our Student or Faculty/Staff Listserv to get monthly updates about related activities and events.

Global Partners Studio (GPS)

GPS is an evolving platform for cultivating deep and meaningful engagement with our international partners. Look for partner profiles and impact stories, but also opportunities to “harvest” student projects, COIL (collaborative online international learning) courses and travel-based engagement for faculty, students and community members. We will feature international partnerships that include both higher education and community-focused organizations to allow for deep and reciprocal impacts. With the Buffalo Tanzania Education Project (BTEP) as the foundation for GPS, we are excited to take our international partnerships further and deeper toward new possibilities for engagement and collaboration.

GPS Institute

The week of October 1st we will welcome invited GPS liaisons to UB/Buffalo for a week of sharing, capacity building and engagement. Our guests will represent partnerships in Ghana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Jamaica and will engage through presentations, studio sessions, and programs with our UB and Buffalo communities. With a focus on social innovation, global health, and community development, we will have many opportunities to explore synergies and shared interest. And we look forward to introducing our global friends to the many cultural, entrepreneurial and civic gems that Buffalo has to offer.

GPS Journal

This fall we will be launching the Global Partners Studio (GPS) Journal that will be open to undergraduate and graduate students as well as our international partners. This open-source digital journal will be an accessible and dynamic place for sharing collaborative research and experiential learning projects, and connecting resources and opportunities. The journal will also be a repository for impact stories highlighting the points of connectivity and synergy that evolve from high-impact engagement. We will be open for submissions this fall with an anticipated spring release of our inaugural edition.

GPS Digital Badge (Micro-credential)

For those looking to build on recent collaborative experiences, we will be launching a new Global Collaboration digital badge (micro-credential) in the fall. Participants will be mentored through a series of reflective and integrative exercises, allowing them to gain deeper insights while developing compelling narratives to support their academic, career and/or civic-related goals.

10 Year Anniversary Community Trip and Book Release

Next year (July 2019) will mark the 10 Year Anniversary of my first trip to Tanzania, the genesis of our unique global engagement model. To honor and celebrate our extraordinary relationship with our partners in Tanzania, we will be hosting a community trip in collaboration with a local travel organization. We will also be releasing an updated version of our book detailing the evolution of our engagement over the past 10 years. Stay tuned for more on both of these exciting initiatives.

 

 

 

 

Social Enterprise and Community Development: Baraki Sister Farm

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As our crowdfunding campaign continues to build momentum, we wanted to be sure to highlight a community partner who is particularly dear to us.

You could say that our engagement with Tanzania, and more specifically the Mara Region, began with this amazing woman, Sister Janepha Mabonyesho. Although she now serves as Development Director of Baraki Sisters Farm, she was a student at D’Youville College in Buffalo, NY when I first met her back in 2007. The story of how I, Mara, first connected with this nun from the Mara Region of Tanzania is a remarkable one, and is detailed in Stories from the Tanzania Education Project, a personal narrative that I co-authored with Dan Nyaronga, Empire State College professor and my co-instructor, who happens to also be from this very same region (talk about coincidences…).

Fast forward our friendship 10+ years and imagine our joy in visiting Sister Janepha at her farm in Baraki, a comprehensive agricultural project that both fascinates and inspires our students to explore issues of social entrepreneurship and business.

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At the center of Baraki is a fully functioning dairy farm that produces milk under the Baraki Sisters brand, while also providing pasteurization and a market for local women, along with raising livestock and agricultural crops to serve the community.

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Baraki also provides education through its pre-primary and primary schools in addition to healthcare through its full-service clinic. These social services when coupled with the dairy business represent a progressively comprehensive approach to community development.

When students learn about Baraki’s long history, started in the 1970’s as an innovative community development initiative, they gain a new perspective on innovation that challenges their assumptions and cultural biases. But as Sister Janepha shares with our students, there are many challenges to the fiscal sustainability of the project and many opportunities for students and partners to add value through ideas and engagement.

Sister Janepha looks forward to hosting our students and involving them in the work of Baraki. She and her fellow Sisters graciously welcome other potential partners to experience the many facets of Baraki and explore exciting opportunities for collaboration.

 

Women’s Empowerment: Stephen Marwa and Hope Revival Children’s Organization

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It’s hard to imagine a more committed partner than Stephen Marwa, Executive Director of Hope Revival Children’s Organization.  A dedicated advocate for women’s empowerment and community development, Stephen is a stand-out when it comes to technology, communication and international engagement. His past projects have focused on social entrepreneurship (including the poultry project pictured below), agriculture, and education all in an effort to improve the lives and opportunities of women and girls in this underdeveloped region of northern Tanzania.

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In an effort to further strengthen our collaboration, we gave Stephen a new computer tablet courtesy of Bak USA during our last study abroad trip in July 2018. Through his effortless mastery of this new technology, he has shared countless videos, social media posts and communications detailing his progress and seeking opportunities to do more for his community, and for our students. When Danielle became interested in the relationship between girls’ menstruation and educational achievement, Stephen immediately committed his full support and volunteered to travel to Arusha for a full week of training hosted by Dare Women’s Foundation, a non-profit engaged in a reusable pad sewing project. Since the visit, he has mobilized women and community leaders in Musoma, convening trainings and conducting preliminary research in collaboration with our partners at Buhare Community Development Training Institute (CDTI), readying the community for the new initiative.

Stephen is also a champion for clean water, working with Friendly Water for the World out of Olympia Washington to bring water filtration to the Musoma community. He looks forward to working with Matthew on sanitation and filtration efforts while also supporting Danielle and Lyndsey’s interest in women’s health and empowerment.

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Learn more about Stephen’s efforts by friending him on Facebook (Stephen Marwa) or emailing him at stephen_chacha@yahoo.com

This post is part of a crowdfunding campaign to send UB students back to Tanzania to engage in community projects mentored by our partners, including Stephen. Visit  https://crowdfunding.buffalo.edu/project/8959  to support the initiative and please consider sharing with your networks.  Thank You!- Mara

 

Community Development in Motion: Reflections on Our Recent Trip to Mara Tanzania

cheetah3I am no photographer and my equipment was sub-standard to say the least. But as I crouched in my seat, watching the cheetah begin to move across the road, I kept clicking away, anticipating some sort of crescendo. The build-up was palpable- some exquisite moment was inevitable, and I knew if I stayed with the process I was destined to behold something truly amazing.

I have long held on to this expectation- the notion that once in motion, once a path forward is activated, something inherently great will come. And by visiting the Mara Region of Tanzania every year, bringing students and colleagues, contributing when and where I can, I have readied myself to behold a crescendo- a tipping point through which community impacts are realized and quality of life becomes somehow better, more expansive and real for those who need it most.

This year was different, or perhaps my sensitivity to the nuances and challenges was somehow heightened. Although our partners continued to do great work, to innovate and adapt to changing needs and challenges, to persevere and flex their commitments and leadership- I did not necessarily see or feel the build-up that I had come to expect.

Certainly, if I looked through the right lens, I could identify benefits. Students served through a sewing project, liters of fresh milk processed and distributed, children being taught who would otherwise be at home. These are all important advancements and shouldn’t be minimized. But how to leverage and amplify these toward broader impacts, how to transform these specific investments into mechanisms and levers of change?

It was these questions that I had the chance to discuss with our students as they reflect on their study abroad trip and prepare their final projects to be presented later this week. The topic for this course is Social Innovation, and after spending two weeks in rural Tanzania, getting close to community development and the courageous leaders who commit their lives to making a difference- the complexities were too heavy to ignore.

The Bishop of Tarime had told us to focus our efforts on something tangible, not to get overwhelmed by the scale of need. He shared his vision for a school for girls in Tarime- a representation of all that is possible, a place where girls can realize their potential and expand their opportunities beyond the realities of poverty that currently constrain their lives.

But even if the Bishop is wildly successful, if every school and orphanage and textbook project being implemented and envisioned throughout the Mara Region and other parts of Tanzania and the developing world were to be realized at the highest level of actualization- would it be enough? Would they collectively change the vast disparities between the haves and have nots, the gaps in opportunity and resources necessary to live a productive and meaningful life?

I suggested to the students that the power of social innovation lies not necessarily in the specific localized solutions to contextualized problems, but instead to the development of new models that are scalable, robust and powerful. Models that can leverage specific contributions, talents and investments and amplify their impacts- like a prism transforming light.

As someone who has studied and experimented with social innovation, I know it can happen in multiple directions. With a clear and compelling vision, we can build out specific components into comprehensive systems and programs that are effective by design. But we can also do it in reverse. We can take existing projects and initiatives and weave them together under a common frame, a frame that is maximally relevant and compelling. By doing so we can harness their specific impacts while transforming their collective energy into something more powerful and transformative, and sustainable.

When I reflect on the individual partner sites we visited while in Mara- John Bosco School, the dairy farm in Baraki, the sewing project, preschool and agricultural projects in Mogabiri, Nyamete Women’s Group and Hope Revival in Musoma along with Buhare Community Development Institute- and their amazing leaders who bring them to life- I am convinced that they can be connected in some meaningful way, a way that optimizes their motion and reach.

When I look at this picture of the cheetah, I am inspired by what nature affords. The beauty, elegance, and power that can be achieved when systems are perfectly aligned and in motion. As I travel the world and meet leaders who are poised to soar- and students who yearn to make a difference, I am inspired by the possibilities. And as I continue to search for powerful frames that will allow us to leverage collaboration and engagement, I can’t help thinking that Social Innovation might be just what we need.

Kitenga Update- Truly Remarkable

Although I have returned to Kitenga many times since my original trip in 2009, my visit this past week (July 2016) felt qualitatively different. Even as the various buildings have taken shape over the years, the idea of a comprehensive and vibrant campus for girls has felt largely conceptual and entirely aspirational. Perhaps it was the expansiveness of the vista, the absence of children’s voices, or the lack of infrastructure or tarmac roads. Perhaps the Sisters’ vision was simply too bold or audacious for my mind’s eye to fully construct or comprehend.

And yet, there it was in undeniable form. As I stood with my UB colleagues, beholding the remarkable progress since my last visit, I was filled with a sense of awe and gratitude. Not only were the buildings real and tangible, but they were aesthetically beautiful and sound. As I walked through the courtyard of the dormitory, I could feel the presence of the girls and young women to come. And reflected in the gleaming windows of the new science building, was the promise of innovation and achievement, empowerment and hope.

The transformation was truly remarkable and I am humbled by the power of your generosity. With the collective support of the GEC community, the Kitenga campus is poised for success and impact. The school will become a model for the promise of education and all that is possible when we invest in girls, their families, and communities.

Congratulations GEC- truly remarkable!

-Mara

Taken from the GEC website  http://www.girlsedcollaborative.org/kitenga-update-truly-remarkable/

 

 

 

Return to Tanzania

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In six short months Dan Nyaronga and I will return to the Mara Region of Tanzania with a group of students for a UB study abroad course. As we immerse ourselves in planning for the trip we cannot help but reflect on its specialness and the remarkable milestones that we will be celebrating.

We just received word that the Kitenga school campus will open this January with plans to begin enrolling soon (see GEC website for updates http://girlsedcollaborative.org/). When I first met Sisters Janepha and Agnes on Christmas Day 2007 they shared their vision for a school that in its full realization would serve over a thousand girls from surrounding villages, providing them with opportunities to develop their talents and empower their lives. While compelling, their plan was purely conceptual, a mere white paper articulating their vision within a sea of need. But thanks to the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa and their partners, including the Girls Education Collaborative (GEC), their vision will soon be realized for the benefit of thousands of girls, families, and communities to come.

In visiting Kitenga and other locations throughout the Mara Region, students will gain much more than photos and memories. Clearly, this part of the world is worth visiting in its own right- the famed Serengeti Game Preserve, the beauty of the Lake Region, and above all the kindness and hospitality of the Tanzanian people. But most importantly students will be immersed in the promise and complexity of community development, exploring the importance of education and reflecting on their own future impacts associated with their studies and goals.

This notion of impacts is becoming increasingly important to me as I consider the challenges facing our communities both locally and around the world. Every day, I am reminded that we have so much to offer through our collective talents and resources. For this reason I am especially excited to announce that our book, “Finding Your Impact through International Travel: Stories from the Buffalo Tanzania Education Project” will be released in early fall with sales to support scholarships for girls to attend Kitenga and other schools within the Mara Region. The book tells the story of how we first met the Sisters and started our collaboration known as the Buffalo Tanzania Education Project (BTEP), while also sharing context, student reflections, and stories of the many people who have touched and been touched by this exciting project.

We can’t wait to share the book with all of you in hopes that you will in turn share it with your networks, colleagues, and students. At the core of the book and the project is the notion that by coming together we can amplify and leverage our individual talents and resources to do great things for the world. This idea continues to inspire me as I work with talented students and individuals from diverse backgrounds and communities.

To register for the study abroad course please visit http://www.buffalo.edu/studyabroad.html. More information about the trip will be available in the coming weeks.

but our children can’t read

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As I sat listening to a Buffalo teacher talk about the realities facing her students, I felt a growing pit in my stomach that has seemed to have taken up permanent residence.

She was talking about the refugee children who make up a large percentage of her school’s population. She explained that over 40% of the students don’t speak English, and that another quarter have tested out of language services despite debilitating limitations in vocabulary, due to their parents not speaking English at home.

She talked about the circumstances from which the children come- war, famine, genocide; from the Congo, Nepal, villages and countries that most of us can only imagine. She remarked of the children’s strength and determination, a sort of self-selection that accompanies those who make it, enduring unspeakable hardship all for hope of opportunity. And she spoke of their talents and dreams, each as unique as their individual stories.

Yet in a school system focused solely on state standards, these kids are liabilities. Their extracurricular activities are stripped, no more outdoor time, no arts and culture, just more and more curriculum. Not surprisingly, most do poorly on the tests. And once the school is invariably labeled as failing, resources are taken away, and punitive measures put into place; anger and judgment rather than the support and celebration they deserve.

As I listened to my friend speak my heart grew heavy, but not because I was unaware of the situation. Just a few years ago I led the University’s partnership with the Buffalo Schools, working to leverage resources and opportunities for the most challenged. At that time, we and other local institutions were clamoring to be at the table, responding to a call by the new superintendent, Dr. James Williams.

But what began as collegial collaboration quickly gave way to suspicion on both sides.  And with a foot in each world- paid by both the Board of Education and the State University- and a background in mediation, I certainly understood the mutual trepidation.

From the vantage point of the schools, many partners appeared predatory. The Superintendent would point out that nonprofits sustain themselves on grants and contracts with the schools, that poverty itself feeds the very organizations that position themselves as its savior. At an address to the largest teacher education program in the area, he remarked, “I know you all have excellent programs, but my children can’t read…” suggesting a certain degree of culpability on the part of higher education. He went on to describe a drowning child who is reaching for help, but the weight of so many hands trying to lift them up inadvertently sinking them deeper.

But from the outside perspective it has become virtually impossible to find a viable place at the table, especially one that is befitting our own needs for civility and good judgment. The circus-like atmosphere that has come to define public education, and the associated suspicion that surrounds all engaged parties, shuns meaningful collaboration and support.

While I no longer work directly with the Buffalo Schools, I now serve on the board of a local organization that places and supports refugee families. Ironically, even from this new vantage point, I still struggle to find a touch point.

Yes, the School District is the primary system for educating our children. But, they are OUR children, and we are ultimately responsible for their care. The weight of that responsibility is increasingly speaking to me, calling me to action, and I yearn to respond. But how?

Because Words DO Matter

I recently attended a press event and left dumbfounded by the remarks of the presiding dignitaries. The vast majority either didn’t make sense at all, or were essentially vacuous in terms of actionable promises. Since literally bolting from the event, I have found myself pondering the importance of words as they relate to community development.

I have already confessed my general fascination with words in an early post https://marabhuber.com/2014/03/24/sculpting-our-words/, but in this case I’m reflecting on the lack of intellectual and ethical discipline that they often convey. Just recently I was accused in a LinkedIn group of being too academic and using “the turgid style that seems to say: “I’m smarter than you are.” The critic urged me to say what I mean. While I admit that I have often been accused of being difficult to understand, I would argue that my intentions are at least noble. In choosing my words, whether verbal or written, I strive and struggle for clarity and precision. In the world of higher education, which is my home, and more specifically in the realm of research, we are left to constantly defend the veracity of our assertions, and so we take our words very seriously. Whether in peer reviewed articles, presentations, or meetings, our words are scrutinized for logic and proof, and accordingly they serve as the very foundation on which our relationships and reputations are built.

I realize that Higher Education is not the real world, and that many “normal” people would argue that academics get lost in words and their meanings. Yet I strongly believe that regardless of your background or professional culture, words DO matter and should be treated with more care and thoughtfulness. And I would assert that this is especially true when we deal with matters of community development.

Why? Well, for one reason words are simply not interchangeable. It’s true that we have multiple words to describe similar ideas or concepts, but each connotes nuanced distinctions that are subtle yet important enough to be named. The differences between a partner and a customer, an opportunity and a contract, collaboration and commitment all become extremely important as projects play out, grants run their course, or tensions begin to rise. The ability to articulate one’s goals, needs, and boundaries in a way that is respectful yet clear can make all the difference in project outcomes and the ultimate longevity of relationships.

This is especially the case in community development where organizations are seeking to help and add value in humanitarian ways, while at the same time attending to their own budgetary needs and agendas. Even when all parties are nonprofit with no direct gains or monetary interests, the complexities of their missions and funding sources and associated political lifelines guarantee that ethical conflicts and landmines will abound. Without the ability to clearly articulate and maintain one’s position using carefully selected words with their associated meanings, the promise of successfully navigating the treacherous waters of community development will remain dismal at best.