When I was at All Nations (hesitate to say “studying”, although by all accounts I did more studying than my beloved by virtue of the fact that I actually wrote an essay or two…), on Wednesday mornings, we used to have a session known as CiM, “Contemporary Issues in Mission”. This was basically a “choose your own adventure” activity, where a case study would be presented, and students invited to come up with responses and solutions. A typical case-study would look something like this…
A certain organisation, henceforth known as Mission-in-action, runs a short-term programme to place (mostly) young volunteers to work with national projects for a few months at a time. Over recent years the programme has grown, matured, and gained recognition and status both in the sending, and receiving countries.
Recently, a disturbing pattern appears to be emerging from a few projects, challenging Mission-in-action to respond, and maybe to rethink their modus operandi.
In general projects have tended to be fairly small scale, existing operations, characterised by a dynamic national leader, with experience, track record, a positive attitude to Westerners, and vision to move forward. As part of Mission-in-action’s relationship with the national leader, volunteers are seconded to the project to fulfill specific roles for an agreed period.
Over time, in some projects, relationships with the national leader have subtly changed for the worse, leading to a perception that the concepts of “partnership” and “project”, may have been given a lower priority than the personal ambition of the project leader. This has manifested itself in a variety of ways;volunteers feeling as though they are being exploited, in being asked to do more and more; or the prioritising of “fundraising” appearing to become the most important activity of the project, with volunteers being put under pressure to raise funds from their own friends and family. In some cases, this had resulted in relationship breakdown, and Mission-in-action declaring a moratorium on providing resources for a particular project or leader.
It has been suggested that there may be some parallels between a Western mission organisation finding themselves in a strained relationship with a national leader who has been enabled to construct themselves an empire; and a Western Government deciding to go to war against the dictator that they helped to put into power; “created by the CIA, wanted by the FBI”.
How could these situations have been prevented?
How should they be responded to?
Discuss with the person next to you, and be prepared to share your results by coffee time.