A New Job & Thoughts on International Development Work

I recently accepted a position with Crossroads International as the Organizational Development Advisor for their partner organization NEWIG (Network of Women in Growth) based in the Volta Region of Ghana. I will be moving to Ghana in early November and working there for 10 months.


I wanted to share the good news here (!!!), but I also wanted to take a bit of time to explain the intent of the role and the ethics of entering a country that is not yours to do non-profit or development based work.

Something I try very hard to be aware of is this: what is the actual impact of the organizations I support. Although the intent of these organizations is also important, I am far more interested in knowing what the actual long term systemic impacts of these organizations is. With Crossroads International, my question was the same - what is the actual impact of this organization's work, and their partner organization NEWIG (who I will be working directly for).

Let me back up for a second and explain why I am so cautions about this. Over the years, I have slowly learned that the standard foreign-aid and poverty reduction models are not working. Not only are they not working, but in many cases they are causing damage to local communities and economies, leaving them in worse condition than before. How is this possible? Well, the standard model forgets one key thing - asking and engaging the people or communities they are trying to “help”.

In the standard poverty reduction model, the organization will likely give away free stuff (think Toms Shoes), they will provide a free service (building a new well), or provide subsidies (foreign agricultural subsidies are common). Although well intended, these solutions can very often lead to larger problems. Some of the unintended consequences are: putting local farmers out of business, putting local suppliers/companies out of business, short term solutions that break or don’t last, solutions that don’t work in the local context, and the list goes on and on. For a much more comprehensive and detailed look into all the unintended consequences of the standard poverty reduction model I highly recommend the documentary Poverty, Inc (available on Netflix). This film provides incredible insight into the unintended outcomes of our current model, while also providing solutions and suggesting new models. (www.povertyinc.org)

In addition to all of those concerns… I am a white western woman. I am going to move, as a white woman with western values, into a country that suffered (and continues to suffer) from the affects of colonialism. This is something that does not escape me. I have discussed it with my Ghanaian friends here in Toronto, I have researched it, and I have read about it. In the end, what I think needs to be considered is the same: what is your intent, and what is the actual impact. If the impact looks anything like imposing values, ascribing solutions, using western specific solutions, or making decisions on behalf of locals, then I will have failed. With the support and feedback from my Ghanaian bosses and colleagues, I believe I will be held accountable to ensure that my impact is that of my intent. To support in building up the capacity of NEWIG in the way that they see best for their community. To help them develop an organizational and an operational plan which reflects their own vision, and which will help them achieve their short and long term goals. I hope that by checking in with my boss, my local colleagues, and my colleagues back in Canada, I will be able to ensure that I achieve my intent with this position.

But what about Crossroads International? And what about NEWIG? What are they doing to ensure they aren’t part of that old and harmful development model? Thankfully - they are doing lots. Both Crossroads and NEWIG are pushing forward a mandate of collaboration, local empowerment, and job creation.

Crossroads Mission Statement is this: “Crossroads International works to create a more equitable and sustainable world by engaging and strengthening individuals, organizations, and communities through mutual learning, solidarity and collective action”. The last three points are what hit home for me. They want to make change through mutual learning, solidarity and collective action. For me, that is the only way that change is even possible. In the Crossroads Values, they state that they “respect local ownership of decision-making”, “create an environment that promotes reflection, learning and action”, and “adopt and maintain open and ethical relationships with all stakeholders”. 

NEWIG too is setting out with the specific goal of long term change. Their goals are “To get women into gainful employment, to empower women to attain and play leadership roles in society, and to make women aware of their rights”. These goals speak to a non-profit model which knows the people they are working with are entitled to direct their own lives, as they see fit. In addition NEWIG is a grassroots organization that was started by a Ghanaian woman who understands what her local community needs. 

I am passionate about ensuring the impact of my time in this role will be a positive one. If you are from Ghana, from the African diaspora community, or in the non-profit community, I encourage you to provide me with any feedback you have. I am only going to be able to achieve my goals through community and collaboration!

I am very much looking forward to beginning my new job, and I will be sure to share my experience here.