I started blogging as a way of joining in the discussion of how to improve international development projects. I have been working internationally for over twenty years and have become disenchanted with the lack of progress. One of my first posts was on how non-profits do not foster learning. I later wrote on the new challenges in the development business and the failure of USAID's excellent online document depository to foster learning.
I've never figured out why we don't do better to foster organizational learning and change and am ashamed by our collective failure. Somehow non-profits have become more afraid of failure than of the status quo. Too often we focus on short-term goals ("number of people trained," "number of schools built," "number of farmers using new techniques" and we lose sight of our broader goals.
The international development work that I do is full of projects that failed to have a lasting impact and yet negative evaluations are very rare. I've heard it said that the best predictor of success for a new entrepreneur is the number of businesses he or she has started--not the number that have succeeded. In business, it is recognized that failure is probably a better learning tool than success. Yet non-profits hate to admit failure.
What if we admitted that our approaches were risky? What if we strove to either make dramatic changes or to fail brilliantly? Our track record would not be perfect, but we would certainly be remarkable and isn't that better?