Thursday, January 13, 2011

Why Expertise Isn't Enough

Last year at Vanderbilt I lived off-campus, in a house about seven blocks from school.  There was one slow stoplight between class and home, and over the months I came to know the duration and frequency of this light exactly.  That's why, every time there was traffic, I knew the cause and exactly how many cars would make it through each cycle.

But what if someone who had never been to Nashville was stuck in the same traffic?  They might reasonably assume there was an accident, a parade, or another impediment to normal traffic flow.  If they determined the problem was a slow light, even if they were a stoplight technician, they still couldn’t know as well as I could how long the traffic would last.  That's the thing; in that case, my familiarity trumped any level of broader expertise.  Take me off that route though, and I bring very little to a traffic light discussion.

That distinction between expertise and familiarity is an important one for us in Guatemala.  While not experts in development or education, we offer a skill-set and knowledge base not commonly available where we work.  That’s an asset we bring to the table, yet it does little to make up for our lack of familiarity.

That's why we concentrate in one area; we hope to amass a measure of familiarity and rapport over time.  With each year in Guatemala we build confidence with the community and understanding about where we work, making us more effective over time.

More importantly, that’s why we emphasize working alongside partner organizations.  Our effectiveness depends on working alongside locals familiar with the community.  No matter how important malnutrition or economic development are, if we can’t find a partner to help us implement our ideas, then our work is better spent in areas where we know local actors can direct and benefit from our cooperation.  For us, collaborative development is the best way we know to help expand opportunity.

Glad to be Back,
  Hud and the Manna Team

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