By Bruce Petch
At World Neighbours Canada we are sometimes asked what makes us unique. There are many charities that support people in developing countries; what does World Neighbours Canada do differently?
The answer is multi-faceted. There are many aspects of our organization that inspire loyalty among our donors – we are run by volunteers, have very low overhead, and use modest fundraising approaches. The attribute of World Neighbours Canada that we hold closest to our hearts is enduring partnerships. These partnerships occur at multiple levels – between the local organizations we support and the rural people they serve; between us and the local organizations; and between World Neighbours Canada donors and its board and volunteers.
The emphasis on partnerships is rooted deep. When World Neighbors was founded in the U.S. in the 1950s, it was ahead of its time in recognizing that poor people in developing countries deserved respect. World Neighbors founders embraced the United Nations statement acknowledging the “inherent dignity” of all people.
World Neighbors evolved into an unusual organization, focusing on long-term partnerships and outcomes when many organizations worked with only a one- or two-year project term in mind. Their minimal expatriate staff – called Area Representatives – often held their positions for more than ten years, sometimes more than twenty, which was remarkable in a field where terms of more than two years were uncommon. The essence of their work was building long-term partnerships with local organizations and communities, growing leadership capacity and fostering knowledge-based development.
The founders of World Neighbours Canada were inspired by the commitment and effectiveness of the World Neighbors family of organizations, and created a Canadian group to support the international network. Since its inception, World Neighbours Canada has worked to establish enduring partnerships with local organizations. We have supported Tamakoshi Sewa Samiti in Nepal and Vecinos Honduras (and its predecessors) since 1989, and APDC in Burkina Faso since 2006.
Each of these organizations takes a different approach in working with local communities. Tamakoshi Sewa Samiti is committed to improving the lives of people in the district of Ramechhap. They support the building of water systems and latrines in different villages each year, and provide technical back-up for as long as is needed (nearly all of the water systems installed with TSS support continue to operate; in one or two locations, the water source has become intermittent). Vecinos Honduras takes a holistic approach to community development, gradually building local capacity for continuous improvement in agriculture and health. Typically, after 5-6 years they phase out intensive support, and instead provide advice to local committees or cooperatives. APDC similarly engages in a wide range of activities with villages, and shifts emphasis as local leadership takes on more responsibility.
Coupled with the theme of enduring partnerships is mutual respect. We respect the abilities and insights of our local partner organizations. They are led by some of the brightest and most committed people in their respective countries. Furthermore, we recognize that people who are materially poor are not bereft of ideas and ingenuity. We have the greatest respect for their ability to survive under extraordinarily difficult conditions, and to improve the lives of their families when given the opportunity and the knowledge to harness clean water, grow more crops, and raise healthier children.