Cleaning up your own house - when?

As the British weather begins to feel distinctly more like summer despite winter's seemingly relentless hold, I'm anxious to get to my spring cleaning. But in the field where I work - international development - I wonder when is the time for a good clean-out, to come to grip with what works and what doesn't, what fits and what doesn't, and to throw out the clothes that no longer work and make way for a lighter and cleaner space to work and to enjoy one's life.

The financial crisis of 2008 brought millions more into poverty. It also changed a few of the 'rules' of international development, though the 'new rules' have yet to be fully written. The world is no longer as dominated by the monolithic Western super powers - usually that prize goes to the USA. The President of Uganda, when putting forward Uganda's plan for development emphasized that this is Uganda's plan - and if the Westerners didn't like it, tough luck - besides, they really needed to clean up their own house before going about preaching to other countries how to behave.

Any decent practitioner will tell you the same thing - you have to walk your talk. Practice your values - not just preach them. Integrity speaks louder than words. Is your own house in order? Do you really know what you are talking about - through experience? If you speak of transparency, is your organisation transparent? If you talk about interdisciplinary collaboration, are the silos in your organisation working together? If not are you finding ways to enable them to do so? Is your organisation financially healthy - not just on paper, but in people's lived experiences?

When speaking to colleagues and partners about international development recently, the comments frequently come back to our own 'mess' - the disorganisation, lack of harmonisation, in-fighting, and the small-worlds in which so many of us move.  Of course, if we wait till we are all perfect we won't get anything done - but if we don't clean up the very real challenges in our own organisations, why would people listen to us - much less want to continue working for and with us? The later question might be answered in that people don't know any better - this is generally a sectoral problem more than the problem of any one organisation (especially around financial rewards and retention of best practices and historical lessons). And people often don't listen to us. They may nod and agree - even vehemently - but it's harder to know how often advice is taken. The time to clean up our own house is long overdue.

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