Tips From Tatua::True Poverty

April 6th I was asked to give a TEDx Talk in Mathare. The invite was exciting, fun and incredibly humbling. TED is a non-profit organization that asks speakers to share their life story and how their unique past led them to the work they are doing. This story/result should challenge the audience’s beliefs and provoke conversation.

You would think for some one who is versed/teaches narrative this would have come easily to me but I was forced to really think about what I wanted to say. I didn’t want to get up there and give the usual “Tatua Rocks” schpeel, though we do rock. Instead, I was hoping to focus on the method/belief behind our work – that true development goes beyond the material to the spiritual.

This belief is based in our understanding of poverty. We believe that poverty is more than a lack resources; it is a lie that you are in fact, inferior to the people who hold those resources. It is a lie that you do not have the power to create your own solutions.

Currently, the majority of our development programs are focused on addressing the lack of resources rather than the lie that causes and encompasses that lack of resources, for more on how we’ve come to believe this lie see here.

The trick with narrative is that to tell a good one you’ve got to know why you know something is true. I mean, I know that but this was a new narrative for me, I haven’t really talked about when I knew the difference between the tangible lack of resources I experienced as a child (I’ve talked about that before) but this time I was talking about when I felt poor.

I was able to coach myself well enough to get to a story that I could tell.

I was ten years old, it was cold outside and time for recess. I was wearing this old, pink, thin windbreaker. I ddin’t want to go to recess, I didn’t want the other kids to see my jacket, they all had warm clothes. So I hid, I curled up in a little ball in the ourdoor hallways of bendwood elementary and I hid. I continued hiding for the next eighteen years. 

-Natalie Finstad, Executive Director of Tatua Kenya

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Primary Focus: Income or Mission

Our weakened global economy has sent some charitable organizations into crisis, “How will we raise money?!” This crisis has affected us positively and negatively.

Positively, the crisis has forced us to commit. It’s harder to fundraise when, “finances are tight.” To do so requires a conviction that your program is a worthy investment. Ideally we’d remain connected to this belief but we easily drift away from it.

Also, organizations have had to get creative about our budgets. Creativity is good; it asks “What am I overlooking? How could I better use the resources I have?” In a perfect world we’d practice creativity regularly but it often takes crisis to move us to this mindset.

Negatively, crisis can cause ‘panic,’ we must think of a solution, quick! One response to this crisis has been to generate income: orphanages open bakeries; international NGO’s sell beadwork.  While these actions may produce funds they can divert us from our primary focus, the service we provide.

When a development tool fails to enrich our service it weakens programming and can hurt communities in which we work. I love Tatua’s way of generating income because we are constantly reassessing our programs. Tatua offers community organizing consulting and training at an affordable cost (link to services on website). In doing so we imagine organizing in new contexts, deepen our understanding of the material and further our mission of ground-up change (link to what we do).

I encourage organizations considering income generation to discern whether your idea for income generation will strengthen or weaken your cause. If the latter, don’t panic! Reassess your resources, commit to your mission and see how you might emerge stronger from this crisis.

The Empowerment Myth :: Tips from Tatua

Development Tips from Natalie Finstad, Tatua Co-Founder and Executive Director

I have this hang up on the term  empowerment programs, it seems that somewhere along the way we started believing that we can empowered others to do certain things.

If Sally, a five year old growing up in the Kibera Slum attends a class on sanitary habits lead by Americans and then decides to go wash her hands to whom is the credit given? Has she been empowered by the American teachers? Is it to their credit she made the choice? Are they responsible for her behavior?

I hardly think so.

I can attend hundreds of seminars on hand washing but it is still my responsibility to choose to wash my hands. Choice is a reflection of my values and my priorities, through choice I assert my values and get to experience an outcome. If I take choice away from others I have robbed them not only of their responsibility for the choice but also for the consequence of that action.

Don’t we want Sally to know that it was her, not us that washed her hands? That she didn’t need us to empower her to make another choice. That she could have made that choice all along, it’s only that through the class, the choice became clear?

We must move away from the belief that we are empowering people to make choices. They have always had the power, it’s just that often, the choice wasn’t made available or clear.

If I had my way we’d stop empowering and start creating opportunity for choice. Choice is where change happens.

What do you think? Is focusing on choice different than focusing on empowering others? Or is it all the same?