Living and Giving

\”We Want to Create Relationships\”

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A few months ago, Rahul Mitra wrote a post on CSRWire titled \”Culture, CSR and Globalization? The Five Step Primer.\”  He discusses how local culture must affect a global CSR program, by looking at five points.  My favorite was #3, emphasizing that we have to look at process, not only outcomes.  I wanted to share my response below.

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Rahul, thank you for these wonderful thoughts on what success in global CSR really means.  I especially appreciated your third point: Quantitative outcomes can\’t be the only measurement for success.

I\’m reminded of my very first international volunteer trip.  A group of us traveled to Managua, Nicaragua to build a school.  We jumped right into the project with the villagers and finished most, but not all, of the school.  Our hammers broke, and there was no “hardware store” around the corner.  You’d need to drive two hours.  And no one in the community had a car.

Our first instincts as Americans were to brainstorm every possible way to complete the school. Some spent time fretting we hadn’t finished what we came here to do.  Finally, I sat down to talk with the villagers and play with their children.  After some silence, one Nicaraguense said to me, “You Americans just want to ‘do.’ We want to create relationships.” 
I let these words sink in.  It was the beginning of truly listening. We learned about their life.  We helped cook hundreds of tortillas over hot grills for lunchtime. We spoke with people who had no jobs, hardly any hope, while a stream of sewage flowed right outside the cotton cloth that separated their bedroom from the outside world.  Instead of staying near the school, we walked throughout the community, meeting a local sculptor, attending a religious service, speaking with the people whose children we would be helping.

It is wonderful to complete a volunteer project, and make an impact. But establishing a relationship with the local people is by far the most important aspect of the volunteer trip.  No matter what culture or background you come from, we are all a team working together to face the challenges in our world, together.

When getting involved internationally, it\’s always so important to be sensitive to another culture.  More than that, it\’s important to not only respect another culture…but to value it.  To value the wisdom another culture has, which we may not see valued in our own culture.  For me, and from my experiences, there are two particular pieces of wisdom that first come to mind: First, the importance of family, and second, the direct connection to life.

Regarding family, I remember learning about the solidity and honor that many developing countries and communities place on tradition, roots and family history.  We may be amazed how families stick together, work together, and care for one another. We are and will be challenged as to our views on the elderly; most countries wouldn’t think of putting an elderly parent or grandparent in a lonely, sterilized ‘old folks home.’  Families take them in. They care for the elderly as they were cared for as children.  Elders are respected for their wisdom, and for their experiences in life.  They are consulted regularly, and included in family.  Even their simple, quiet presence is cherished.

I was also so inspired by “the direct connection to life.”  Often a developing community may be financially impoverished…but rich in the value of daily experience.  The slowing down of life.  Spending significant, face-to-face time with family members.  Taking time to celebrate people, occasions, or history. 

Equally important–and one of my favorites–which we often overlook, is being directly connected to nature and the earth.  For example, many people in developing nations grow their food, and connect with the earth directly.  We now go to grocery stores for our food. We are separated from the process of nature: understanding the investment of time and energy, seeing food grow, cherishing the accomplishment of hard work to produce food from a simple seed.  It may be in the name of efficiency, but not in the value of life experience, or healthy food, or lessons learned about nature.  We are literally “jumping over” important life lessons. 

Through our giving, volunteering, or any type of service, we learn to fully connect again, fully appreciate, and relish the whole beauty of each interaction.