States of Being Poor

States of being poor ………for testing with personas (very draft)

 Not Poor:  Life conditions are such that people have the personal capabilities and worldviews, individual resources, supportive community environment and essential community services to care for themselves and their children and have choices and make plans for the future.

Fallback Poor: Life conditions are such that people do not have the individual resources, supportive community environment and essential community services to consistently care for themselves and their children, their choices are limited, it is difficult to make long term plans and at times they will fall below the poverty line

Poor: Life conditions are such that people may not have personal capabilities and worldviews necessary to develop options to move out of poverty and do not have the individual resources, supportive community environment and essential community services to care for themselves and their children and have choices and make plans for the future. As a result these people are unable to meet all their basic needs.

Very Poor:  Life conditions are such that people are very unlikely to have personal capabilities and worldviews necessary to develop options to move out of poverty. Their annual income is likely to mean that they fall below their countries recognized poverty line. They do not have the individual resources, supportive community environment and essential community services to care for themselves and their children. By necessity their choices tend to me more short term and it is very difficult to make meaningful plans for the future. As a result these people are unable to consistently meet their basic needs.

Extremely poor:  Life conditions are such that people may not have personal capabilities and worldviews necessary to develop options to move out of poverty. Their annual income is below their countries recognized poverty line.  They do not have the individual resources, supportive community environment and essential community services to care for themselves and their children. Their choices are predominantly concerned with meeting their basic needs for food water, sex, sleep and housing and they have almost no control over their future. As a result, to survive these people need gifts of food, water, fuel, shelter or other basic life sustaining elements just to survive.

If the key areas of relationship to vulnerability were around the elements of:

  1. Food
  2. Assets
  3. Income
  4. Health
  5. Education of their children
  6. Future orientation

What questions would need to be asked to determine the endpoints that would mark the center of gravity for each of the five poorness states above. The point above which people who are poor, as an individual or household could be considered to have moved to the next level, in an element. That is which of the 6 elements would characterize the center of each of the five poverty states, within each of Integral’s 4 AQAL quadrants. Individual and what is available to individuals, collective and the systems, policies, laws and infrastructures that are available to communities.

Knowing this would allow us to measure where families are.

We would also be able to plot their most venerable/least developed areas in each of the hypothesized 6 elements above.

We would also be able to measure change in a more nuanced way.

As a body of development professionals, organizations and funders, we could gradually move from projecting lack of capability on people who are poor and start focusing more on a much broader set of life conditions. And be able to measure progress more effectively.

July 2014

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Advice from an Integral Friend

Advice from an Integral Friend

In an organization you can find yourself presiding over a range of activities and programs that seem to make some sense on their own but are difficult to conceive of and articulate as being something holistic or justify collectively as being worth continuing. The likelihood is that these programs have sprung up in response to specific needs and over time taken on a life of their own under a larger umbrella. Now with increased scrutiny or competition for funding they may increasingly look like a collection of orphans and strays, irrespective of their original underlying impetus. If the division or unit cannot articulate itself to the upper management system of control it is likely to lose out in the completion for funds and resources and be broken up or die.

So taking a hypothetical case that approximates the one my friend Jane finds herself facing. Jane has just taken over the ‘Community Development Team’ (CDT) as part of the activities of a local council in a rural shire that I will call ‘Happy Valley’. Over the years the community development team has grown to six staff.  Jane now has the task of developing a strategy for the team and being able to explain to the council why it should continue to be resourced. The problem is that there does not seem to be a common thread that easily explains what the team does or what value it creates.

In addition to the team leader, an overview of the team is as follows

Two staff members are engaged in youth development working to support young people in the Shire. The activities they do vary but include youth council’s holiday programs putting on youth events and youth awards etc.

One staff member’s role is to promote and develop arts and culture across the Shire. The activities include, facilitating the development of public art, putting on art activities and events, supporting art cooperatives etc. This worker sees his role as building community connections and culture using art as a tool.

One staff member works in 26 communities to support the development of community leaders to  engage more actively in community life and to lead community driven planning and programs that often have some council interest

Another staff member’s role is to improve the entire council’s engagement with communities to effectively consult community and stakeholders and consider their opinions in councils priorities and decisions. This person supports council planners, engineers and contractors, engaged in infrastructure to seek Community input into planning and decision making.

There is also a general expectation by the Shire that collectively the team will take on other community development activities outside the areas above and that the team leader should develop a strategy to determine the inclusion of further activities.

The Happy Valley Shire does not have any firm goals for the elements of the team and there are no specific outcomes or evaluations carried out to measure the team’s effectiveness.

There is however an underlying assumption that collectively the work of the team will increase opportunities and social, economic and environmental well-being, and that if ratepayers are more involved this could ultimately save the council money.

So how does Jane make sense of this, develop and strategy, communicate with others, solicit support and lead the team into the future?

The overall concept is that we will use an AQAL Map to create a more cohesive way of viewing our landscape. We will use “our” activities  as indicators of the worldviews we are attempting to create in “others.” And then we are going to iterate this a number of times around an AQAL map until we have clarity about what our real aims are, what we are doing now and what we need to do in the future.

1/ Using an  AQAL map we can list all the activities that the team undertakes, facilitates or makes  available to individuals. These can be listed randomly in the UR and all the relevant activities and council engagements it tries to create for community groups in the LR. We now think of these as symptoms that the council has created – indicators of underlying needs that the council has in one way or another tried to address. So now we are looking for underlying individual and collective worldviews that these symptoms were intentionally or unintentionally developed to produce in community members and groups .

2/ The worldviews for which the actions were created can be ordered along a diagonal line in the UL in order of hoped for evolvement. These milestones may include worldviews that are prior to or in advance of the CDT’s activities. For example at an individual level close to the central axis may be the view “ I believe I know what the council is doing” and toward the top of the diagonal may be “ I can and am  leading changes in my community that are good for the community and as a result I will benefit as well”.

This rough ordering of “their” worldviews may be guided by some levels of development framework such as Spiral Dynamics.

3/ We can now develop a set of evolving collective worldviews in the LL that generally correspond with the UL and informed by the “symptoms” as indicated by council activites in the LR

4/ Once the UL and LL  Quadrants have hypothetical sequential worldviews we can now begin to align “our”  activities and engagements in the Upper and Lower Right Quadrants and mesh them with corresponding hoped for changes in world view changes.

5/ We should now begin to see that some of our activities are clustered around certain worldview creation and that there are a lack of activities corresponding to others that we think are valuable. We might find that there are “orphan” activities that appear to have no anchoring UL or LL worldviews and this may indicate we are missing the articulation of some worldviews or perhaps that these activities need to be refocused or axed.

6/ Now to check how this is lining up in practice we can include what we perceive as successful indicators of individual or community actions for individuals or community groups embodying the identified world views.  We could use these as future indicators of success at different levels and also compare them with the fruits of our current activities. This may also lead to the refocusing of existing activities as well as a tool for monitoring the success of staff or programs.

7/ We are now in a position to plot the kind of world views we would need to have both as individual workers and as a team (UL and LL) against the world views and corresponding attitudes that we would like to see in our target groups. For example if relevant individual staff are not modeling a belief in individuals making a difference then they hardly in a place to be advocating for change or leadership amongst individuals in the community.

In a sense this now begins to tell us about our own story. We can communicate the changes we would like to see in individuals and the community, what we see as ideal and how we see these evolving, we can critique the success of our existing actions and make the case for changes that we see need to be made along the activity continuum. We can talk about the kinds of changes that will be our indicators of success and the team we will need to make that possible. And it is all part of the same story.


Advice from an Integral Friend Pic

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Worlds of Praxis

WOP-Quadrants and Development[Paper010]

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The Dynamic of Emergence

The Dynamic of Emergence [3]

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Nine Tips for International Development Practitioners

IMG_4524March 2016 marked ten years since I began working in International Development focusing primarily on local economic development. So I thought this a good time to put down a few  insights that I have found useful or which I think in development we would do well to talk more about.

  1. Put People First: Local Economic Development in the context of international development is, in my view, just community development with an economic lens. Just as business development is human development with a business lens. We need to put people first, whether that is our staff or the people we are working with and for; and putting structures, strategies and material assets a clear second. Many NGOs have a history of putting these elements the other way around to the detriment of all concerned.
  2. Consistency: that all of the parts of the development process are in essence the same throughout the whole process.
  • I must believe that we can make a measurable difference,
  • I must believe that the management in the Country Office can make that difference,
  • They must believe that their field staff can actually make that difference, that they can be the catalysts of change,
  • and those in the communities we work with must believe that they can bring change in their own circumstances and in their own communities.

It doesn’t work if our staff say to people in communities “you should challenge your dysfunctional environment, you should take risks, you should be creative, you should believe in yourselves …” if we in the NGO are not challenging our environments, if we are not taking risks, if we are not challenging dysfunction in our workplaces, and when we do not believe we have the power to be great catalysts of change; if we settle for being victims of the system we are in. Consistency in this context means the parts of the development process, at all places in the system, are the same as the whole.

  1. Subsidiarity: is a key development principle which proposes that all decisions and activities should be undertaken by the smallest, lowest and  least centralized group of people in a system. This means that as many decisions and actions as possible should be taken at a the lowest local level rather than by a higher authority somewhere else. We are inclined to put log frames and time frames ahead of subsidiarity; our system is designed to spend money and undertake activities whether people who are poor in a community are ‘ready’ or not. But at the heart of our problem is that while we preach unassailable development principles like subsidiarity to the communities we work in, we tend not to practice them in our own workplace community. We primarily operate with, and are complicit in, a hierarchical system. So as development practitioners, we need to take every opportunity to ‘walk the talk’ and practice subsidiarity within our own organisation, with the staff we engage, to take risks and to build in flexibility to our timeframes so that we can all grow and become stronger through the process that we are advocating to others.
  1. Culture: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, said renowned business scholar Peter Drucker. I believe we should never underestimate importance of the way people think and see the world when we are making any plan. A strategy or plan is only ever as enlightened as those who put it into practice. Many NGOs talk about taking risks to do good work, but the culture is often risk averse, rules driven even when a situation demands flexibility and at the same time tend to happy-clappy in our relationships with others reluctant to challenge and nimbly negotiating a raft of organisational taboos built up over decades. By taboos I mean those things that if discussed in the organisation are seen as letting the team down.( “Are we being hypocritical? Have we lost our way? Is our plan bad? Is this meeting a waste of time? Should we exclude certain sectors in our discussion so we can stay focused?”) If we really want to understand who we are, we need to begin talking about the taboos of our organisations, get a sense of our true diversity, and begin to make strategies and plans that are authentic to who we really are – beyond the clichés and rhetoric.
  1. Maintaining our options: In negotiation, our ‘position’ is only as good as our best alternative to an agreement. That is, if things don’t work out as we hope, have we created a good Plan B? If not, we tend to find ourselves locked in to loosing situations and we become unhealthily dependent on something that is not working: The project hasn’t really worked out, but we have talked about it so much, spent so much time and money on it, helped donors believe in it, that we think we can’t let it fail; we become locked into propping things up and effectively telling lies.

To combat this I have learned to try to do projects in threes. If we only have one project in an approach there is probably a 50-50 chance of good results. If we do two projects then it is still likely that one will succeed and the other will fail. But if we do three projects in one approach the chances seem to be that two of the three will be successful, and as Meatloaf famously sang “two out of three ain’t bad”.

  1. Timeframes: I have learned that the ideal project life for most R&L projects is four years.

Figuratively speaking, this is

  • one year to cultivate the land, that is get things set up,
  • a second year to sow the seeds, implementing the project,
  • a third year to nourish the crop and bring in the harvest.

The fourth year is to make sure the other three years work.

Having four years allows us to work more effectively with human dynamics. If a project lead is really good and the project is only 3 years, chances are they will leave or be promoted by the end of the second year, as they don’t have a secure future. And in a three year project that doesn’t leave us with a good situation in which to recruit a great replacement. If the lead is not working out, we probably don’t really know until about 18 months in, and if the project is 4 years there is still enough time to offer another candidate an attractive employment proposition.

  1. Peripheral Vision: Almost everything that I have done in the last ten years that is worth more than two glasses of water and a look up the road, has come from noticing something that was outside the main area of focus. Listening to people I didn’t much like or respect, or to a small shy voice somewhere, paying attention to inconvenient truths, and trying to notice the parts of a process that seemed to worked … or not at all.

These things lead to innovation as well as providing exciting opportunities for those actually doing the work on the ground. I found that my role, as often as not, was to wait with anticipation for the non-obvious to emerge, and this, once discussable, would change a project – often in ways beyond anyone’s imagining. It is much easier to have space for the value of noticing and supporting opportunities if we try to anticipate the emergence of exciting new paths for our designs, right from the beginning. Once, in Kenya, I got drafted into a project log frame that the field office needed to record ten great community initiatives which the field office itself wasn’t directly involved with. This encouraged the staff in the field office to support the community groups’ actions without being so focused on exactly what the group should do. In turn the community took complete ownership and both the community and the field office  learned more about what was really important.

  1. Everything as development: My expression is “to fold everything into the path”. To me this means whether something works or it doesn’t, it is part of the human development path. If we are paying attention, every step can be a step forward, every fall, a fall forward. But we need to have the time, the design, the attention and the presence to reframe and transform setbacks and side steps, both for ourselves and others. Our internal commitment is to turn these things into very intentional learning and reflection processes. In other words we need to take unconditional responsibility.
  2. Trust the process: By this I mean the development process; I don’t mean the plan, the logframe or the design, I mean the process of trying to put into place the elements above. If we are:
  • putting people first,
  • believing that we are personally an instrument of change,
  • recognising that our actions and belief in our power should be no different from the empowerment and actions we are hoping for from in people in communities
  • if we apply the subsidiarity principle,
  • challenge organisational taboos, or at least be clear about what they are,
  • always have a plan B,
  • are realistic with timeframes and allow in our designs for emergence,
  • are present to new developments and have given ourselves the flexibility to implement them ,
  • and take unconditional responsibility,

then the likelihood is that we will be embracing the future as it comes to meet us and good will be done.



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Old Town Tbilisi

Mid February in Tbilisi and it was cold. Liezel had come with me on a work trip and we had driven up the five hours from Yerevan on Saturday morning to spend the weekend together before my days in the office. We were staying at the ZP Hotel on the left bank, on eof the staff said that it was owned by the mother of a Georgian basketballer who had made it big in the States and was sending money back. Our balcony window faced Mtatsminda, the Holy Mountain and  I watched as a grey cloud of mist got lower until, the ferris wheel and TV tower became invisible and then the mountain itself disappeared.  I watched the swirling snow flurries and the wind moving the tops of the grey green Cyprus pines now looking haunted and unfriendly. It was snug to be in the room, to look down on the wet cobblestones of the street below and people in long coats and strained umbrellas bent forward against the wet and wind.

The first morning after breakfast we went to the Russian Orthodox Church, just down from our hotel, white with green and blue domes and spires. We entered just as something had finished and entering we were pushed this way and that by the stream of people leaving. Mostly elderly hard faced people, men in dark baggy suits and stocky women in black with shawls over their heads. Seated women in near the doorway rustling through pieces of paper with handwritten notes on them. More elderly women sitting to one side black with black scarves soliciting coins for a row of tall tins with coin slits with different handwritten labels on each. The main worship area was cloudy with frankincense and the smoke from beeswax candles lit in trays of hope. Beside a massive stone pillars the tallest priest I have ever seen, white hair, deep red cassock, leaning into the earnest whispers of a women in her thirties and nodding. There were rows of gold framed pictures chest height and people jostled to kiss each one and mothers holding babies touched their babies heads against the pictures and icons. There was one under glass with a black Madonna and baby, and the figures were outlined in gold.

We took a taxi to the old city and walked from the domes of the Abanotubani old Turkish bathhouses, smell of sulphur, and some gaudy signs to tempt bathers. We went into one and a group of men stood around in the entrance way in black leather jackets smoking cigarettes. A blond Russian looking woman showed us a small private room with a steaming spar tub with broken dirty tiles. I said we would be back another day.

We walked up the hill through a maze of lanes toward the botanical gardens. There is renovation happening to most of these traditional houses perched on the side of the hill in the shadow of the Narikala castle which overlooks the Mtkvari River and much of Tbilisi. Coming down the other side of the hill we went past one church with strong iron doors locked and guarded by an noisy black mastiff with pointy ears that looked like it belonged in hell. And then passed that into the thirteenth century Armenian  Cathedral of St George on Orbiri St the sign outside said that it was restored by donations of Armenians. The dome was lavishly painted in pastels in a way I haven’t seen in Armenian churches in Armenia. I wanted to sit on a chair near the alter and think or pray, but the black hatted priest shooed me away to seats at the back and the women who was dusting the alter gave me a sympathetic look.

We ate lunch of hot meat dishes, fresh wood oven bread and long beers at Machakhela and watched the snow flurries in the square in front of Metikhi Bridge. A young woman in a down coat paced up and down to keep warm talking on her mobile and handing out tourist brochures.

We walked up Kote Afkhazi to Freedom Square followed by two olive skinned Roma boys perhaps ten and twelve years old in dirty jeans and ragged coats. It was a school day but no school for these kids. I was watching them and letting them know that I was. I learned in Nairobi to make sure you always know who is around you. Liezel told me not to let them know I was watching them stalk us as it would provoke them, I looked anyway. She was right, young as they were I felt like prey.

We went into a shop selling icons to avoid an attempted bag snatch, you could feel them sizing up all the opportunities around them on the street and we were one of them. A little bit further up the hill was a blond teenage busker fierce on guitar and  singing hard into the cold. The older Roma youth had moved into a doorway one side of him and the younger, mischievous and alert just a few metres up the hill on the buskers other side. I said to Liezel that the Roma kids were going to snatch the buskers coins. We passed and looked back just in time to see the younger one gab a handful of coins a sprint 20 meters up the hill. The busker sang on. There was nothing he could do, to leave in chase would have left his bag and the rest of the coins free for the other youth. It was so easy, so predictable, his hunters knew the odds.

The few days in the office went well, me trying to doing development of our staff in the way I hope they do in the communities we work in. Which means that you don’t know your usefulness at the time and hope to see things happen that you recognize might have had something to do with your passing, but can’t be sure. And if done well no one remembers that it was your words and  thoughts that set off seeds in them and they did it on their own. And it worked or they learned more because they did it on their own.

And so driving back on the road to Yerevan, though the border and the waits from the border police who have Russian supervisors. The wondering if there is something in my passport or Liezel’s that might mean we end up in an office with bored men smoking cigarettes who don’t speak English trying to find some reason why they should make things easy or hard. But it was fine.

And we take a good sealed road back through Noyemberyan. It used to be called Barana but was renamed by the Soviets in the 1930’s after the November Revolution in Russia, It is just a few kilometers from the border with Azerbaijan. Climbing higher and then we are above the snowline. It had snowed the night before and was pristine. The beauty was breathtaking. A landscape of softness snug under heavy soft grey clouds. Trees decorated in ice baubles, fields of fresh pure white snow and the mountains beautiful retainers. And who would every know that beneath were rocky fields and hard won lives of tough skinned villagers who barely survived even when the sun was shining.


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Mr Morongo

Helicopter of Christ

About six months ago, Mr. Kibani  found himself in a taxi going to a dowry wedding with Mr. Morongo who at around 62 was getting married for the third time and then going to jail. The men were both Kikuyu, they taught in the same primary school until each retired and they had remained neighbors and friends. Mr. Morongo had helped start the Kasuku primary school almost thirty years ago and stayed on teaching until three years ago. Kasuku village is surrounded by the rolling, mostly green hills of Kikuyu heartland. In Swahili Kasuku means parrot. Mr. Morongo taught Mr. Kibani’s seven daughters and two of his three sons and now, except for the youngest son who was still at college, they were all grown up and married. Mr. Kibani was happy with his children, they showed respect and contributed to family projects like buying him a new suit and his wife a new bed and even funding church projects that he lead. They both went to the Helicopter of Christ Church on the Gilgil road in Kasuku.

If you left out the churches Prophet and the congregation, the  Helicopter of Christ was actually just a corrugated iron shed, some of its corrugated iron walls had been painted sky blue and it sat on a large dusty plot surrounded by prickle bushes. Above the entrance door, painted straight on the iron there is a red cross and to one side a vinyl banner with  Helicopter of Christ in large red flaming letters and then the opening hours and a cell phone number for private appointments and underneath a picture of Prophet Gilbert Gatonga in a white suite and the Prophets wife and another lady. Inside the church were rows of wooden bench pews, the windows had no glass but welded reinforcing mesh for security which had timber plank shutters which were only opened on Sundays. During the week it was dark and lonely inside. Beads of bright light made shafts through stray nail holes in the tin sheet walls in in the roof. And there was bright daylight surrounding the door and window frames like the second coming was in full fling outside. On the alter were plastic doilies and plastic flowers in Chinese vases all looking so sad. But on Sundays they were resurrected, a true celebration of life and nature and all that is good.

On Sundays the church was alive, and the service might go on for four full hours if  Prophet Gilbert Gatonga was particularly filled with the Spirit. On Sundays the church was filled with heart and voice and people sang so loud and danced and were seized by the Holy Spirit and fainted into eager arms and it all got mixed up with polyester best shirts and suits and body sweat and cheap perfume and new do’s of braided hair extensions and colors so if you didn’t know a women so well you wouldn’t recognize her straight off. It was here that Mr. Morongo had married his second wife.

As Mr Kibani tells the story, “Mr. Morongo was married with five kids but there were issues. It was said that the wife was a devil worshiper. It was said that she was sending people to the husband with letters written in blood telling him funny things. And there was a time when he was walking back from the small shabby town nearby and he passed some people who were sitting on the side of the road, they asked him “Did you receive our letter?” But  before Mr. Morongo could even think it, the guys were gone. Well that’s the story and there were some other things happening as well. So Mr. Morongo and his wife parted ways and got divorced, well actually she fled. That was in 1996 and really this was the only solution.”

Mr Kibani straightened the brim of his hat and continued “Soon after, Mr. Morongo married again and they had another 6 children but this wife was sick and in the last 3 years before her death she was always in and out of hospital and people were wondering why is she always sick. And they were saying it was maybe HIV but no one had the proof and people were wondering how come she was sick but the husband never showed any signs of sickness. So she passed on last year around May leaving Mr. Morongo with their sixth child who was just 3 months old.

So my wife you know and my daughters, we were all feeling for him, him being their teacher and with all the things that had been happening to him with all the small kids. He was a man of the people, people liked him, even though when it came to teaching, everyone said he wasn’t that good. But he was very knowledgeable and had all kinds of different stories that were really of interest to the students, but when it came to teaching itself he was not that good but still everyone liked him so much. As soon as the wife died he remarried again for the third time to a woman who already had two kids. So they married but it was not formalized and so that was why I had to go to the dowry wedding. He probably has HIV” whispered Mr. Kibani, “because people were saying that before the second wife even got sick that Mr Morongo had HIV. And later on the baby that he had been left with also died. But the other kids are fine.”

Mr Kibani’s rubbed his forehead hard and continued “Just before the second wife passed on he had retired, and taken his pension. He tried to become a local councilor but he lost at the election, which was a big blow to him as he had spent about half of all of his pension money on the attempt.  If he had he been elected then his future would be secure as there was always money for roads and community projects and lots of ways to keep some of the money for the councilors involved. His election attempt had been an investment in his future. It is just what the politicians are doing all over Kenya, they invest their money in the elections and if elected they can pay themselves back tenfold. So he lost. Most people who take a pension invest the money in improving their home or their land but he didn’t do any of that. So it hit him very hard with the loss and the loss of the money. At some point he became involved in a nearby flower farm. There was a time when a local guy was stealing stuff from that farm and bringing it to him and he would sell the things in the town. And he was caught. It was not that he was so dishonest but the thing with losing all that money he got a bit funny. And he wasn’t feeling himself and the condition of the wife and of the money. So he went to remand and then to prison for around 4 months. So the new wife now has seven children to care for. But a few are old enough to take care of themselves. Mr. Morongo is 62 or 63 and his hair had gone grey from the stress and he is bound to die young as he has left so much trouble behind. The third wife has started a simple  little day school but no one seems to know how it is going or how she will survive. So that is the story of Mr. Morongo, poor fellow.”



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