Tiina’s diary – personal diary as I remember things
INTRODUCTION — TO THE FAR SEAS
After all, it’s a bit insane, to jump to start as captain for a boat in unknown waters without a nautical chart. One just has to rely on the navigation and swimming skills that have been learned earlier, and to trust that there is enough of benevolent and knowledgeable staff on board who have the same goals with me.
When I started my new job as a CEO of an NGO, I didn’t know the vocabulary of the development world, neither did I have all the industry-related network. I had over 20 years of experience in sales and marketing. I also had experience in leadership roles. I was used to talking about productivity, efficiency, technology and the challenges of business, but I had never used words like civil society or solidarity naturally in my speech. In the first State Department seminars, I was really lost and needed simultaneous interpretation from my co-workers. Indeed, they later admitted that they had been a little nervous at the beginning, when I had to make speeches right from the start because of my job.
I took up the position of Executive Vice President of World Vision in September 2015, just as Finnish Governments development budgets were cut by more than forty percent. Our turnover dropped by about a quarter in a few months. I and the team I led had a few months to adjust our operations to the new reality.
I embarked on a journey from which I have not recovered, and I will never recover. My worldview changed, and things took on a different shape in many ways. Over the course of six years, I made several trips, all of which left their mark on me and where I got the opportunity to be a student. I thought it would be me with something to give. Sure, it was, but mostly I felt like a recipient, a learner. When I met with those who had fled the war for their lives, lost loved ones, injured, and abandoned, looking them in the eye and sitting with them under an acacia tree listening to their story, it was not that relevant that I had accomplished or realized in my life. What was relevant was the moment in that specific encounter. Of course, the enabling of those encounters was based on a systematic work, fundraising, marketing, decades of development work and many problems to be solved. However, at that moment of the encounter, everything else was set in the background. Confidence in my co-workers’ professionalism and the trust of solving all things out gave me focus and peace. I was not alone.
The five-star hotels changed to other stars. The world of sound changed, the smells and colors intensified. I am endlessly grateful for the nights in the African countryside, the nights sleeping in containers, or on the floors of the airport, in the courtyards of the terminals and in the noisy city hotels. I developed for myself a system of comfort and the ability to fall asleep on flights even before taking off. I learned to lower my heart beat and learned to stop time. I learned to get up early in the mornings, hearing first sounds of roosters, dogs’ barks and smelling the smoke by the campfires, or on the dark winters mornings in Finland when leaving for the airport. I learned to control my toilet visits and make up entertainment for hours and hours when travelling in cars, during which sleep was utterly impossible due to the condition of the roads. I learned to thank and greet in many languages and throw myself into dances and even dangerous situations, trusting that life (and colleagues) will carry.
I wanted to write down the stories of my journeys, as I remember them, and the lessons learned on both sides, as I understand them, about business and development world. Or could both be the same after all?
Our travel was almost never lasted for a few days but took at least one work week and weekends from both ends. Because our destinations were not in the largest cities – with the exception of the slums – we spent hours in cars traveling behind difficult routes, where the poorest and most fragile people lived. In line with our strategy, we were to be where the most vulnerable lived. This usually meant poor rural communities, slums and their landfills, and refugee camps. I visited many different places in Kenya and Uganda, Mongolia, Armenia, Cambodia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Peru, Colombia and Romania. From there, I want to tell my story without revealing people or the exact location, times, or other identifiable coordinates of places. I also do not describe any other confidential discussions or situations related to the staff or management of the Finnish office. I try to describe the laws I am familiar with that have helped me solve problems or achieve goals.
It is the job of the leader to create the conditions for success. It is the job of the leader not to stop good ideas coming from the organization and to stop activities that do not build the implementation of the strategy. Wisdom is needed to separate the two.
The role of a leader is to increase and enable responsibility, success, and development, to empower and take responsibility, to encourage when intimidated and to defend when threatened.
The role of the director is defined through responsibility. It is good for a leader to understand when it is worth giving up and when a new kind of responsibility and competence is needed.
The work at World Vision was so rewarding and interesting that I was already starting to feel like I needed this organization more than they needed me to. Was I in love with relevance, power, admiration, respect, and excitement? Did I still have something to give, or have I become addicted myself? What else could I learn and where to serve?
The transition from business to an NGO was a great experience. I couldn’t guess how much more difficult it is to raise funds and the reality of NGO’s is compared to the more straightforward actions of companies. Such exchanges between sectors should be more, both ways. General logics are similar on both sides, from slightly different perspectives. People are the same regardless of industry or geography.
In good spirits and longing feelings, I left this stage of my working life behind and moved on to a new one. I rejoice in everything I have learned and seen, and I rejoice that this knowledge and learning is also valued in business life. The decision to leave was clear, but still difficult. Gratitude remains.
The NGO employees get my admiration, especially the ones that are working in the field. To all staff and volunteers who work hard and brightly in difficult circumstances. And definitely my respect goes to all those children, men, women who have been able to change the direction of their lives, even if the circumstances do not support it at first sight. I have met ordinary people in every corner of the world, in poor conditions, and experienced inferiority in their courage and attitude. There are thousands of stories.
Our Finnish organization did grow, albeit not in number of staff, to enormous mental and professional proportions. They have the courage, competence, enthusiasm and desire for service. They knew every day why we did this work and they strived for better every day. They have grown into leaders, decision makers and innovators.
In the Finnish office, we created a rhythm and routine, a systematic dialogue, both with each other and with our supporters, partners and beneficiaries. We have been persevering, accurate and kind defenders of weaker rights.
Our organization stays in a blessed state. Let it continue.
Those years at an NGO included hundreds of hours at airports, waiting areas, jeeps, planes and offices.
I sat for hundreds of hours with my back sweaty in a plastic chair with a bottle of water in my hand. I have danced, sung, played, greeted, inaugurated water points, tried well pumps, pruning the forest, growing peanuts, planting a tree. I have been to various pithole toilets trying to dodge waste and spiders. I have eaten strange food in very strange conditions. I’ve eaten crickets, guts, frogs, ‘meat stews’, rice, rice, rice, and rice. I have tasted fresh, fly-covered honey and sipped fermented horse milk. I have spent a night in a yurt, in a container and in countryside cabins under mosquito nets listening to exotic sounds.
I’ve listened to long speeches under acacia trees, in schools, slums, sweaty offices, and cool evenings in hostels. I have admired the sunrises and sunsets, awakened to the barking of dogs and the sounds of roosters in the dark countryside, got up before sunrise and returned in the darkness of the night. I have enjoyed great meals in the restaurants with white tablecloths, after a long day of dusty travels. I have had many cold showers or managed evening washes in a container with the power of one bucket of cold water or just wet towels.
I have met with bishops, religious leaders, ambassadors, police chiefs, civil servants, guards and journalists, drug addicts, street children, refugees The ones that had escaped the war, the injured, the victims of violence, the traumatized, the mentally handicapped. Hand crafters, farmers, fishermen, landfill dumpers, entrepreneurs, hairdressers, cleaners. And lots and lots of children, sick, healthy, apathetic, and laughing, shy and lonely, abandoned and loved ones.
I have sat in seminars at the Finnish government, but also in Cusco, Bogota, Geneva, Manila, Armenia, Romania, the Philippines, California and England. I have spent a week at the Taizé Monastery and visited a bishop in Vatican. I have visited a church built in the 30th century in Armenia, Machu Picchu, safaris, Oxford halls, Kuala Lumpur markets, eating Mongolian delicacies in the footsteps of Chinggis Khan, got lost in Ulaanbaatar and sat in a lost at the heart of a slum.
I have slept for several nights on the floor of a terminal at Doha Airport and one night outside the terminal for flights within Manila. I have swum in the lagoons of Iloilo and seen mango farms on many continents. I have eaten fresh fruit for breakfast, ripened under the sun.
I’ve been touring slums in Columbia, Peru, Nairobi, the Philippines and seeing mountains of garbage, smelling lemurs, dodging urine rippling down the street and poop bags hanging from the branches of a tree. I have understood the world’s waste problem from a very different perspective than here in Finland.
Everywhere I have seen friendship, caring, taking responsibility, the power of change, joy, and the courage to succeed. I have seen a desire to be useful as well as a need to put a good turn around.
I have seen faith in the future and hope despite the past and losses. I have seen homeland love and pride, talent and entrepreneurship.
In all these places I told greetings from Finland – that there is a people far away who care about what is happening to you and think you have potential. They will bless and support you, share from their own.
The first eye-opening exposure happened to me when I was still a member of the Board of World Vision Finland. Board members had a field visit as part of the orientation, and I got to see Peru. I set out on a journey as a freshman, mentally unprepared for future experiences. Of course, I was trained in safety and travel rules.
The experience package of all my travels included a lot of joy, hope, comfort, and beauty, but also ugliness, injustice, illness, and danger. So was on this journey. The program included a slum site in Lima and a rural site at an altitude of almost four kilometers in the Pitumarca area. We had also left time for the tourist section, which included a visit to Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of the world. Quite an experience too. The train ride early in the morning along the Valley of the Kings between the mountains was magical.
The slum in El Salvador was the first slum experience of my life. The slum is a wildly grown residential area of hundreds of thousands of people, where small, corrugated sheet metal huts were built side by side on the hillside. There was no water supply system, waste management or other infrastructure in the area, electricity and water were procured in a very creative way.
We visited kids ’clubs and met with youth and volunteer groups. We listened to songs and performances. We were amazed by the brisk and wonderfully courageous attitude of the children and young people who approached us. Each youth group had a president, a treasurer, and a secretary. They had accurate accounting and responsibilities. I later realized this to be an integral part of organizing youth groups according to our model.
The day in the slum was long and toilet breaks were difficult to arrange. We were still on the edge of the slum when many of our party felt the need of visiting a toilet. Our host arranged for us to visit a local dentist. At the time, I thought this reception would be particularly rudimentary or dirty, as it lacked hand washing facilities and toilet paper, for example. Later, this belief was corrected. Although this doctor did not have the opportunity to wash his hands himself, his reception with his porcelain bowls was quite upscale. To those concerned, I can tell you that for us, replacement cups, handkerchiefs and handbags were standard. The next toilet break was high on the hills in the core of the slum There, the friendly mother of one the kids in the kids club let us visit her home. Their toilet was a deep hole in the wall of the mountain, where, apparently, for several years had already accumulated stuff into a pearly and splashing slurry. The smell of ammoniac was overwhelming.
The slums employed volunteers to guide children’s clubs, provide health education and they also reviewed families related to children’s well-being. We chatted with a group of three women. I was impressed that after a long day at work they still volunteered. They left down the mountain slope for work in the early hours of the morning, mostly as helpers for middle-class families, and returned late into the slope to carry the family’s food. I asked them the secret of their endurance and the answer came as if from one mouth: I get joy by helping others. It is a pleasure to be useful and share of my own.
Malnutrition is a constant problem for slums and these health volunteers, among other things, taught families to coagulate chicken blood into cubes. They then added these cubes to, for example, chocolate bars or ordinary food. The mothers also told the story of a story about a member of a children’s club, say Eduard. The house of Eduard’s family burned down completely, and they lost everything, even the small possessions they had. The other boys at the kids’ club came up with handmade Christmas cards, which they then sold to provide to Eduard’s family. With that income and the help of other community members, Eduard and his family were able to build a new corrugated iron shack for themselves.
With the help of these people, I realized the importance of paying back all the good.
According to research, being useful and recycling good are also important factors in current working life here in the Nordic countries. The best employers allow their employees to pay back the good they receive to those in need. It makes them feel proud of their own employer. Those who are tired or frustrated at work get new enthusiasm and commitment when they sometimes get to look for perspective on their own problems or just for the sheer joy of helping to do relief work together with others.
After the slums of Lima, our journey continued above Cusco to an altitude of about four kilometers. For the first day, we got used to the thin air in Cusco. That was the experience. Climbing even the smallest stairs made me breathe heavily and my head was constantly aching. Even coca tea did not help the problem as promised. Despite continued fatigue, we continued our journey through breathtaking landscapes toward the rural countryside. For the night we always returned to Cusco and the next day we drove back for an hour-long journey back to the village. At the village we had a wonderful reception committee, and I was able to practice first of my many speeches to come. There was a power outage in the middle of the ceremonies, but one was obviously used to them as the ceremony went on uninterrupted. We were presented with wonderful hand-embroidered Peruvian beanies and scarves knitted from alpaca wool. I heard about the Peruvian attitude towards knitting and weaving. It is a meditative work and every pattern has its meaning. A crooked wave with circles depicts a river. The circles are the eyes. The river describes life and its variations, turbulences. The function of the eyes is again to remind that when it is the storm of all, one should remember to keep the eyes open and see all the possibilities.
School visits were memorable. The breeding of guinea pigs was impressive. Peruvian youth in rural areas are lost after school, boys go to work in the mines and girls drift into prostitution. Supporting business and start-ups was vital and guinea pig breeding is one of them. The goal of World Vision was for children to be treated well in families and communities, and for them to be able to understand the text they read and solve math problems. The organization works with the authorities to ensure that the training continues after they have completed the project.
Our work is concrete teaching and guidance on, for example, activating children, teaching parents to show affection. Cultivation skills, craft skills, raising guinea pigs, civic skills and awareness of one’s own rights, and functioning in society we parts of the teachings. Children were coached to be the change makers of future for a safe, just and equal society.
Nutrition and hygiene were also taught, such as food storage. There were already good measurable results from nutrition education.
Later in Finland I made one of our sponsors upset when telling a story about guinea pigs , appalled she withdrew her support.
All the encounters in Peru with young people and children, insecure beginners and nervous speakers – be they mayors or students – made me make an internal decision that I hope will hold. Every time I have the opportunity, I try to take the opportunity to say something encouraging and beautiful to another person, especially when he or she feels the need for it. I practiced this on my trip to Peru in my thank you speeches. I told you how brave and brisk their children are and how great it is the adults to be seen as gentle educators. I told how we saw the long-term and tenacious work they had done, how we were going to praise Peru, the Peruvians, the Peruvian nature and all those hard-working people in our projects, when we go to Finland. I told them that they will be doing well and that the future of Peru is in good hands. Of course, not all signs indicated that direction. Much remains to be done and there were many who were clearly not interested in pursuing common cause, but what about it.
It is difficult to use words of encouragement. It is difficult to look at another beautifully. I would think it can be practiced – not as a technique and glued on top, but in a way that changes my own thinking and shows through. What if I started to see opportunities around me in every young and growing child? Sometimes, though, I’m so full of myself again and turned in that I don’t even notice the opportunities around me or the needs of others.
On the Peru trip I hade one colleague with me who had nice joyful eyes and I mentioned this to her. She replied (half jokingly) that she could not believe it. Years back in preschool, an other kid had told her she had ugly eyes, especially when she was laughing. She had been carrying these sentences with her for many years. Are we equally carrying the sentences, shen somene has praised or encouraged us?
Twenty praises may at best replace one bark.
Kenia – Attitude counts
Kenya’s travels were a strange combination of shock and admiration. I made several trips to Kenya, sometimes a couple of times a year. I lost my heart to Kenya and it always left a mark – if not elsewhere, then at least in the stomack. At first after returning, I always visited a lab to check for potential germs, but pretty quickly I just learned that there is a Kenya belly again and yes it will calm down. During the trips, we ate a lot of rice. Also fruits and ciabati were great delicacies that often kept the stomach in shape. On slum days, we wnt on wht the power of protein bards and bottled water.
It’s no wonder I’m starting my part with Kenya on stomach-related issues. In fact, whatever the journey, it didn’t take long as we already knew the level of stomach activity in the entire party. It does matter. Better completely clogged than a complete mess. Taxi drivers and some drivers outside the company let off their gases without hindrance, but the rest of us tried to curb our own situation and its development. The toilets and their location and condition also caused a lot of discussion. Toilets, on average, was always a groundhole toilet with a shaky board door that usually didn’t close properly. We argued over whether to go there forwards or backwards. We decided it was better to look in the direction of the door. Then at least it possible to know what surprises are coming. In addition, it is a good idea to practice squatting just before the trip. There have been situations where an untrained toilet visitor has had to get help to get up from a squat position due to bad knees, for example. However, it was quickly trained to locate spiders and other creatures, the location of extra splashes, and to agree on shifts and paper supplies between the team.
Packing for travels got better everytime. It was a good idea to include protein bars and instant oatmeal to keep the energy levels appropriate in case no other food stayed inside. Antimalarial drugs sometimes caused headaches, insomnia, or strange dreams. The most appropriate time to take daily medication was in the morning to minimize sleep disturbance. A small shoulder bag that could hold a bottle of water, hand sanitizer, nuts or a bar of protein, a cell phone and a notepad was good to carry. Preferably zipped. Good shoes that allowed for sudden departures when needed and isolated the urine flowing in the middle of the slums were necessary. This is also because the bacterias wouldn’t get in in a case of a crack in th eole of a foot. The material of the socks was also relevant, as in hot and dusty conditions I wanted to make sure my feet stay dry and clean. As a tip for others, tight synthetic sports socks work well. A hat and sunscreen are also required. Sunglasses were often awkward to wear because I wanted to face people eye to eye, with open eyes. Your hands were usually in heavy use when you got back in the car after all the handshakes and touches. Especially with children, there was no way I could prevent contact, and I didn’t want to. Because we were an organization focused on child protection, it was very important to take children into account. You are a brand, it is said in the corporate world as well. As a person advocating for children’s rights, it’s not appropriate to get irritated from children crying on an airplane, at least visibly.
By looking at the children I learned to see and evaluate the situation in the family. A child that was reactive was a good sign. He probably felt safe. The quiet and apathetic child worried. We visited villages where such a big woman with a fair skin had not been seen before. Then the children would ran away in horror or burst into panic-like crying. After a while they pointed the finger on me sayig: Mzungu! White face.
On some trips, depending on the theme, there was so much ugliness, evil, and darkness that it really felt inconsolable. Fortunately, we were always able to draw our attention to the glimmers of light as well. I realized that even the slightest light illuminates the darkness very effectively. All you need is a candle flame or a cell phone light.
Light overcomes darkness, we have hope. According to research, young people in Kenya are the most hopeful young people in the world. The Finns are at the tail end of the same list. That is an interesting topic. How has Finland, which has been the happiest country in the world for several years, shine in a completely different light from the perspective of hope? In the study, the definition of happiness is based on, among things as good life expectancy, education, social security, and a lack of corruption, not so much on how we feel. I once sat at the same table at a seminar with a representative from Burundi, and that is when we got the results of the happiness survey. Finland was number one and Burundi was third last. I told my colleague how the Finns reacted to the news and we laughed a lot. We’re happy, but we don’t feel like it.
The theme of one of our trips to Kenya was to collect miracles and people’s stories about them. In order to understand the greatness of miracles, we first had to see the darkness from which miracles rose.
The Korogotcho slum in Nairobi is the most notorious. It is home to extreme poverty and pollution and is built around a large dump site. Becoming a criminal and a prostitute is much more common there than moving out of a slum. Over the course of two days, we explored this life by walking along the alleys of the slum guided by a former slum youth.
Sewage and faeces flow through the narrow alleys of the slum. The alleys are so narrow that at times we had to walk sideways avoiding the sharp corrugated protrusions. The flying toilet is a plastic bag that is stuffed with poo and then thrown into the environment, just about anywhere. Indeed, these bags could be seen hanging from the branches of trees. The children’s school road is in the middle of the sewers. The small, bare feet, inserted into the broken plastic sandals, progressed deftly and surely in the alleys of slums. People with disabilities dragged themselves among the filth. Diseases, cholera and typhoid, HIV, malaria and diarrhea, are common. Many end up sniffing glue, burning illegal alcohol, and by any means trying to reach a state where reality doesn’t feel so bad.
We visited a school with 270 children in the same space. There was also a school kitchen, office and rest areas in the same space. The schoolchildren had been divided into four classes by sacks hanging from the ceiling, from toddlers to eight-year-olds. School food cost 10 shillings a day (9 cents). Not everyone could afford it. The school was run by volunteers because there were not enough state schools available for slum residents.
Armed robberies are daily in the slums. The dump site, located in the middle of the slum, is a battlefield. The waste brought in is a hot currency that is being fought for. To survive in a dump site, you have to have be armed and you have to be witty and strong. Several thousand people live and work in the dump sites.
I will never eat (and leave) food in planes again without thinking about the dump site residents. One of them told me that Tuesday was a great day at the landfill, because then the waste from KLM’s flight was brought to a certain corner of the dump site. There were many delicacies, pizza and burgers. The waste of one is the treasure of the other.
The girls at Slum sell themselves at a price that is impossible for a Westerner to comprehend. We heard the story of a girl who sold herself for five shillings. It’s such a small amount of money, about four cents, that a Finn can’t even imagine. Of course, we doubted the whole story. What could you say with that kind of money? For example, you can get bread crumbs swept from the bakery floor. When bread is sliced in large bakeries, it always becomes crumbs. The crumbs are dropped on the floor and swept into piles. With five shillings you get a small bag of those breadcrumbs.
We visited one of the homes in the heart of the slum. It was a small room where everything was at hand. The large family may have had the same size space as the dressing room in my own home. Everything reportedly happened in the same room. Mom sold herself and illegal liquor. The children lived in the same space where drunk customers were served.
All this was shown to us by our colleague who had lived and grown up in this reality. Of his group of eleven boys, only two survived, the other one is in prison and the other worked for World Vision.
We followed closer the stories of seven slum youths. These seven had been selected for the World Vision Youth Employment Program. Each of them had been found, interviewed, and accepted into the program from very difficult circumstances, usually through some church or congregation in collaboration with World Vision employees. After their vocational training, they have been invested in and trusted en equipment to practice their profession, such as an oven or a camera.
Once the young people had their lives on new tracks, they would each mentor and support dozens of new entrepreneurs. So tens become hundreds, hundreds thousands. We interviewed these mentored entrepreneurs. There were entrepreneurs, merchants, soap makers, confectioners and others in the beauty, catering, information technology and bakery industries. Entrepreneurship started with the theme ”Small to Big”. First, five donuts are made and sold. The profits from it will be used to buy more ingredients to make more products. A young woman who started making soap said her business idea was to sell soaps to schools. Many schools said they already have a soap supplier. However, the girl did not give up, but left samples and always returned to the customers who had already rejected her. Now she supplies soaps to six schools and has already expanded into shampoos she makes herself.
These young entrepreneurs catch up on life and move out of the slum to slightly better areas, help their families move out, start their own families and further expand their businesses. However, each of them returns to their former homelands to help those like them and thus put a good turn around.
The stories of young entrepreneurs are wonderful. They told us how ‘they love their own sweat’, enjoy the results of their work. Entrepreneurship has taught in life something that has not been learned from anything else in life. They have been trusted and given initial capital. They have been able to show themselves and others their success.
I learned many things from them:
• You can lead yourself
•Never give up
• Write the story of your own life. Hold the pen in your hand. If you don’t hold the pen, someone else will write your story.
•Take it easy. Do the right things.
• Wait, be patient.
• Nothing comes easily. Climb the stairs step by step.
• Where you come from does not determine where you are going.
• You should not live with anger.
• Think about what you have, not what you don’t have.
I want to learn this spirit and attitude. It is worth bringing more to us in Finland as well. And through these stories, it can be done.
There was a school in Slum where the children received perhaps their only meal, instruction and safety on a daily basis. A group from a small town in Finland had donated a new kitchen and boiler to the school. The kitchen was built so that the smoke did not go into the classrooms and there were decent facilities for counters, for example. There was a cook in the school and every child got perhaps the only meal of the day made from a new pot. The two- and three-year-olds even had mattresses for rest. The children spent eight hours a day at school.
A somehow retarded man was studying at the school of a member of a youth employment program and learned to write his own name. When he learned to write his own name, he was able to open a bank account and continue his business as a paper towel dealer. No more begging. I also remembered a young woman, the daughter of a single parent selling illegal liquor. She is now a catering entrepreneur who employs 13 young people, trains and mentors them, is a successful business woman, wife and mother.
Exhausted from the slum, we headed to the countryside in Mogotia to see a different kind of life. We still had in mind collecting stories and understanding miracles.
We heard stories of young girls being beaten, robbed and raped on a school trip. We were told that children could not sleep in their homes. They are sent on the back of the night to survive on their own. These children sleep on the branches of trees and in warehouses, anytime, anywhere. Sometimes a young man might take such a 12-year-old girl or younger to sleep next to him and invite him to be his wife.
Dormitories have been built for the girls so that they can go to school safely. There is a barbed wire fence around the dormitory. The new toilet and shower ensure that they are not raped or abducted if they go out in the evening to wash or toilet.
Many young boys become alcoholic. Others drop out of school in the middle of everything to support their families. Many of them are children of single mothers and they do not have a father model. No one tells them about growth and occupation, responsibilities and boundaries. They are not taught respect, nor are they respected.
This is what I mean with ugliness.
In the midst of all this, miracles happen. People who raise their heads, start rewriting their lives, find someone who believes in them, or just run away from the middle of it all. These men and women are so grateful for their new life that they want to pay back all the good they get.
In the countryside, we met families with healthy and lively children, happy mothers, and working fathers.
One family was an example in a hygiene and housing program. They were advised on how to do dishes outdoors, wash their hands after going to the bathroom, and build a toilet. In the past, they went on a plot of land in a pit, from where the waste then drifted into the drinking water during the rain. Cholera and typhoid were constant as guests. “We’re healthy now,” they said, using very simple and inexpensive means.
The herd of the other family was obese and produced more than twice as much milk as before. They had been taught to manage the forest so that not everything was cut down. Trees were pruned and grown, shoots were cleared and hay was harvested. With a few simple tools like a knife and a hoe, the farmer managed his forest. The cattle got grass, the grass grew in the shade of the trees. Mom received fuel from pruned branches that she had previously had to pick up in hours. The cows milked the milk and the children received treatment.
Volunteers do this counseling work and are trained with local funds with common funds, some of which come from Finnish supporters through organizations, for example.
We visited the countryside, a school that had a girls ’shelter. The house had indoor showers and toilets. We took 20 kilos of reusable sanitary towels sewn by Finnish volunteers there so that the girls could also go to school during their periods.
These are miracles that can only be understood when you first see ugliness.
Choices matter – boundaries and teachings, encouragement and promise, trust and support.
Kenyans know how to party, welcome, give gifts, play, and laugh out loud. They like colors and laugh at your jokes. They are easy to delight, especially by learning to greet and thank in their own language. On long car journeys, we told stories and played riddles and sang. Kenyans are also somewhat hierarchical. I had to be careful about what I said and expressed my wishes because they used to be taken seriously and started to be implemented right away. The front seat was usually reserved for me as it was comfortable. Other members of the party, whoever the celebrities, traveled in the back of the minibus. Because of this, I got to know the drivers and their work well. The driver also has a lot of responsibility for safety and planning the entire complex schedule. The roads are dangerous, especially in the slums and deep in the countryside, where no other cars were just visible. Anything could happen on the way, and the unexperienced quests themselves often caused unexpected security situations. Although the work of many workers in the organization is dangerous, especially in conflict and disease areas, the majority of deaths are in traffic and drivers.
One dangerous situation for us was precisely due to the lack of our own trained driver. For some reason we had been put in a regular, certainly checked, taxi. I also had one photographer and Finnish goodwill ambassador on board. The weekly schedule and descriptions had been tight, and we hadn’t had time to go to the slums yet. As we drove past a slum, we asked if we could pop into that car very quickly. The driver set out to take us deep into the slums. At some point, I noticed that he himself was starting to get nervous about the situation. We couldn’t turn on the muddy and narrow road and got a lot of attention on our part. The equipment that came with us, including cell phones and cameras, was worth a few years’ salary in the slum and we didn’t have guards with us. We finally came to an area like the square where we got to turn around. However, the car got stuck in the mud. Getting out of the car was out of the question. One had to breathe calmly and hope and pray to keep the tires on the muddy road. Large numbers of people began to gather around us, and they were not approaching in the time of help. Just in time we managed to turn around, but next we were stopped by the sheriff of the area. He started asking us for written permission to move and shoot pictures in the slums. We didn’t have. I had to reassure our goodwill and use the power of my business card to prove the importance of our work to the youth of Kenya. The taxi driver had to pay the sheriff a little tea money and then we got ahead. The sheriff later emailed me, but I didn’t reply.
We had been on the road for a long time, sitting for an hour in jeeps getting an ‘African massage’ on the so-called roads. We had woken up early and seen difficult things. We had intense conversations and lived with rice and biscuits. So there was a lot of travel fatigue. The stomach activity began to show up in the speeches and the day was shining hot. There would be one more village to visit and we were late for schedule. My travel companions were already starting to convince me to change our schedule. They suggested that skipped the last destination and didn’t go to visit that a distant school and community. The Kenyans always said the place was very close and then we ended up sitting in the car for at least three hours. Everything is relative.
I didn’t change our schedule, and we left for the final stage. We found the journey so awkward and long that I began to wonder for myself where on earth these people really live. Someone said out loud, ”How can anyone live here?”
When we arrived, we were greeted by a singing and dancing group with welcome greetings. The village chief approached first and said, “Welcome! God has given us this land. This is our home! ”
We came there in big jeeps, with water bottles and sunglasses. The villagers talked about their lives, the search for water and the drought. The nearest clinic was 25 miles away. They walked there because there were no means of transport. Sometimes the mother who was giving birth was carried that 25 miles. It could happen that both the child and the mother died on the way.
We had been awaited and a program had been arranged for us. We went to a local school to meet with youth leaders. The bold speech of one young girl was memorable. She declared herself the next president of the youth group, the first girl of its kind.
I got the feeling that it was me who was behind God’s back. He looks much broader than we can guess.
[Next Body Paragraph]
Uganda has been said to be a distant little cousin of Kenya. The country’s population doubles every twenty years. The population projection for 2045 is over 80 million. Twenty years ago (2000) there were twenty-three million Ugandans. The country’s violent history is evident in many. Poverty and misery are always present. In Uganda, manhood is measured by the number of boys, which partly explains the population growth. Homosexuality is criminalized. Arrests and convictions of gender minorities are commonplace. To me, Ugandans seemed more serious and reserved compared to their eastern neighbor.
In Uganda, I encountered more people, children, and adults who had never seen a white face so close before. While visiting a secluded village in the middle of Uganda, we were shown a football showdown. I happened to have a few football games with me. Their surrender caused almost mass hysteria, as the earlier balls had been made from banana leaves. Without realizing it, I first gave the ball to the boys ’team. To my delight, we noticed that the girls began to loudly defend their own right to football and the girls ’team. We considered this a happy indication of progress, as girls had not used to demand equal treatment in the past.
On the border of Uganda and Kenya is a city where we did youth work and work with street children. The stories of street children are sadder than sad. Some of them have been abandoned on the street just two years old. There they tried to survive in the company of older children. The older children, even those under the age of ten, offered these little ones some gas to smell. That took away the feeling of hunger and cold. They searched food from piles of garbage and slept in the sewers. Very often they also fell into the hands of criminals and were never heard from again. Our organization looked for placements for these children and tried to improve their conditions. We met one family whose parents were former street children themselves. In addition to their own two daughters, they had taken four sons from the street to take care of them. They did it with love, knowing exactly what fate the boys were saved from.
We always prepared carefully for the day’s program during the field trips. In the mornings we started with morning prayer. Before each ride, we asked for protection and blessing for our day. Morning devotion was an important source of concentration and strength for the staff and me. Singing together, carrying the burdens of others, and sharing the blessing helped focus on the challenges of the day. From a morning devotional held in our office in Uganda, I wrote down the following reflection that suits us all:
– Look at the blessings around you, not failures.
– Use your words to encourage, comfort and motivate.
– Don’t use your words to please others.
– Don’t talk about yourself or you’ll become selfish.
– Never forget to take the opportunity to comfort or encourage.
– If you have had trials, use them to encourage and help others.
– Remember: “The higher you go the cooler it gets
– Smile! It tells the other that you have seen him, he is welcome and accepted.
Who claims meetings are boring? Here is a small description of the morning meeting in the municipal disability coordination group. My colleague was in charge of the part of the meeting, so I had time to observe and take notes. So I started writing in my notebook like this: Awesome play, people are coming and going, topics are changing and just as we start to get into it, someone leaves the room. The meeting may not begin until the chairman is present. He’s late. Appears later with crutches. The agenda was discussed at length. An eight-item agenda was reached, listing prayer, presentations, remarks, discussion, and follow-up. A few members should be heard to leave for the next meeting at 9 a.m., 15 minutes from now. The room smells like Wunderbaum. The phones are ringing. The participants of the meeting alternately bow under the table to take calls. Everyone has a notebook and a pen and they write frantically when they don’t answer calls or change places. There are dozens of us sitting in plastic chairs in a small room.
The situation of people with disabilities in the city is really bad. It turned out that cars, for example, would not stop if they saw a blind man crossing the road. Cars will also not stop if a disabled person is crawling across the street. Cars go around the crawler and traffic continue.
At the meeting, the man opposite was asleep. Once again, there will be one late (35 mins) and we went back on the agenda: “Allow me to welcome …” In the corner of the small room, a side meeting began, in which four different attendance lists and guestbooks were filled out. The talk continued about the situation of people with disabilities. They are hidden and ashamed. The eyes of the man opposite pounded on the fringes of sleep until his phone rang. The man replies in a whisper, “I’m in a meeting”. The other man doesn’t sit still for a moment, gets up to look for his camera and starts shaking pictures with the flash. At the same time, his phone rings loudly. The speech by the representative of World Vision Uganda continues uninterrupted. The phone rings again. The man opposite wakes up to clap. Before the next item on the agenda, a new person enters the room, saying he apologizes for the delay. Not the Ugandan habit, he claims. The program continues. Those who were due to leave for the meeting starting at 9 a.m. have still not left at 9:25 p.m. The opposite fell asleep again and startled at times when the phone rang. Next, the opposite woman’s phone rings. He answers and speaks for a moment, whispering. The phone of the man who arrived fifty minutes late rang. I hear that the laws of Uganda have been heard, but their implementation is not working. Opposite sleeping again. The woman’s phone rings. He gives a message to the speaker, who stops to read it in the middle of his speech. The woman leaves for a meeting that began at 9:45 a.m., where she is to serve as secretary. The other participant also leaves. A side meeting continues in the hallway. The lively man has now spoken for 30 minutes. It turns out that one of the latecomers is blind. The final words last seven minutes. At one hour and 25 minutes, my colleague gets out loud. The opposite guy takes the interlocutors again. The closing remarks for the one-hour meeting, which began at 8.30 am, began at 1 p.m. The meeting ended at two o’clock.
When I know the long days and long walks, restless nights, and hefty sleeping pads, I immediately forgive all the meeting snags. We came there in big jeeps after a good night’s sleep at the hotel and a good breakfast. It was easy to make observations about that position, especially knowing that the air-conditioned car was waiting for us again.
On top of all that, the issues related to the rights of the disabled in that village also progressed and little by little.
People with disabilities can be full members of society. They just need some practical aids like crutches, wheelchairs or sticks for the blind, depending on the quality of the disability.
As people with disabilities were ashamed and hidden in Uganda, their situation worsened, and they were left alone. The mere availability of clean water and the independent operation of toilet facilities raised the dignity of a person with a disability to a level where his or her ability and confidence in independent activity changed radically. The transformation of such a person into an independent part of a functioning community is significant. He becomes useful and productive.
One of Uganda’s refugee camps has a young man who was born without hands as the secretary of disability activities. This young man is also an entrepreneur who sells and makes liquid soap. He is also an artist and portrait painter as well as a university student. He has no hands, but that has not made him incapable of living independently.
Our work in refugee camps focused on improving the quality of life of refugees with disabilities through better hygiene and entrepreneurship teaching. We decided at the Finnish office that we would talk about the rights and opportunities of people with disabilities everywhere. Thanks to one of our Finnish experts, we were able to get involved in global projects. This is what the old marketing rule of repetition and concentration was about. The same thing is repeated regularly to several different audiences. We featured disability work in an international organization, with our external partners, such as the EU and ministries, our sponsors and staff. We kindly kept repeating stories.
My last trip before the pandemic was to Uganda. I visited northern Uganda, first in a new development project area and then in a refugee camp on the Congo-South Sudan border.
Our new destination was in a very poor area that had been under the violence and horror of guerrillas for decades. Children had been stolen as child soldiers and families had been driven out of their homes in the middle of the night. They had had to witness brutal violence and killing. The villagers were traumatized and had a lot of mental health problems. In addition, a disease like epilepsy appeared in the area, which killed one quickly. Our work was just beginning, and we met with area volunteers, office staff, area decision makers and community members.
On this journey, the possibilities and conditions for communality and empowerment in change management were finally clarified for me. One village we visited was so poor that not everyone even had one piece of clothing. The children looked sick, the women dirty and powerless, the men exhausted. However, we heard that within a few months of starting our work, they had already decided together to send all the children from the village to school and to start building toilets for families to use.
There were about 30,000 people living in the area, which we had divided into clusters of about ten families. It was easier for the groups to have community discussion and coaching. Even in a place like this, all the change started with celebrating what we already have! From my point of view, they had little to nothing. More specifically, they had whatever: a hammer, a pair of hands, a ground, fabrics – and each other. I will discuss this model of change management in more detail later.
Our other destination was in the Ebola area, a very hot and dry place on the Congo border. Ebola had just reappeared and, of course, placed strict hygiene on us. Admittedly, we danced and shook hands in the same way as in other places. This remained my last target before the pandemic. Maybe that’s why the experience sank deep and impressively. We toured the refugee camp and the surrounding community to meet families and learn about their business and life. We also visited to check the state of construction of the water pipeline. We had a joint project with the State Department in the region.
We visited the home of a single parent. She had four children and the husband had left her. She had no legs, but she carried the smallest of his children on her back. She breastfed, took care of garden and home chores. She had been helped to get a small hut for his family and seeds and tools to keep the garden. She also had a wheelchair, which she used for longer trips for water . We sat in her ‘living room’ and discussed the children and plans for the future. This woman was bright and courageous. She was full of gratitude for her helpful neighbors, for getting into a refugee camp, and for aid organizations. One wish she made: it would be nice to have a few sleeping mats so that children would not have to sleep on the ground.
I still very clearly remember all the discussions we had in the area, because they left emotional traces. One man had fled the war from South Sudan, lost his parents on the way, lost his children and wife, and was injured in the war himself. He had gotten into a refugee camp and started searching for his missing family members. With some help he had set up a small kiosk and a restaurant next to it. He said he will survive on his own now and hopes we will give our aid to those who are still in a worse situation than he is.
The village surrounding the refugee camp was also taken care of so that they did not feel like second-class citizens to the refugees. They got to the same clean water and entrepreneurship training with others. We met a mother and her son in his thirties outside the camp. The mother was physically disabled, and the son was blind from birth. This young man was by far the most charismatic and charming young man I had ever met. He had studied as far as possible and enjoyed his new opportunity in coaching Young Entrepreneurs. There he said he had acquired the status of a kind of spiritual teacher. He belonged to the local Catholic Church and knew his Bible thoroughly. They had received help from us to garden and keep a few chickens and goats and had been on their own for a few years.
The joy and gratitude of entrepreneurs with disabilities was contagious. They had been given a new opportunity and they were able to influence the direction of their own lives. In addition, communality and joint educational events welded them together. Their many years of loneliness were over. World Vision commissioned an extensive survey among children with disabilities. The thing they wanted most was friends. That is probably a universal wish. The power of doing and being together should not be underestimated.
At the same time, we asked about six hundred children around the world what they think makes life perfect. The answer is moving in its simplicity. Sleep.
When I get to sleep in peace, I’m fine. There is no hunger, thirst, cold, hot. I am not sick and I am not in danger. My family is safe and close too.
Cambodia is a green and beautiful backpacker’s paradise. Cambodia is also a sex tourist’s paradise.
Cambodia’s history is raw. Only 40 years have passed since the Khmer Rouge regime. Even today, Cambodians live in fear and shadow of an unpredictable death, for whom a change or saying an opinion could mean death. More than 70% of Cambodians are under the age of 30, with more than half of children experiencing sexual violence. I remembered the shelf at the counter of a market in Phonm Penh market, where condoms and Viagra were available in addition to chewing gum near the checkout.
Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge had a dream. Their goal was to create a utopian agrarian society in the country by destroying the urban middle class, from whose ashes the new man of the future would rise. For this purpose, the cities were emptied, and the population was forcibly relocated to the countryside for forced labor in the ”fields of death” . During the Khmer Rouge regime, more than a million Cambodians died of malnutrition, disease and summary executions, but much higher estimates have been made.
We visited the Killing Field, which told a stark story of blatant violence. I saw, among other things, a tree whose trunks had been crushed by the skulls of several babies in front of the mothers’ eyes just before they both went into a mass grave. The Red Seamen had a saying that ‘roots must also be uprooted so that bad human material cannot grow again’. Because of this, the children were also killed.
World Vision’s office had 230 employees at the time and only three survived.
(The Phnom Penh government has been accused of failing to bring former Khmer Rouge leaders to justice for the crimes of their regime. It was not until 2006 that a UN genocide tribunal was established before the murderers.
This shadow went with us all the way through all the encounters. Every person we met had been ravaged by this history. Yet we met beautiful and tenacious people who had given us a chance at a new beginning after receiving a small initial impetus from us. Here are a few stories.
We visited 15, 10 and 8 year old girls. They have been living alone in that leaking sieve for five years now. Mom and Dad visit home about once every few months. Other times they are far away at work. When they get home, they reportedly find it necessary to punish the girls corporally. Sometimes, when they were really scared or rained heavily, the girls got to sleep on the floor with a neighbor’s. World Vision has launched a children’s club near the girls ’house that brings security and control to the girls. The girls had also been recruited to our sponsorship program and they expect a Finnish sponsor to guarantee schooling, protection and nutrition. The youth club had noticed the beating of the oldest girl and had told our staff about it. In the past, no one had cared about children being abused.
Another family was on the outskirts of the area. The father of the family has lost his mind after being a government soldier. The father occasionally receives medication from a health clinic, but otherwise terrorizes his family with fear. Indeed, the worst fear of the mother is that one day the father will kill them all. The three youngest boys still live at home. Three older children have already moved away from work in pursuit of work – just over 10 years old. During a scene of madness, the father had asked all the boys around and threw boiling water over them. The big sister had spent long huts tied to a tree and the subject of violent scenes. The mother was 48 years old. He took care of all the family’s affairs, small farms, chickens and in addition, for a small fee, took care of the landlord’s cows, mango trees, cashew trees and went further into the fields to work.
The two youngest sons in this family had been recruited according to our sponsorship program so that they could get into school and safety and have a chance in this life.
Access to clean water is problematic. Some wells still have tires, and they are on top of a hill, but mostly we saw dug wells. When a flood occurs, when the water level may rise to the waist of an adult, the manholes become contaminated, and children and animals fall there. In addition, the situation without a toilet causes all the piles piled on the fields to set in motion and contaminate the wells, which then infect people. Among other things, World Vision has set up well cooperatives and savings cooperatives, from which money can be borrowed, for example, to build toilets. In addition, we have supplied filters for clean water.
The children find it nice to go to school, but that too is problematic. Families move unpredictably in pursuit of work, sometimes taking their children with them, sometimes leaving them alone at home. In both cases, school is interrupted.
One teacher has three grades in their class, 40-50 students. Teacher training is in a bad state, because all the teachers of the teachers were killed at the time. The Khmer Rouge program included killing all the scholars: priests, engineers, and anyone with soft hands or glasses.
Organizations can help with this, for example by providing remedial education for children in children’s clubs. Clubs are always built together with the village. The villagers donate the materials and the plot, as well as participate in the construction work. In this way, the issue becomes common.
Children have hope and a future. Every child needs to have a chance in this life. We, together with the Cambodians, set out to build this future, the most important of which are child protection and clean water. Change does not have to mean death. Even after a genocide, life can be born.
Cambodia, too, was remembered first and foremost by a new life and hope that just needs to be held. As we toured the villages, I noticed a courtyard that stood out because of its tidiness. I had a conversation with the mother of the family. He said he made a personal decision to stand out from the crowd and set an example for others. Cleanliness helps keep other lives and thoughts in order.
I learned to see how the decision to start a ten-year development program comes about. Before we decided to start it in this community, our local workers toured the area for a year and a half to find a suitable place. The right area was one that had a lot to improve and challenges, but there were also enough people who had hope and resilience and would be the first to get involved in the change.
The local and nutritious delicacy were all sorts of bugs that we too got to taste with chili and garlic. On the outskirts of the fields were white cloths spread to attract insects to the trap. We were also offered frogs ’legs and bats, the former tasting good and the latter untouched. We got to see the cashew farmers. In the past, I had no idea how troublesome it was to produce a cache. It takes a lot of time and patience.
We were also shown a tree whose sharp leaves were used during the Pol Pot to cut off the heads of unruly citizens.
It is easy to condemn, but it is difficult to position yourself and internalize another story. This came to be learned in many places. It would be so easy to condemn a former soldier who has lost his mind, but after twisting and hearing about the horrors he was forcibly involved in, it was difficult to approach his story before the verdict.
I will admit that at first I wondered out loud the families who left their children alone or in the care of relatives. Which mother does that? When we returned from the countryside where these abandoned children were, back to the capital, we decided to take a rickshaw and go see the suburbs. We sat there as tourists in a bar. I had a small handbag with the World Vision logo and one of the ‘waiters’ noticed it. She came to our table and started telling her story in a quiet voice without asking. She had two small children in the countryside in the care of her sister. She had the opportunity to see them a few times a year. There in the capital, he worked in bars in various positions without holidays. She lived in a small apartment where he took turns sleeping with other shift workers. She sent all the money earned to his sister, who took care of the livelihoods of her children and parents. This young woman said several times during her story, “I have no other option”.
During the travels, one must think very much about one’s own humanity. How far from me is a ruler, a perpetrator, or a thief? What if I was deprived of food and clean water if I got sick but still had to support a ‘no-nothing’ big family? What if my own safety or the safety of my children were threatened? Would I choose a safe life for my children in the countryside, even if it required my absence and my own sacrifices?
I got to know slum work in Colombia, on the shores of the Caribbean Sea. It was hot even though it was November. I never remember sweating so much. This beat the heat of Asia too! The slum was dirty and rubbish was pouring everywhere. However, residents had slightly better living conditions than in Africa, as several homes appeared to have TVs and refrigerators. Crime was a constant nuisance in the slum. We got to interpret a young woman who wondered how we could walk in a slum without being robbed. The answer was the World Vision attention vests we wore. They told us about our position in the slums and we received protection and respect.
Colombia’s work had focused on youth clubs and employment programs. Inland refugees were taught new professions and to take care of their families in the new area. The bands of the youth clubs were talented and fast-paced and made us dance too! It was sweet to meet a young woman supported by my own daughter who had already graduated from school. With Siiri’s support, she had been able to study in a bigger city.
The trip to the island of Iloilo took a long time. Due to domestic flight schedules in the Philippines, I ended up spending the night in the yard of a domestic terminal. I relied on the fact that in a visible place, with a backpack lounging on the bench, I would stay safe. The trip took over thirty hours and I arrived early in the morning just right to start my first day at work.
One of the purposes of the trip was to test a fieldwork method where we set foot in a slum to interview its residents. The waste problem of slums was taken as a special target. Globally, this is a huge problem.
We were taken to the destination by an open bus smaller than a van, where a large Westerner had to shrink himself to fit in. From there it was easy to follow the life of Iloilo from the ride, our destination was in a district called Molo. The deeper down the town we progressed the more colorful was life. There were flock of fruit vendors all around, with small kiosks full of disposable items. Filled with crowded motorcycles and rickshaws swaying past us. Some carried the entire set of sofas on their heads. The sofa seemed to have mostly styrofoam because it seemed hard and light, even though it was covered with a raffle plush fabric. The wild networks of diverse power lines criss-crossed the streets, leading deep into the staggers of the narrow alleys.
We walked to walk in small groups, followed by curious glances. At the end of an alley lined with narrow corrugated huts was a paradise-like bay of the sea shining blue, or so it seemed at first. More specifically, the beaches were full of rubbish and canisters and plastic debris floated in the ocean between idyllic fishing boats. There was no waste management in the area and no sewers. The air was sweatily hot and the sweat was running down my forehead and back. There were common water taps along the streets and a few of them were washing their hair along the street under a small trap of water.
We toured walking in small groups around the slum, stopping to chat with people. We wanted to conduct interviews on consumer behavior with respect to disposable shampoo socks. The two most popular brands were SunSilk and Head & Shoulders. Both men and women used these to wash their hair under common faucets along the streets. Poverty does not prevent people from needing to be fragrant, beautiful and clean.
The question was: Would you exchange this disposable shampoo for a recyclable bottle that you could always refill for the same price, but it would not become a waste product? The answer was a resounding no. There are several reasons for this. 1. There is money only occasionally and only for that one small package. 2. The current disposable package is beautiful and shiny, it has a well-known brand. 3. There is no space for the bottle. The cottage has no storage or lockable facilities.
I did the calculation. There are projected to have about 8.5 billion people in the world in 2030. 70% of the population lives in cities and a third of them in slums or similar conditions. If each of them used three disposable bags a week, it would make more than 300 billion trashes a year. And this is just one product used in slums! My first thought was: Boys, we’re going to lose this game. This realization later led me to go back to business.
One and a half days gave the necessary distance. We got to see the magnificent islands, lagoons and mango farms. A process began in my head, which later led back to business life. Nothing will change unless large companies change their operations. And they change nothing unless there is an economic benefit to them. The money needs to get moving.
In the Philippines, I experienced the first earthquake of my life. The magnitude of the quake was such that the hotel reception was hardly able to quote. In my room upstairs, it didn’t go unnoticed. I already had time to think about possible safety instructions and escape routes. Something more here.
The journey to Malaysia was different in nature from the others. I went there as an inspector to participate in a peer review of the Malaysian office processes. I stayed in tourism for a few evenings and took a tour around Kuala Lumpur. I got to taste the durian, which I think is one of the disgusting things. I don’t know which was worse, durian or Mongolian fermented horse milk.
The Malaysian office had one popular form of fundraising: the 48-hour famine. Tens of thousands of young people had gathered at the big stadium to fast while listening to their favorite bands and performers who wanted to support the fundraising project.
It was enlightening to go through the sister office’s processes and practices. Although World Vision has offices in 100 countries, the goal was common. Cultures and support groups were different, but the so-called end product, the opportunity for children in this life, was all the same. It was rewarding for me to be useful. I realized that I had acquired professional skills in managing the office that I was able to utilize more widely. Internal audits are laborious and tedious but necessary. In the organization, I got used to the fact that we had to be constantly ready to show the reliability of our operations, because we used the funds of others. Therefore, the importance of internal and external audits was also a selling point in fundraising. Personally, I would not rely on a grant organization with no administrative costs. So much time and energy goes into good and transparent governance that it does incur costs. The offices of the aid organizations have a duty to organize a review of their own activities in a cost-effective and transparent manner. This is where technology and clearly agreed metrics and practices help.
The journey to Mongolia was also different in nature. I traveled there as an internal fundraising consultant. I spent more than two weeks in Mongolia. My role was to support and consult the fundraising organization of the Mongolian office that had just begun. It was as if the office godmother was busy. I went through their supporter segments, Mogolan celebrities, and lifestyle issues where potential supporters move and what they think. We also toured local relief destinations. Again, I got to the landfill and the community that grew up around it. We visited schools and children’s clubs as well as a few yurts that served as a home for those living in the Ulaanbaatar landfill. Ulan Bator was somehow homely, after all we have a common neighbor, although there are thousands of kilometers in between. The city showed the old history of the great power, but also the effects of the Soviet era. On top of it all was a new, more modern Mongolia.
We took a weekend trip to Tzingis Khan’s places and ate Mongolian food at the magnificent yurt palaces. We spent the night in a yurt under the woolen blankets and woke up in the morning to the hoof of the hoofed horses. Some of us went horseback riding in the steppes and by the river in incredibly beautiful scenery.
I went to see my throat singing – very impressive – and I booked an appointment with a cosmetologist at the hotel, who gave my face a very Soviet beauty treatment. Only a few scabs remained. The trip to Mongolia ended in a toothache, which I considered best to treat in Finland. I recommend Mongolia as a travel destination. Its history is interesting and the conditions are very extreme in some places.
One of the seminar trips was to Armenia, which has a particularly interesting history. I hadn’t even dreamed of such a trip before. In Armenia, I felt at the heart of humanity, at the foot of Ararat. We visited a church that had been founded in the 300s and visited a place of remembrance of the Armenian genocide: never again. Unfortunately, these genocides have taken place and are taking place and cannot be addressed by the international community.
In Armenia, as in so many other places, boys are favored and little baby girls are aborted because of their gender. Armenia is well on its way to becoming a singles society. Defending the status of girls, even those who have not yet been born, has become the focus of organizations’ work in Armenia and neighboring countries.
this is where the thematic section begins, we move on from travel stories to themes
We had a year-long program with young people living in the slums of Nairobi, where a Finnish IT company online trained them on a monthly basis. The topics were such as making a business plan, marketing and pricing products, planning a sales territory, building additional sales, etc. We first went to Nairobi with one employee to interview the entrepreneurs for this program and agree on common forms of work and goals.
The underlying idea of this project was that the construction of sales and business follow the same laws, whatever the circumstances. Sales and marketing professionals in large corporations solve the same issues as their young entrepreneurial slums. The benefits are mutual, the experts of the Finnish organization have to simplify and strip down their processes to the very core, focusing on the most essential, in addition to which they feel that they are useful and have the opportunity to use what they have learned to help the poor. Young entrepreneurs, on the other hand, receive concrete advice and help to develop their business, but also listen to their ears and have regular accountability to take things forward.
The start-ups for the young people participating in the project included catering services, egg supply, plastic chair rental, cleaning services and IT training. Indeed, the year became really challenging for young entrepreneurs, as the election made the slums really restless and made it even more difficult to do business. Because of the election, we had to hold the closing ceremony remotely, but I went to the scene to share testimonies and give a final interview to the young people. Their comments about the past year caught the tears of a Finnish IT professional. The youngsters said they would not have survived that year without the monthly rehearsal meeting. “Monthly hot seat,” they said.
I gathered up the advice and insights of slum youth. What is the secret to their success and good business? Where does good sales come from? These lessons have been tested under extreme conditions.
– “We manage to continue because we have a goal and a dream. It’s good to understand what drives and motivates yourself. ”
”It is important to increase the number of future customers on a regular basis.”
– ”Know your customer.”
– ”If you have difficulty with your customer work, discuss it with the customer.”
– ”You can’t work alone, you need partners.”
– ”Start small and grow bigger.”
– “If you consider success only for yourself, it is useless. If you share it with others, it will become capital. ”
– ”Use your contacts to grow your network.”
– ”Price your product correctly and make a quality you can be proud of.”
– “Determination, affection and passion are more important than money. Every challenge is an opportunity. ”
– “Learn to trust yourself and inspire others. Going forward provides certainty. ”
– “Maintain your flame and passion. Don’t take reluctant people with you on your trip, even take a moment to go alone. ”
– ”Keep track of your progress.”
– ”Turn customer complaints into an opportunity to better serve them.”
– “Surrender is not an option. There will always be good and bad episodes for you. Do not give up.”
– ”Make sure you have a balanced cash flow.”
When I fell down the stairs at the cottage so that my hamstrings were torn off from my sitting bone, I had to turn to the help of family and friends for many things. At times I struggled with self-pity, but my experience of the reality of the refugee camps did not allow me to stay there for a long time. I wrote myself a story about my situation and compared it to Alex, who came to a refugee camp in Uganda, and his story.
Me and Alex, we’re both physically handicapped. I temporarily, Alex permanently. My handicap is fixed in the world’s best health care service and operated by a world class orthopedic surgeon, insurance coverage, and now I’m recovering. Alex’s disability could also have been helped as a child if there was health care.
We both have difficulty moving from one place to another, we have to use crouches to get around, except that Alex does not have any, he crawls.
I asked my friend to visit the City of Helsinki’s free equipment lending facilities covered by Finnish social security to get supplies for me, such as pliers, toilet seat elevation (Alex has no toilet), and sofa step (Alex has no sofa, Alex has no home).
We both have a hard time pulling a sock on the foot except Alex has no socks.
The visit to toilet is very uncomfortable for both of us without the tools, except that Alex does not have a toilet. No tools.
I can not put foot creme to my feet or shave my legs, I would buy it as a service if I would be allowed to sit down! What a tragedy.
Cooking is difficult when you can not reach or bend and balance is not good. Alex don’t have this problem as he eats the bread he happens to find and keeps it in his pocket (Alex has pants, or at least something like that)
I’m so annoyed as there are so beautiful and rare early summer days and I can not even go out that much to enjoy it in a good company. Alex can not get to the shadows, as he escapes the war from southern Sudan, dodging the horrible human masses and hiding in the bushes (3 days) Alex crawls a war escape 28km, 3km a day under the hot sun.
I was moving my house and I was nervous before hand when there was so much stuff that had to be moved from place to another, thankfully there were a lot of friends and family helping and everything went more than well. Alex’s family has been killed, Alex was alone. Alex does not have any stuff.
I have a lot of problems Alex does not have. A hairdresser’s visit, it is difficult without being able to sit. Having a shower after the surgery, I had to wait two! days. Sitting in restaurants and parks and enjoying the crowd is now at a break, I have to refuse the invitations and skip a lot of fun. Alex does not have these problems.
If Alex was a woman, she would have been raped because 50% of the disabled refugees would be raped. Alex’s story I do not know. I do not have this problem.
My wound is carefully operated in a sterile environment and ticks are removed in hospital, no infections , because the wound care is very important in Finland. Alex’s wounds have come from the fact that he has fled the war by crawling in a rocky desert for two weeks.
This week’s lesson has been to have a small, private glimpse of how small things can return human dignity to a disabled refugee. How important it is to maintain independence for your own hygiene, washing and clean water, aids and other people’s reliance and help. The question is about human dignity, for me and Alex.
Alex now has things well according to his own words. He made it to the Palorinyan Refugee Camp in Uganda. World Vision Finland, together with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, finances and works for the improvement of the water and toilet situation of disabled refugees in refugee camps. In addition, we help people with disabilities to acquire a livelihood for them to secure their own standard of living.
Alex is an entrepreneur, he has a grinding mill, Alex’s group of 7 called ‘Lomeriti-dara’ (the poor cannot get tired) received a grinding mill from World Vision. “This grinding mill is helping us earn some income. Fellow refugees bring their food for grinding every now and then. Some give us cash while others give us food in kind. Every two weeks we share the money, sometimes we decide to give it to one person if he/she has a very pressing need or a business idea that requires capital,I am able to buy books, pens, and also have some spare money to buy anything I want” Alex narrates.
Sales tools in an Ngo
Before I started at World Vision Finland, I had acquired a few proven sales management models for the toolkit. When I had no experience in NGO leadership, I used the tools I had. I share my experiences and observations.
Background and results
In 2021, Finland’s World Vision’s turnover was approximately EUR 12 million per year. Half of our revenue came from private and the other half from public funders. Our aid directly involved one million people, indirectly about three million.
– The acquisition of new sponsors quadrupled between 2014 and 2020, even though our staff was reduced by a third. Productivity in the organization had reached a good level.
– In addition, we had made up for the loss of public funding and secured our sources of income more evenly from a variety of sources.
– The cost of acquiring a new tire had fallen by about 30 percent since 2014.
– We had invested in marketing almost three times more than in 2014
– Our employee satisfaction has increased every year in all areas
– The money sent to the field, the destinations of our operations, increased every year.
– We had received commendable grades in external audits / inspections
Most importantly, we had achieved measurable results at our sites
We started talking about cash flow. We all needed to know where the money came from and what it was used for. We started to think in terms of income, not spending the budget.
We chose a clear focus as a child-centered actor. We talked to each other about the meaning and results of our work. We decorated our office with images related to our work and made sure everyone in our network understood the importance of our work. We tell stories about our encounters. Every employee had the opportunity and obligation to get to know our work in the target countries on site. In this way, everyone would have a personal relationship with the meaning and results of our work and how the results are done. This is product knowledge that I feel is important in product marketing. The product must form a personal relationship in all the tasks of the organization. Each employee must internalize the significance of their own task to the whole and be able to respond quickly and naturally to the question of the results and goals of our work and their own contribution to it.
As I worked with sales, it was important for me to word out and plan our operations so that we clearly understand the reality of both donors and recipients. Action planning cannot be based on one’s own internal desires and starting points if they are not first tested in the outside world. An organization that builds on the pursuit of individuals ’own expert values without contact with the outside world cannot function productively. Then time is spent on unproductive activities and one’s own personal preferences. At best, these combine: I can use my special skills productively for the common good, so I am employed by the organization. The organization does not exist to serve me.
– Donors, donors and funders – their reality.
– Children and communities – their reality.
– Our field workers and volunteers – their reality.
– Politics and global trends.
Planning an activity starts with goals, not with doing. First, we answer the question of what we have to do and what we should aim for. I decided to start planning for the financial year in relation to my goals. Although our cash flows had just been cut radically, we could not agree to declining targets. Yes, an attempt was made to explain to me that growing results cannot be achieved with a smaller budget. This is unacceptable, because then we would give ourselves a death knell and at the same time betray the promises we had made to the world’s poorest people.
It follows from this thinking that we need to learn to do things differently. Doing the old thing gets bad results. Goals that sound a little crazy bring productivity and creativity. Suddenly there is no time for irrelevance and the center of action becomes clearer.
The old doctrines of quantity, direction, and quality were introduced. We need to think carefully about our messages so that often enough, in many channels, in a timely manner, serving the interests of the target audience, we communicate our case and our message clearly.
We started talking internally and measuring ourselves about business with well-known metrics like the average size of a trade. The deal, of course, wasn’t a real commodity, but we wanted to understand how much our supporters donated. What channel did the goers come to and how much did it cost us to get that donation? We paid attention to cash flows and their legalities, the so-called repayment. We asked ourselves which channels and which product had the best hit accuracy? How much did it cost to market the product and get a subsidy?
We sought productivity by lowering the organization, removing silos and hierarchies. There was no need for a group structure in a small organization. We switched to a culture of self-service and ended unnecessary tasks. We agreed on a common weekly rhythm and rules of the game so that we could work effectively, and we were committed to promoting digitization wherever possible.
One important thing was to review and edit job descriptions to a more general level, which provided flexibility to the tasks and ensured that the interfaces between the tasks remained open and that over-quality in the wrong places ceased. We agreed on joint and transparent monitoring of indicators.
An expert who is unable to cooperate is worthless. There are, of course, tasks that are clearly expert-focused. But because we were a fundraising agency, we couldn’t have many tasks that didn’t have a link to fundraising. We earned our earnings by collaborating and involving others. We favored and encouraged curiosity and understanding of the duties of other teams. We had to be interested in the tasks of the other and where the intersections of the tasks are. Everything is connected to everything. I also drew attention to the fact that not everything has to be thought out and planned in detail right away. The world changed so fast that such was not possible. Because of this, tolerating uncertainty and slowly growing things up, iteration, became an important feature for our employees. This caused concern and anxiety in between, but as time went by, people got used to the idea.
We planned our operations in significantly smaller cycles than before. We made sure the rhythm was maintained and something happened all the time. There were constant marketing campaigns on the planning table. While the previous one was underway, the next two were already in the pipeline.
One important finding was operationalizing the funnel thinking. We needed to easily identify what stage of funnel we were acting and how things were related. Before that, we had to simplify and conclude the focus of our operations. What is our product range and what do we focus on? This focus is important for productivity, as a small organization can’t afford to stumble everywhere, even if there’s interest. Later in this book, I will give a case study of work against female genital mutilation. As we had decided that FGM was the focus of our work, we needed to plan the full chain all the way to advocacy, communication, marketing and fundraising.
We thought about our activities in cycles, so that all activities have contact points with each other, and everything is related to everything, however, focusing on the thematic areas we choose. We were an organization specializing in child protection that also did humanitarian aid work among refugees with disabilities. The specific themes at the time were focus on the poorest regions, youth employment and livelihoods.
We had to learn to talk and communicate to our audiences in a way that touches their reality. The sponsorship was a so-called luxury product and the new sponsor had to expose to our message several times before he made the decision to commit. That is why we make sure that our ambassadors, spoke persons, the celebrities, who were speaking for us, also spoke the same language as we. We make sure that our potential supporters were exposed to our messages on as many channels as possible.
We made sure we had more sales channels in case one of the channels stopped working. A good example of this was the end of face to face activities, caused by the pandemic. That channel suddenly faded and we needed quickly invent a replacing one. Sales channels vary depending on the situation and therefore more are needed. Sometimes one rests while the other forges the result. At best, of course, everything works, but I have rarely been able to witness such a situation.
Jim Collins’ book Good to Great still works. From there, I’ve copied a lot of workable practices like the hedgehog concept or identifying and spinning the wheel of success. At the heart of our wheel of success was the child and his future. Around the circle of stories: influencing, marketing, asking, doing, results – influencing, marketing, asking, doing, results, influencing… and so on. Crucially, none of these activities operate in a separate silo, but all support each other’s activities to achieve goals. Our goal was to provide an opportunity for every child in this world.
I modeled to us a rhythm of leading with dialogue. We made a systematic and repetitive actin for a dialogue to happen. We made sure on the calendar that all vertical and horizontal encounters took place. Each employee had a personal and regular encounter with their supervisor. This common time had to be respected. In addition, I make sure that all aspects of the organization also meet horizontally on a regular basis. I had at least an annual meeting with each employee, the so-called. speed dating.
This was also accompanied by a significant simplification of the organizational structure. We had three kinds of people. 1) The people who raised the money. 2) Those who used that money. 3) And those who made sure that things will go transparently and right
The Problem – The Need – Attention – Personal – Courage – Knowledge – Dream
2015 we had a huge challenge. Our revenue went down with 25% and we needed to reorganize. Some of our very important programmes were in danger to be closed. One of them was our work against female genital mutilation (FGM) in Kenya, Sook.
We had made promises for the most vulnerable people and we didn’t want to break them. Very serious.
- there is more than 200 million girls and women whose genitals have been mutilized
- 3 million girls every year get mutilized, that makes 8000 girls a day
- FGM causes severe diseases and child and maternity mortality
- FGM takes girls out from school
- FGM is crime against humanity
- get attention to this global problem
- get funding to our anti FGM work
- change the publicly used word circumcision to a more true word of mutilation
- Our DREAM was to change the law in Finland to criminalize female genital mutilation in Finland
– no money, unknown issue
So, we didn’t have funding and we were facing many needs. Our motivation to win this challenge was very strong and we needed new ways. The Finnish people were not aware of mutilation and how common it is. So far, the tries to communicate about it have not been successful. The topic is delicate and difficult. Also, shameful.
We decided to be respectful and shameless.
save my private Parts – stop female genital mutilation
That wording, private parts, is used when talking with little girls. It is a practical and a pure word. Never seen used in fundraising or marketing. When we got the idea of using that word and started testing it around, it always created a strong reaction. Either judging or delighted. We were facing something big.
The message was so strong that not all our board members at that time accepted it, the board was confused, but did not stop us from piloting.
We were nervous. This might fail small or succeed big. Most important was to do our outmost best to keep our promises. We took the risk.
International day against FGM is on the 6th of Feb. That is when we came out. We prepared us carefully, made Q&A’s, interviewed experts, studied material even more. Shared all the information we had internally and externally to prepare us for the coming.
We needed some real people and stories for the campaign. We needed some commonsense facts. Since the topic is very personal and sensitive, it took some time to get the stories.
Issue is severe and global, but there is always a vulnerable, private person behind.
We managed to get all. Now we had a strong punch line, real stories and heavy facts.
we all have a relationship with the topic. We all have private parts. This makes it personal for the audience as well. Message will give a strong emotional effect.
We decided to be brave and straight forward. Use real words and examples. We did not want to be ashamed or making things look prettier than they are. Nor uglier.
We talked about mutilation; we gave simple, practical examples. How is it to give birth? How do you pee or what happens when you have your periods? What about you first sexual intercourse.
As we knew women that have been mutilized, we wanted to treat the matter respectfully. FGM is not done to harm the girls, it is for their best in that culture. FGM is not a religious act. In cultures where all the girls have been mutilized, there is no experience for better.
We decided in the beginning that we welcome everyone to join. We need the whole world to fix this. We will talk with everyone, the pros, the ones against. It is ok to get criticism, and we got that. Not all the NGO’s liked our approach.
Finland’s population is 5,5 million. We reached one million of them in the first months. We were in TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, we were liked and shared in Social Media tens of thousands of times.
We won a marketing prize in a influence marketing category, influencing through emotions and psychology
we continued with multi-channel marketing and frequent fund raising.
Even if we don’t do domestic work, there was a dream to change things in Finland. Finland had not criminalized FGM as other Nordic countries have.
There is a way in Finland to make initiatives for the parliament. One needs to collect more than 50 000 names and the parliament will decide upon the matter. The NGO field in Finland was not unanimous and some even very strongly against our suggestion to make an initiative for a criminal law change.
We visited a businessman who is very courageous with fixing social problems. He wanted to join the campaign and sign the plea as the first signee, I was the second one. That was also our way to get more attention, prevent hits from NGO field and simplify the language.
Then the lobbing started. Many, many meetings. Meeting tens of parliament members, all the political parties. We attended seminars, groups, discussion forums. Talked with other organizations and municipalities and decision makers.
We had a meeting with Social and Health minister and managed to hold a closed-door meeting with the religious leaders hosted by our Minister of Social affairs at that time.
Mission completed. We needed another miracle though on the way, after a slow start we finally managed to collect the names in couple of weeks.
Some months of bureaucracy and finally in October 2020 the initiative was approved in the Finnish Parliament!!
We got our names written in the history books. The work continues.
As I’ve said before, I’ve worked in sales for most of my working life. I think sales responsibilities should be valued and respected for the following reasons:
The salesperson follows the things of the world. The salesperson is interested and curious. The salesperson is interested in people and their thoughts, needs and desires, problems and dreams. The salesperson wants to solve things and produce joy and value. The salesperson himself gets joy and value from it.
The salesperson understands that needs help. That’s why a salesperson gathers around a team that blows coal together and wants to get the common good out of it, even if they themselves benefit from it.
The salesperson sets goals and works towards them. The salesperson is not bothered even if the goals are not reached immediately or there are problems along the way. The salesperson is considering alternative solutions. The salesperson gets a lot of resistance and it makes the salesperson try again and smarter. The vendor plans, analyzes, and makes action plans. He thinks about his own message, its quality and who it could be told to. The salesperson knows that sometimes you have to describe a thing on several occasions, from different perspectives, in order to be understood.
The salesperson listens and is present. The salesperson needs to properly understand and internalize the reality of their customer. The salesperson can then crystallize the problem and offer a simple solution. The salesperson can simplify even complex things.
A good salesperson feels that the salesperson has reached their goals. The salesperson will not be able to joke that it would be good if he has not done what he has promised. The salesperson has clear metrics and goals. The salesperson knows that customers need to be met often and the salesperson knows how to plan their calendar so that there is enough of the right kind of things to lead to goals. The salesperson works so that he sows in time so he can mow later.
The salesperson can communicate his case to different people in different ways. The salesperson understands what motivates the person and what the person is aiming for.
A good salesperson is pleasant and stubborn. He likes to meet him because he always brings something new to think about or solves someone’s problem. The salesperson is happy to pay because he feels it will bring him good back.
The salesperson can predict because the salesperson recognizes the signs of the times. The salesperson is systematic and knows how to use systems to make visible to himself and others what he is aiming for and when he intends to achieve it.
The salesperson is not bothered by the pressure. He is accustomed to tight schedules and last minute difficulties. The salesperson has prepared for them in advance as he always has a Plan B in his back pocket. The salesman can take his head and get up quickly.
The salesperson knows how to celebrate achievements and rejoice in success. The salesman does it with the customer and sometimes with his own team. The salesperson knows how to reward others for good work because the salesperson wants them to do the same in the future.
The salesperson thinks everything is related to everything and everything needs everyone. The salesperson wants to get everyone to work in the same direction.
The salesperson knows how to negotiate and make strategies. The salesperson has acquired training and coaching in negotiation skills and has trained his own presentation and argumentation in front of the camera. The salesperson will welcome your feedback as it will make him a better salesperson. The salesperson tries to break free from their manners and communicate clearly.
Yes, the salesperson will come up with a way. Pandemics and others may slow things down, but the salesperson thinks of other ways to generate value and resolve things.
The salesman dares to take the risk and trusts himself and his team to agree to a 50/50 pay structure. The salesperson’s goal is to earn more than the target salary. When he crosses it, he gets a reward for it and that too makes him try more.
The salesperson is not stuck in unnecessary details, and is not left with details that do not add value. The salesperson cannot afford to make super quality in the wrong places because then he would not get results.
The salesperson is persistent and happy He is an optimist.
change management in extreme situations
I guess it was a certain mango farmer in Kenya who finally woke me up to ask about our methods of managing change. He said he wanted to be a role model. That’s when I realized I had heard the exact same phrases on my travels before. What makes people talk the same way on different continents? There must be some concept or systematics behind it.
How can it be possible to bring about lasting change at the individual and community level? How can it be possible to permanently change habits, beliefs, and behaviors? Can one change one’s perception of oneself and find opportunities in oneself? Can there be a desire to volunteer for change for others? I became familiar with our organization’s conceptual model of change management called Empowered World View.
What is interesting is that I had been with the organization for a few years before I started researching it on my own. Thus, I was not actively offered access to the methods used in the field to bring about lasting change in communities. Such silage is typical of organizations, not just organizations. We think that product development or methods or product details have nothing to do with sales, management, or fundraising.
However, the change management model was a significant means of bringing about lasting change in the communities and its results were a necessary selling point. Finland’s World Vision uses external evaluations of the results of our work five years after the end of the ten-year development project and we had left the site. The results are outstanding. The change has been permanent. For example, in a project in India, together with the community, we completely eradicated chronic malnutrition from the area. At the start of our work, more than half of the children suffered from chronic malnutrition.
Earlier in the Cambodian story, I talked about the importance of identifying the needs of the region and the appropriate number of individuals who are willing to take the first step. So attitude is decisive. After the trip, I read a few books on resilience and they opened up to me more deeply than before. In terms of resilience, we are each individuals and we have different strengths. However, resilience can be practiced and increased, as can muscle.
In business, I had learned to work on big change projects and even take them through as a leader. As an experienced ICT sales professional, I thought I understood something about change management, but I gained a lot more depth in it while traveling.
Often in business, change is described by a chart that you want to get from one point to another. A deep gap, a lot of resistance to change and obstacles to change are described between the points. Yes, we are talking about the need for early adapters and the fact that it is worth collecting so-called low-hanging fruits at the beginning. These are right and good things. The feelings and stages associated with resistance to change are also a reality. Instead, I have rarely heard emphasis on enthusiastic phrases declaring a desire to be a role model. Such is more considered brown nosing.
In our development projects, change leaders came from local communities. The change was thus led from the communities by volunteers, walking side by side and looking into their eyes. Systematic bringing people together and starting conversations, actively listening and forming groups were at the core.
One impressive example of change management is from the days of epidemics such as HIV and Ebola. In these essential needs for change in human behavior, a central form of work was modeled, bringing authorities and religious leaders to the same table. It was really a matter of life and death. The alternative to change was death. The model is called Channels of Hope. People’s behavior in handling dead bodies, for example, changed only after the change was authorized and guided through religious leaders.
Companies talk about opinion leaders and their identification, as well as the structure of the organization and the hierarchy of responsibility and decision-making. Rarely are companies treated like religion, but these days it is common to build a corporate culture in the direction of tribe, sect, and ideology. There are experts or gurus in companies like this that people follow, if they don’t commit to change, it’s also hard for culture to change, management said. If you can’t change people, change people, we say. However, in the current shortage of labor, it is impossible to change a very large part of the factors.
Modeling volunteering was also at the heart of community change. Volunteers are precisely those early adopters mentioned above and their recruitment and training as agents of change is critical to results. Our organization had taken volunteer modeling far and wide and was part of most of the transformation projects. The name of the model is Citizen Voice and Action. This model identified precisely those individuals who had enough attitude and hope, strength, and resilience. They were then recruited to volunteer, as well as trained for their job. Volunteers worked to gain more insight into the situation in their community and to share insider information about community challenges. They were told about their rights in the community, for example, that the health clinic had to be staffed four days a week. Such things were not known to all. Volunteers were trained to use reporting channels when rights were violated. For example, the principal of a school had withheld the porridge money belonging to children. They were recovered through volunteer reporting.
The more difficult the circumstances, the more important it was to bring the members of the community, quite concretely, to sit under the same tree to discuss common challenges and goals, but above all the common capital they already had.
The fruit that is easy to pick is, I think, a dilute metaphor for really celebrating what we already have! It is much easier to see challenges and problems than to identify the small and modest things we can be happy about. Shared joy is multiple joy.
The systematic increase of social capital requires coming together. Attention should be paid to bringing common gifts to the same table. Unlocking the gifts of each common member for common use is possible through concrete projects. For example, the Cambodia Kids Club was made possible by one community member donating bamboo, another land, and a third their time.
However, people who have nothing from our point of view always have something to build on. Attention is paid to what we already have, and it is celebrated together. Change then starts from the inside out through joint action. We connect people and their gifts. The gifts of each individual and family are released and activated for the use of all. Much-talked-about diversity, both in terms of gifts and personal values and attributes, is at the heart of change management. The more diverse gifts and individuals, the more diverse the ways to bring about change. I have in mind a youth club we went to visit, It worked in the slum of Nairobi and its members were very different from each other. As we set out to continue our journey, the president of the club first asked us to be silent in common prayer. There were about a dozen of us in the small room, and I noticed that based on external signs, there were Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and representatives of a religion unknown to me. So we all fell silent in melted harmony. The event was natural and relaxed. Is this possible in Western organizations?
Is there anything to learn from this?
Can this thinking be taken to the management of organizations and change projects in business as well, or are the schedules for change too tight? Personally, I would argue that we would avoid many slowdowns and backstops if we combined the empowerment model even with change management in IT projects.
Such an empowered worldview requires optimism and faith in man. The human image of a leader should be tested in change management. Is the leader’s faith in his or her own organization enough and is the leader’s patience enough to listen and engage? We were an organization based on Christian values. Christian optimism means that every human being is created in the image of God and for the glory of God. This was a difficult thought for me, especially when I met with brutality and violence.
A leader should maintain faith in a person’s ability to reach out for the good. Projects for change will not succeed without absolute optimism about an individual’s ability to change for the better. Without this optimism and basic belief in the possibility of the individual, it is impossible to lead the transformation without changing the person. Manager or employee.
another meeting in uganda
An important part of our work was to visit the local governments, right there from the state government level, to the local working groups and village leaders to get sustainable results for our work. Meeting practices in general are always interesting and much criticized. However, things are moving forward and getting people together is almost always worthwhile. I have recorded the following notes from a refugee camp in northern Uganda:
Being Finnish, we arrived in time to meet the local government. When we arrived at the courtyard of the administration building at the agreed time, it was amusing to note that our punctual arrival caused confusion among the meeting organizers. The events progressed as follows: First, we are all directed to the chief’s room, which has a massive laminate table in the middle and a dozen large faux leather chairs around it. Outside the meeting room, the secretary sits behind a small desk. The offices in Uganda are nowhere near paperless, I still see paper clips, staplers, papers and a fax machine rumbling around the room. The hosts of the meeting will start adjusting the seating order, who is sitting and where and whether plastic chairs will be brought in addition to the faux leather chairs. We are calmly waiting to be assigned a seat. No refreshments is offered to us, but a cola drink is offered to the highest hosts in the hierarchy.
At the end of the massive conference table sits a deputy manager, as the actual manager will only come later. The deputy chief rings the gold-colored bell and thus asks the secretary to attend at any time for any matter. I laughed in my mind at the thought of whether I should get the same one. Admittedly, I don’t have a fixed place in our office, not even a secretary.
Suddenly half of the crew left the room without saying anything and came back with plastic chairs. Next came the big boss with two mobile phones in his hand. However, the deputy boss started a presentation about the purpose of the meeting. In the middle of the presentation the big boss answered the phone, this did not interrupt anything. Now I don’t really know who’s in the room, because almost the whole staff has changed since the first tour.
The big boss rings the bell twice and then we all move to a room in another building. There was already a meeting going on there, but they were puched away. We will start a new chair game and more chairs will be brought into the room. We change the seating order a couple of times. The big boss at the end of the table is a little irritated and the rest of us watch quietly as he starts to open the new notebook covered in the crumbling plastic, that he had asked for with the ring of a bell. Big boss writes in the book the agenda of the meeting, we are waiting. Then he tells us what the agenda is. 1) prayer 2) introductions (again) 3) explanation 4) measures, comments and questions 5) closing
The big boss starts by mentioning everyone in the room, their names, and titles, and once again he wants to say good morning and once again welcome us all.
The boss gives a speech between wiping sweat drops on the forehead with a large cloth. His cell phones are constantly beeping. I don’t really hear what he’s saying, and if I do, I don’t understand it properly.
Then comes World Vision Uganda’s response. In this case, the host team starts opening the window’s. The boss had communicated this need with by waving his. The boss communicates effectively with his staff by these wavings
Next, the floor is given to us, Finnish guests. After that will hear a speech explaining what the previous speaker was trying to say.
A group of people are constantly sneaking in and out of the creaking doors.
The discussion is very good and important, surprisingly
The closing words last about half an hour.
pictures from kenya
We often arrived at accommodations after dark. After a long journey, I went to sleep as quickly as possible, first checking the safety of the accommodation and the fauna, and, of course, the washing facilities. It was always exciting in the morning to wake up and see where it had come from. First, the sound world of the area mingled with the sleep. There were shouts in the cities and the sound of traffic, the breakfast teams, cleaners and security guards at the accommodation greeting each other. The cars were working. Next came the scents, the smell of campfires, the smell of fried bacon, the smell of detergents, toast. In addition to cars, the window showed quiet passers-by, people going to their jobs walking calmly. Many of them had already walked for an hour or two to get to town. Not everyone had the money to use Matatu. The mats were public transport the size of a van, which was usually crowded, even with some of the passengers hanging outside. They were decorated with intense colors and painted with slogans and confirmations of faith.
From the car window, it was nice to watch the hustle and bustle of the cities, the colorful buildings and the very creative electrical solutions. Along the roads were sold whatever, from car tires to furniture. Housewares and food. I admired the joyous ceramic pots and garden shops, the car’s marshes, the innovative transport solutions. It was very common for an entire family of four to travel on a small, moped ride. People carried wild amounts of stuff on their heads. Their clothing was spectacular, especially on Sundays as the people traveled to hear the word of God. The office workers stood out from the crowd in their sweaty suits and shiny plastic shoes. The women had great wig hairstyles.
Of course, broken limbs and beggars were also visible from the car window. Little kids selling nuts, handkerchiefs, buckets, housewares, car mats, artwork and everything that could fit the imagination. Sometimes we just saw a traffic accident or even severely injured pedestrians. One of our group members had to witness such a serious fatal crash in which the person’s head had come off and they had to turn their car and investigating authority in their car. This traumatic experience then had to be addressed in both the discussions during and after the trip.
While driving in the countryside, we were noticed, especially if there was a blonde figure sitting in the front seat. The children ran alongside the car, shouting and flashing, pointing their fingers. Oh that joy when they got back a friendly blink. It was nice to watch the children’s games, they are imaginative with regard to toys. A very common game was to rotate a bicycle tire with a stick. We saw football made of banana leaves and skipping ropes made of lianas.
As we approached the village, which was usually a very long drive away, it was necessary to prepare to meet and greet hundreds of people. Anything extra was good to leave in the car and make sure you had at most a bottle of water and of course a cell phone with a snapped picture. I missed the atmosphere that protruded from the car door that was already cracking. We were immediately caught up in the dance and singing. The greeting took place in a circuit dance where each member of the group went to dance to shake hands with me or shrug my shoulders. The dance took several tens of minutes and then we were usually directed under an acacia tree to sit in plastic chairs. How many hours did it take to sit in a plastic chair in six years? I can restore that feeling, of a sweaty, white plastic chair against my stern during hours of speech.
After the rainy season, Kenya’s nature was paradisiacal at best. Lush and fertile. The soil is brick red and dusty. That dust was then found everywhere, even when it was brought to Finland.
We visited many schools. Schoolchildren always wore a school uniform and sometimes it seemed that the owner of the suit was already at least tenth in order. The school uniform consists of shorts or a skirt, white socks and a colorful acrylic sweater to put on. Often, the seams in these knits were frayed and had head-holes here and there. The schoolchildren’s shoes were the wrong size, broken plastic sandals that could barely stand on their feet. However, this did not stop the wild running and playing. Not all schools had desks, children could sit on the ground. During the rainy season, the floors in the classrooms were muddy and the children got sick a lot. In dry times, small classrooms became loaves again. Little schoolchildren could attend a school day on an empty stomach and sometimes even after a two-hour walk.
A map of Finland was drawn in the office of a school principal and read: Finland, Land of Hope. Next to it was the phrase, ‘The happiest people in this world do not necessarily have the best of everything, but they simply take the most of everything that comes their way
Arriving at refugee camps was always a confusing combination of misery and orderliness. Compared to slums, they are systematic and clean places. Houses or tents are lined up, albeit poor in content. Clinics have organized queuing, although the queues are long. Food distribution is also well organized, albeit scarce. There are quiet, all-lost families, even lonely children, in the refugee camps. Often they have no property with them and many of them have fled war and violence in horror, walked long distances in the hot toast, and lost relatives during the journey. Getting to the camp is definitely a salvation. Refugee camps have often become a kind of population center, as they are sometimes left permanently. The situation in your own country is not improving and you can’t go there, you can’t get anywhere else, there are few places to invest. So many second and third generations are already living in refugee camps. It has its own hierarchies and pecking systems, its own crime and business. Several nationalities and tribes are fighting for their status, but not as wildly as in the slums, as there is always some order in the refugee camp.
We got used to circulating during the day with the help of protein bars, because the Finnish stomach could not withstand the local bacterial population very well. There were kiosks along the roads selling dried fish or hanging meat around which flies swirled. Yes, we were offered restaurant experiences, but often we were able to avoid them. Once, after a whole day without food, a colleague and I were asked to eat a pot made from such dried fish. Lemu was quite, so relying on my delicate stomach, I only tasted a little rice. On the other hand, we got the best coffee on such a hot day at a refugee camp, a tent cafe. Coffee from Ethiopian porcelain cups in a tent made of tarpaulins with plastic tablecloths decorated with pink roses.
The dusty roads of the refugee camps were lined with corrugated shacks or tents, Raiti encountered all kinds of travelers and we often had armed guards with us. The huts had colorful billboards: Hotel Hilton, Coca Cola, mpesa, House of Glory and so on. In between were kiosks and butchers in the middle of the carcasses.
In the shade of a tree, I saw a lonely Turkana mother who had just given birth. She was very young and sitting there alone sucking on her newborn. There was no cradle or maternity pack, just a piece of cloth to protect the baby.
Traffic is chaotic, there are no lanes and no traffic signs, no traffic lights, guardrails or sidewalks. There may be a huge pit or a fallen truck in the middle of the street. Cars are rattling and working, safety distances are unknown. Despite this, the international hand shines in their absence, people smiled and sang and waved at each other.
Ugandan’s colorful clothes and fabrics are my weak point and too often I stopped at small shops to admire and buy clothes that then at home looked quite different and unsuitable for the environment. I have a comprehensive collection of different fabrics and Congolese turbanes, I don’t know why. One hot afternoon, when I happened to have a few hours off, I went for a walk in the village near the Entebbe hotel, as I had noticed a few nice clothes kiosks from the taxi window. I went inside one of them and in front of the colorful dresses hung a sign saying: Don’t lose your hope, no circumstance is permanent. Relax, for God is in control. I looked at the clothes and soon a picture of a beautiful mountain saleswoman appeared behind me. I asked if there would be a certain dress my size. The saleswoman sighed in delight: You are fat! I almost got hurt, but he continued: You’re fat! How do you get as fat as you are? I want to be fat too! I laughed and muttered something that one should eat a lot of sugar and fats and shouldn’t exercise too much. Inspired by this sales talk, I guess I’ll buy myself a few shirts with an African pattern again.
On the same trip, I headed to the local zoo, where I wandered myself under the hot sun watching the animals. I noticed that a young man regularly happened to be with me along the same route. She had dressed very carefully in a sparkling white shirt and embroidered jeans, she had a big gold-colored fake watch in her hand. Soon he approached me, saying: Madam, I notice that you are here alone. Would you like some company? I could come with you. I kindly refused such an offer and returned to the hotel in good time, a little confused.
The transformation of the community will take many years. No matter how systematically you move forward, and prepare for a variety of slowdowns and problems, unpredictable backpacking often comes up. Long dry seasons harden the ground to parchment and then after three years when it finally rains, it rains properly and causes floods and mudslides that cover everything underneath. Next, the herds of locusts come like a plague and eat all the harvest. As a result, people’s livelihoods are dwindling and we are taking a backseat in development for many years.
A colleague from Burundi also spoke about cases where a family living in the community had been involved in a business program for many years. They had got their lives in good shape and the children were able to go to school. However, it so happened that one of the children became seriously ill and could not be treated healthy. The family enlisted the help of a witch doctor. The witch doctor said the family had no choice but to sell all of their property and donate it to the witch doctor. He would then use it to tame the spirits, for the child’s illness was due to the evil spirits the family had brought near. Again, more than five years of work were wasted and everything had to start over. Sometimes even children were demanded to be sacrificed or organs were removed from them to appease their lives.
FINLAND IS THE HAPPIEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD, BUT ITS PEOPLE ARE NOT
For four years in a row, Finland has been voted the happiest country in the world. That must be a mistake for us citizens, we don’t feel that way. The measures of happiness in this survey relate to health, GDP growth and how long a good life a child born in Finland can expect to live. The study also looks at indicators of social support such as social security, freedom to make decisions about one’s life, the lack of corruption and, in 2021, how the nation has coped with the challenges of a pandemic. We are doing well, but we don’t feel like it.
During the development cooperation, I explored the Finnish soul landscape on social media platforms. Hate speech also came in letters and emails. Of course, we also received a lot of encouragement and support for our work. But what was interesting about hate speech was that Finns, in speeches with their own picture and name, condemned the weak and needy to death, even in very cruel ways. The rudeness, the bickering, the rage, the desire for revenge and the lust for harm spoke volumes about the soul of a certain part of our people. Comments encouraged sending Kalashnikovs to developing countries to kill themselves. Nations were asked to choke on condoms and the use of bombs was envisaged as a way of solving problems. The worst comments were those aimed at children and their needs. ’It’s disgusting to show such sad children, don’t they even have decent clothes?’ The lack or need of a small child did not provoke sympathy or action, but disgust and anger. In our organisation, we had to choose the exact imagery we wanted to use to communicate the need, but with the aspect of hope constantly present.
Of course, this hate speech was only created by small but vocal sections of the population. Nevertheless, it was a wake-up call. People working in development agencies are often exposed to this and do not have the luxury of being able to close their eyes and ears to these voices, they have to live with them and listen to them in order to better understand the prevailing reality. Surrounded by those voices, one simply has to continue to do the work that one feels is meaningful and important and whose results are impressive. Their voices must reinforce one’s mission, not undermine it.
The pandemic has taken us backwards on the Sustainable Development Goals. The eradication of global poverty has taken a step backwards for several years. The gap between humanitarian aid funding and need has widened. It is estimated that there are around 90 million more child marriages a year than before the pandemic. Child labour has increased as families need to earn a living and schools remain closed.
I am writing this text on the morning that Russia invaded Ukraine.
Earlier stories in this book talked about an empowered world view and what we can learn from young entrepreneurs in the slums or mango farmers in the countryside. An empowered worldview focuses attention on what we already have. People are brought to the same table, under the same tree. Building communities, savings groups, nutrition groups, volunteer groups. Even religious leaders, from different faiths and directions, are brought to the same table. People who live in communities are more likely to think we already have a lot. We who live in abundance and pursue mammon and fame, we think we have nothing and everything that others have is taken away from us.
sustainability with a purpose
The return to corporate life was familiar, but again caused culture shock. I had been ’ruined’ for good by my organisational journey and can no longer think about selling solutions or corporate responsibility without addressing global challenges. These objectives are in no way contradictory, but rather mutually supportive. We need to mobilise money to grow responsibly. New and existing talent just entering the workforce understand this, our leaders may not. Fortunately, legislation is helping us to move the sustainability agenda forward. But change needs to go much deeper than a greenwash to polish the brand. At the same time, however, small things and changes do matter, but they should not be the kind that allow us to become complacent. We need to go deeper and stronger.
One of our projects took me on a tour of shops in refugee camps and slums, interviewing clients of maternity clinics and mothers who had just given birth. We also met other organisations working in the camps on maternal health, as well as local authorities. Our aim was to take the Finnish maternity pack model to developing countries. I noticed that we came up against an attitude: ’It is easy for us Finns, as a rich nation, to give our mothers a gift, we don’t have that kind of money.’
At the beginning of the 20th century, Finland was not in the same situation as it is now; especially after the wars, we were one of the poorest countries in Europe, with a high maternal and infant mortality rate. Our women gave birth in saunas and on the fringes of chambers, and because of the long distances and difficult terrain and ignorance, mothers did not receive or seek health checks or counselling during pregnancy. In addition, women worked hard right up to childbirth and returned to the fields or barns immediately after giving birth.
So we did not set out to build health care, health clinics or the distribution of maternity kits out of wealth. We didn’t do it because we had so much extra money that we were thinking of a sensible use for it. We did it as poor and needy. We were concerned about rising maternal and infant mortality. The maternity packing campaign started with volunteers and involved commercial operators to support it. Maternity kits were given to mothers who attended regular health check-ups during their pregnancy. In this way, the maternity pack served as a reward for desired behaviour. It was a behavioural change and a need to reform and rebuild the health care system.
This maternity pack story sounded very different to those responsible for refugee camps and rural areas when we told it from the perspective of history and change management, not the present.
On these trips, we wanted to get to know the local reality and interview mothers who were giving birth or had just given birth. To understand their reality. When we asked these mothers about their wishes for a possible maternity kit, we realized that it is difficult for a refugee mother or a poor rural mother to ask for or even imagine the kind of environment we had in mind. When asked what they could hope to receive after giving birth, the answer was almost unanimous: a bar of soap and a cloth to wrap the baby in.
These mothers were in a battle for survival, used to the fact that many mothers and children died in childbirth or that many children did not survive their first few years of life. We visited the Kakuma refugee camp, where many mothers had come from the surrounding war-torn countries and fled with their families for their lives. Kakuma was surrounded by local communities and in particular the Turkana tribe’s territory. The Turkana are nomadic and move their livestock from place to place, which in turn causes problems with maternal health.
These interviews gave us some idea of the maternal health problems in the refugee camps and the surrounding communities. In village shops and in the refugee camps, there was very little in the way of goods for newborn babies or their mothers, and they were so expensive that the average mother could not afford them.
We also heard stories related to millenarian traditions about maternal nutrition or the importance of the placenta, the role and importance of fathers in supporting birth mothers or young children. These were all things we wanted our project to take into account, so the maternity kit had to be developed to meet the needs of the host environment. For example, the pack should have something for fathers to motivate them to carry mothers to health checks, for fathers there could be a flashlight powered by a solar cell. Healthy childbirth was also important, this became clear when we saw the long distances herders had to travel and the level of equipment at local clinics. The kit should therefore include a hygienically packed surgeon’s knife and disinfectants. A mosquito net suitable for a baby. Durable bandages and diapers. The idea of maternity packing has certainly evolved since I was involved in the project, so there is no need to go into it in detail. The most important lessons for me were to understand the meanings and history and to put myself in the shoes of the other when possible. The idea of the importance of the placenta, for example, had not even crossed my mind, how in some cultures it can be significant and not being able to take it away from the clinic can cause social difficulties.
We tend to wish for very little, sometimes wishing for a bar of soap and cloth, even when we have the opportunity to change the birth health of an entire nation. We who understand this should dream for those whose imagination and reality do not allow such dreams.
To be continued