I recently attended an executive programme where I held a session on Impact & refugee camps in the Middle East. The session focused on community feedback and the impact made on the ground.
Part of my session started off with an exercise where I asked a room filled with 50 executives whose primary work was in the impact space, ranging from funders, investors, donors, government, NGOs and stakeholders, faculty and high leading practitioners in the impact space on how many of them have been on the ground where they are making an impact. One third of the classroom raised their hand. I followed up with asking how many of those who had their hand up if they had worked on the ground and not only visited the site of where they are making an impact; and only a handful of them kept their hand up.
The reason behind this exercise was to raise awareness on the fact that there is a gap between those who are striving to make an impact and the communities’ in which they attempt to make impact in. I strongly believe that there is a great benefit for everyone in the impact space to live and see the impact they aspire to make. This is not only beneficial for you as an individual or your organization, but also to the community. The benefits start with your knowledge and tone when you are sitting in a big boardroom with beneficiaries, donors, investors etc. The simplest way of explaining this is; you can’t convince someone to try a product you haven’t tried yourself’ – believe me, I have seen some great sales people who would sell you the product when they haven’t tried it themselves; but how convincing would they be if they had actually tried it and how much more of a financial value would it be if they had convinced their end customer if they believed in the product and what it did? The tone and knowledge of your conversation is completely different when you have seen it first-hand and especially for those of us who work in the impact space. Your passion and facts are multiplied when you talk to your stakeholders, your body language changes, your eye contact makes a difference and you speak to the heart and soul of humanity rather than ‘the next project of investment’ and isn’t that what we want? A better world, a better place for those who don’t have it as good as they should, or be the voice of the voiceless?
The other benefit, which is as important as the first, is the community feedback. When you meet with local farmers, community residence, children, youth, local business holders; you get to see the world through their eyes. This, in my opinion is crucial. At the end of the day you do your job with passion and care, then you eventually go back home to your four walls and a roof over your head, with clean water, and food on your table. Not everyone has that luxury, especially in the developing world or in conflicted areas (which in my opinion shouldn’t be a luxury- it is a necessity and a basic human right). In order to truly make an impactful and sustainable change you must understand the receiving end needs and be able to listen to what they want; if you do that then your job in the boardroom becomes easier.
Rola El Chami is Programme Advisor at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford