We asked some experienced NGO leaders what they have learnt from their mistakes.
Planning properly and in advance before committing to any timelines.
Never assume. Initially you might assume that a project or program will be needed in a certain community and they might even look extremely logical and exciting on paper, but if it is not what is needed nor wanted in the community, it will not succeed. We therefore always emphasize the needs within the community spoken out by community members.
We have learnt the importance of making sure that donors are connected with the full picture and vision of Refilwe, and not one individual or program, even if their primary involvement is with one program. This gives us the opportunity to build a much more sustainable relationship over a long period of time!
Unlike the word free, responsibility is synonymous with the word welfare. Despite serving indigent people, a free handout without responsibility undermines the principles of respect and the value of the recipient.
Working with beneficiaries is working with a partner – you need to clearly define and continually clarify the responsibilities and obligations of each partner.
Mistakes are often made and we learn all the time. We must never underestimate the strong negative influence of the community we work in. We need to create more time for our staff to recharge and guard against burnout. We all think we can change the world, but in order to do that, we need to take care of ourselves in the process. The second lesson is to realise that we offer an investment opportunity to others – we should not be begging, but offer opportunities to invest!
We need to engage directly with people for whom wildlife is relevant rather than imposing our ideas of conservation on them. Full participation leads to long term success.