The purpose of this and the other posts this week is not to diminish the work that the JCI chapters and the JCI members do but to get us to enter into new projects with our eyes open. It is perfectly alright to do a project because it makes the chapter visible in the local community, creates team spirit in the chapter and develops the knowledge and competences of the members – or simply because it is fun. My thesis is that a project which stays within the framework of the Active Citizenship principles will result in at least one of those things but with a much larger effect and, because it is sustainable, make a significant difference. I hope that these articles will inspire and help the JCI local chapters think their projects through so they are aware of what they want to get out of their projects and thereby insuring maximum impact.
In JCI we sometimes talk about how we are not great at sharing our experiences with each other. That might be true between local chapters in JCI Denmark. But we do have a handful of talented storytellers who are very apt at communicating success stories not only from Denmark but from all over the JCI World. Stories that inspire us to dream, dare to act and strive to work harder to achieve our goals. I recommend contacting NP2011 who has a unique talent for story talent and a passion for JCI that makes his stories compelling and a huge network in JCI where he gets his stories.
I don’t remember when I heard the story for the first time but I think that it was NP2011 who told the story. I am sure I don’t tell the story right – some details have been lost in translation (names ect.) – but I hope that the essence of the story is apparent and that the point is clear to everyone.
Well, how does a story begin? Right…!
In the United States of America there was a local chapter that for many years had been collecting money for shoes to the poorest children in town. The children’s feet were so cold in the winter so every year the JCI members collected money for shoes for the children. The chapter was running a smooth operation – the project almost ran itself and it was a great way to activate new members and to introduce them to the work and mindset of the organization.
But, one day one of the newest members asked a relevant question (take not – it is always the new members who ask the relevant questions!…but more on that some other time). What was the benefit of the project over time? The problem would persist next year, and the year after that, and the year after that. The challenges for the members were limited and wasn’t there something about JCI focusing on learning opportunities and personal development for the organization’s members? The chapter could abandon the project completely to focus on new projects and focus on the personal and professional development of the members, but then the children would not get the help that they had come to depend on.
And this is exactly the core of the problem. If the people we are trying to help are only passive receivers of our help then what we do is charity that, worst case scenario, keeps them in the situation we are trying to help them get away from. We need to ask ourselves if what we do is the right thing. How can we know what the right solution is if we don’t involve the afflicted parties in finding the solution to the problem? WE risk taking on the part of benefactor which does not result in constructive solutions nor the positive exposure of the local chapters in media and local communities as a serious partner in solving the problems facing the community.
But, what happened to the local American chapter? The member asked a follow-up question: Are we solving the real problem or are we just creating a temporary solution? Why doesn’t the children have any shoes on in the winter? The chapter went to the source and asked the parents why the children didn’t have any shoes. The children didn’t have any shoes because their parents didn’t have any money to buy shoes for. Why didn’t the parents have any money? Simple: They did not have a job. Now we are closing in on what is the heart of the problem. The cause of the problem in reality was socioeconomic issues that the JCI members could do something about. The members utilized their network and expertise and found new sustainable solutions by including the afflicted group in solving the core problem: That a group of people in the community did not have a job.
Of course there are more to this story than I have put on paper. The solution to warming up those cold children’s feet was much more complicated. Maybe the story is just something we made up. A feather can very fast become five hens as we say in Denmark. But the message is valid. We only achieve our goals if we corporate with the afflicted groups and relevant partners and stubbornly keep asking the questions until we have found the heart of the problem.