Lessons learned from International Development
As an international development agency, Canadian Feed The Children (CFTC) spends a lot of time thinking about how to support change and change-makers – like the community partners we work with around the world. Our goal is to help people lead happier, healthier lives free from poverty by taking a strategic, planned approach to change using what we call our “Theory of Change.”
With this in mind, there’s no time like the beginning of a new year to think about what we can all do – both personally and globally – to achieve positive, meaningful change. Drawing from some of the experiences and learning we’ve gained, we offer these eight tips to help make change stick:
1. The longest-lasting change is motivated from within. CFTC works through community-based partners who work within their own communities to ‘be the change they want to see in the world’, in the words of Gandhi. Change that is imposed by external sources is never as effective as change that is sparked from within. There is no substitute for being involved in choosing the change we want to make, the way we want to do it, and then personally committing to the goal and process we will take to reach it.
2. Change – the journey to it, and the change itself – needs to be sustainable. The path we choose to achieve change needs to be one that we can follow to reach and then maintain our goals. That’s why CFTC builds towards sustainability in our development work: providing not just food, but longer-term food security; not just school supplies, uniforms and books but greater access to education as a sustainable path out of poverty. Sustainable change builds deep and long-term personal and community strength – not dependency.
3. Set a goal. On the journey to change, we can only plot our course if we have a clear destination. So the first step is always to define a clear goal. At CFTC, our ultimate goal is our vision for a world in which children thrive, free of poverty. Similarly, when contemplating change at a personal level, it is helpful to envision where we want to be, and most importantly, how things will be different once we’re there. It’s getting excited, inspired and confident about the new state of being that provides the greatest assurance we will achieve our goal.
4. While we’re talking about goals, make them “SMART”: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Timed. SMART goals are the key to evaluating whether we are on track, providing motivation and information we might need to ‘course correct’ and also confirmation that we’ve reached our destination. Remember, every journey starts with a single step – and then another, and then another. And the next thing we know, we need a new SMART goal!
5. Plan for contingencies. Change rarely happens in a straight line. There will be challenges, barriers and setbacks. Identifying what some of the potential pitfalls are and having a plan to manage them if and when they occur helps us get over the inevitable rough patches on the road to change. Sometimes, challenges offer hidden benefits we never would have imagined, strengthening our resilience and problem-solving skills. To paraphrase Thomas Edison, the only failure is giving up. Every setback – if we focus on the lesson learned – is actually a step forward.
6. Reward yourself. CFTC asks our local partners to provide us with regular examples of success stories so that we can share them with you, our supporters. These stories celebrate the change you are helping to create and the impact you are having on real people in (almost) real time. And not only do these reports and stories help us monitor and evaluate the programs you generously fund, but they encourage and reward our partners and the beneficiaries themselves as we celebrate with them their victories along the way to long-term change! Rewarding ourselves for accomplishments at each step of our path to change makes it more likely that we will stick with the program, no matter how large a goal or long a journey we have.
7. Focus, focus, focus: It’s better to do one or two things well than many things poorly or not at all. When it comes to our resolve to make important changes in our lives – as in international development – the temptation is great to bite off more than we can chew. It takes discipline to focus clearly on the one or two things we want to accomplish. It often involves saying ‘no’ to certain things, perhaps many things – which is difficult. Focus helps us establish crystal-clear priorities, which makes it easier to practice the art of negotiating conflicts and communicating effectively as we make change.
8. Don’t try to go it alone! We see it among our partners and communities all the time: social support is the number one predictor of successful behaviour change (and also, general happiness and well-being). Remember the adage “it takes a village to raise a child.” On the personal level, find your village: a support group, friends and family, an online discussion board – a place where you can publicly state your goal, celebrate your successes, problem-solve your challenges, and both give and receive help and encouragement. This is important for two reasons: first, those who share a mutual goal and can support each other tend to achieve their goals – and achieve them faster – than individuals on their own. Second, being accountable to someone other than ourselves – as CFTC is with its donors, its partners and its beneficiaries – is critical to keep us on track and making progress.
We’d love to hear from you! Please keep us up to date on your own journey to change and we’ll keep you up to date on ours!