Building Trust

At SIA we say we believe in building trusting relationships with our international partners. So what does that really mean? I read this blog post recently about trust by Ben Ramalingam on his blog Aid on the Edge of Reason about international development and aid. [Thank you to Jennifer Lenter for bringing this post to my attention!]

Ben has some interesting points about the many aspects of trust – how trust is an evolving process, relies on equal exchange, and has many difference ingredients. Ongoing correspondence and a strong relationship with the people he supported were very important for Del and these practices continue to be important criteria as the SIA Board evaluates grant applications.

Ultimately, for me, it is a matter of faith and seeing the God-light in others that I am able to depend on our partners to serve their communities with integrity. Trust is a very important part of what we do and I love seeing how building trust and developing a strong relationship leads to confidence and good works.


Rethinking Trust (and a Doggy Footnote)

August 19, 2010

For one reason or another, I have been thinking about trust this week. Trust is regularly cited as a critical factor in effective aid organizations, is seen as the essential for partnerships, and creating it is seen as a primary task for aid leadership.

But all too often trust is mentioned as if it can simply be designed, imposed and managed. As a concept, trust is both over-used and poorly understood.

From the viewpoint of aid organizations as complex social processes, and drawing on Chris Rogers’Informal Coalitions approach, trust has three specific features which are overlooked or ignored.

First, trust is a property of relations and interactions. Second, trust is multidimensional. Third, trust is emergent. It’s worth looking at each of these in turn.

1. Trust as a property of relations and interactions

“…people’s sense of trust is embodied – or not – in the unscripted detail of each and every interaction that they have with one another.  It is personally and socially constructed – both consciously and subconsciously – in these moments that people come together.  As such, it reflects participants’ past history of interactions, their future hopes and expectations about this and/or other important relationships, and the current immediacy of the exchange. At the same time, the emerging outcomes of this ongoing process shift the ways in which ‘the past’ is recalled, ‘the future’ is constructed and the present is lived – all in the here and now.”

2. Trust is multidimensional:

“…we might believe that someone is being genuine and truthful when they say that they intend to do something, and yet still not trust them to do it because we don’t think that they have the necessary competence.

The dimensions include:

  • character (perceived integrity and trustworthiness)…
  • community (whether the person is recognized as being ‘one of us’, with shared perspectives, common interests and sense of identity)
  • communication (perceived openness, honesty and straightforwardness);
  • confidentiality (sense that it is ‘safe’ to share confidences) – “I believe that I can be open with you, without fear of you taking advantage of me or breaching that confidence.”
  • credibility (whether or not the ‘story’ makes sense and is believable in it’s own right) – “I believe that your ‘story’ (proposition, strategy, system etc) is credible and makes sense in its own right.”
  • capability (perceived knowledge, skills and abilities in relevant areas) –“I believe that you have the necessary capacity and competence to do what is needed in this situation.”
  • context (whether the patterns of taken-for-granted cultural assumptions are tending to channel behaviour in ways that enhance or undermine trust) – “I believe that the organizational culture and climate fosters an environment of trust.”
  • commitments (dependability in keeping agreements and promises) – “I believe that I can depend on you to do what you say you will do.”

3. Trust is Emergent

Complexity science has long been used to understand issues of trust and cooperation. In his now-classic work, noted complexity thinker Robert Axelrod showed how trust can emerge even in situations where there are self-interested actors with no central authority. More generally,

“People derive their sense of trust from the detail of the actions, interactions and transactions that comprise everyday life in the organization. The sense they make of their world, including the feeling of trust (or mistrust) that this evokes, emerges from this ongoing interactional process.  Also, the more that a particular ‘sense’ of trust is ‘taken up’ by others, through the diverse interplay of conversations across an organization (or fragments of it), the more generalized it becomes. It is then more likely to be taken up in similar ways by those same people in future – and, potentially, by others with whom they interact… It is the self-organizing process of ‘shared’ meaning-making, through which patterns of assumptions emerge and become taken-for-granted over time. These patterns create expectancy and tend to channel ongoing sensemaking, imperceptibly, down familiar ‘pathways’.  Since this patterning process is self-organizing, it means that trust cannot be ‘designed and built’ by managers, as part of a structured ‘culture change programme’. However, a major influence on this ongoing sensemaking and action-taking is people’s observation of the behaviours of those in formal leadership positions – throughout the organization.”

These different properties of trust may be essential to understand if we are serious about furthering aid efforts. For example, in aid reform processes, trust is repeatedly highlighted as one of the enduring challenges facing progress. On the development side, the Paris Declaration advocates for harmonisation between donors and mutual accountability with national governments; on the humanitarian side, the Cluster approach seeks to coordinate international relief efforts by bring the NGOs together in UN-led, sector-specific networks. Both approaches have been stymied by, among other things, a lack of trust between diverse actors.

The central take-away from the above should be that trust is not some box to be ticked in order to achieve aid success. Trust takes time, effort, presence, engagement, commitment and humility. Trust means putting a human face on overtly technical endeavours. Trust means starting something without necessarily knowing how it is going to end. Creating the space for trust in aid may mean re-casting aid as being primarily about relationships, as Ros Eyben and others have argued, and seeing what might emerge as a result.

Scary, eh?

FOOTNOTE: All of this makes the recent revelation in the Economist all the more intriguing. New research seems to indicate that just having a dog around can boost human cooperation levels—potentially altering well known game theory results.

“….The researchers explored how the presence of an animal altered players’ behaviour in a game known as the prisoner’s dilemma…Having a dog around made volunteers 30% less likely to snitch than those who played without one.”

So, should the next Paris Declaration meeting have canine observers?

People gather in prayer groups in Uganda

Praying together and sharing ideas helps build trust between group members.

A big journey

Just a quick note to let you know what’s going on in my life: I have been traveling for the past two weeks and today I am in Michigan on my way to New Haven, Connecticut. Why am I moving across the country again? My husband, Boyd, will be a visiting researcher at Yale University for one year starting September 1st. He will be finishing his PhD in History and writing his dissertation over the next year. We are both really excited about this opportunity!
As for me, I will continue my work with Spirit in Action the same as always. I will keep my same email address and phone number and even my postal address will stay the same. The only difference is that I will be reporting from the east coast, instead of the west.
I am looking forward to living in a new place for a year and experiencing life in a new community. I feel so blessed to have a job that allows me to travel with my husband. I would love your prayers as I make this transition and make new friends in the new location.
I’ll go back to my regular blog posting schedule next week!

With deep gratitude, Tanya

Daily Inspiration

When I look at the world around me I sometimes get overwhelmed by the sadness, hopelessness, and violence that are ever-present in some people’s lives. I see the great need and wonder how I can possibly make a change. Also, how can I continue Spirit in Action’s important work when it seems to make a small dent in the overall need?

First, it is important to think of everything as making baby steps towards progress. Each relationship I build is an opportunity to encourage people and give them (and myself) hope. Each one person I help then has the opportunity to go and positively affect someone else.

I am by nature a “glass half-full” type of person and I gain energy by thinking about the possible goodness of a situation, rather than worry about all the things that could go wrong. Still, keeping this attitude takes faith and reassurance that must be renewed everyday. Del Anderson talked about needing fresh manna everyday. In 2005, at the age of 99, he wrote, “Day by day is growth, change, fresh manna each day.  Yesterday’s manna is not good enough for today.

One way that I take in this fresh manna is through Unity’s Daily Word emails. Each morning I get to read a positive, uplifting spiritual message with an affirmation from the Bible. Some of the regular topics are peace, praying for others, inspiration, and guidance, all of which are so closely related to my work with Spirit in Action.

I have one particularly inspiring email taped in front of my desk so that I see it often. It builds me up in the morning and prepares me for a day of loving interaction with the world.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010 — Energy

I am energized by the power of God within me.

Energy is the inherent power of God within that responds to my desire to accomplish things. In whatever I do today, I am expressing the power, vigor and strength of God. I am God-energy in action.

I am a force for good, expressing my talents in positive ways. I am mindful of the balance between work and rest, giving and receiving, striving to accomplish and letting things work out in their own time. Energized by the power of God within, I discern what is mine to do, and I accomplish it as Spirit directs.

From the smallest step to the longest journey, I know the spirit of God goes before me to guide my way. I move forward with confidence and gratitude.

The God who has girded me with strength has opened wide my path.–2 Samuel 22:33

Don’t you feel ready to take on the world with that vote of confidence? I do!

Planting Trees for a "Greener Kenya"

“Environmental protection has become a priority in this country and there is a lot of technical input the government is employing.” This statement could easily have come from any U.S.-based environmentalist. But, it comes from one based in Kenya.

Dennis Kiprop, a Spirit in Action partner in Eldoret, Kenya wrote recently to share with me about environmental movements in his country and explain how people are employing bio-intensive agriculture to replenish the nutrients in the soil. Dennis, SIA-supported small business leaders, and many others are planting trees to create a “greener Kenya”.

Kenya emits significantly less CO2 than the United States and still Kenyans are seeing the effects of global climate change. Currently, only 3% of Kenya’s original forests remain, a result of trees being cut down for timber and firewood. To help reforest their environment, four new tree nursery businesses were started with $150 Spirit in Action Small Business Fund (SIA SFB) grants in early 2010.

SIA partners in front of their many tree seedlings

The SIA business groups grew indigenous seedlings for two reasons. First, they are businesses, so they harvest the trees in a sustainable manner and sell the wood to neighbors. The businesses have so far been very successful and all have reported high demand for their product.

Secondly, they are working with other groups from three surrounding villages and Samuel Teimuge, a long-time SIA partner, to raise and plant the seedlings to protect their local water source. This part of their work receives additional support from Trees for the Future, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that has been supporting reforestation efforts for over 30 years. Since 2008, Trees for the Future has distributed just under half a million seeds to partnering organizations in Kenya, including Samuel Teimuge’s Ukweli Training and Development Center.

After a meeting with the groups to discuss their goals, Dennis reported, “They will protect six streams whose waters drain to Lake Victoria by planting around the catchments to maintain the reservoirs. They also want to eradicate predicted dryness. I like the way they are giving their time and energy more in long-term investments.”

As with all Spirit in Action projects, these groups are also thinking about how they can pass on the gift they have received. Dennis is enthusiastic as he tells me, “I think reforestation is one of the largest dreams for Kenya and we are all participating in Sharing the Gift and “paying it forward” to the three villages and their surroundings that benefits the entire region for a long time.”

“Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy.” –Psalm 96:12

Dennis Kiprop tends to the tree seedlings.

Dennis Kiprop tends to the tree seedlings.

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