What are you doing to help others?

29 July 2008 at 21:10 | 876 views

I found it compelling to use once more this prestigious forum to draw the attention of Sierra Leoneans and African organizations in the Diaspora to why many of them start with great ambitious strides but quickly fade away before reaching their full potentials.

I would like to quote a reputable and highly motivated Sierra Leonean businessman in Atlanta, Mr. Ron Jusu, who said: "There is a high mortality rate among African organizations because we do not have excellent strategic and goal-oriented planning."

In his presentation to a YSLI senior advisory board in August of 2007 of which I humbly served as the chair person, Ron, on his “bench marks” about running a successful and viable organization educated us about Strategy and Resource Planning. What I found interesting and profoundly useful was his perspective that many organizations do not calculate or measure their strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats towards their current mission, systems, planning, structures, people or membership and particularly the vital component of leadership readiness. Hence, the lack of such solid foundation can immensely have a negative effect on the life term of the organization.

With his kind permission, I want to share his observations on some strategic planning goals for any organization.

First, is there a clarity and commitment of your organization to a common mission, vision and values? Do you have good evaluation methods? Have your organization defined its role and responsibilities? What are the contingency plans to solve problems that may plague your organization? Is there a cross-functional collaboration within the group? Are relationships established enough with other organizations that have similar targets? Is there a system in place to assess and improve donor/stake holder’s satisfactions? Have you aligned your programs and services with community or geographical needs?

Mr. Jusu cleverly advised us that we must always create effective relationships where the lines of communication are open; where information is disseminated accurately, where a conducive environment is created to support good feedbacks and encourage better understanding. And where members are made to feel involved, supported and motivated. I think we have significant bench marks which any organization that plans to survive the “mortality syndrome” can use as a guide to a better future.

Indeed, I care deeply about the need for Diaspora non-profit and social or political organizations to prosper, because a lot of them have become a hub for national development in Africa. Diaspora organizations have become a leadership training ground that has produced Presidents, Ministers, Ambassadors and other political personalities since the Pan-Africanist movement and the era of post independence rule. What these organizations epitomized are the uncharted territories and the enormous burden “leadership” brings especially on the scale of governing and maintaining a goal-oriented mission.

Today, the School for the Blind in Freetown, Sierra Leone, founded in 1958 by our first Prime Minister Sir Milton Margai, will benefit from a soon to be completed modern Kitchen sponsored by The Sierra Leone Community Association of Atlanta, GA-USA and Friends of Sierra Leone (Fosl), a USA -based non-profit organization of retired Peace Corps volunteers from the USA. Humanitarian and social development projects like this could only happen through the consistent and tireless work of dedicated Sierra Leoneans and FOSL members, whose common desires are to improve the lives of others. I am sure many other organizations have done a lot of sustainable philanthropic work in their countries of origin.

However, I sincerely see a disturbing trend which must be addressed if we envision Diaspora groups to become relevant to Africa’s political and socio-economic development. The overall assessments of many organizations are bleak and offer a grim reminder of the kind of mounting challenges our leaders at home face on a daily basis. Infact, these failings are self-inflicted and should be treated with a serious understanding that principles must never be compromised over ignorance and prejudice. We must not forget also that there are credible organizations in the Diaspora that are indicative of a bright and promising future for Sierra Leone.

Nonetheless, the "all chief and no Indian syndrome" has been a mental hurricane that is drawing a lot of organizations into a sea of trouble. Titles and positions such as "Chairman” or “President" are given more credence and meaning than the role and responsibilities they come with. Leadership comes with a heart full of love; a mind generously filled with a character of honesty and integrity. Effective leadership is not setting the agenda in motion but translating the thinking into concrete results that benefit the intended constituents. Today, many leadership structures and people who run the affairs of their organizations are akin to the kind of poorly managed governments in Africa- some of their leaders possess power without compassion, might without morality and strength without sight.

However, many Diaspora organizations confuse apples and oranges by believing that the glory must come without the price of hard work and sacrificing for the cause. Many Sierra Leoneans and some African organizations are bewildered by the conflicting attitudes attached to the leadership structure, particularly if progress is on high MODE. The battle ground is not about fighting the common enemies such as a mission to eradicate malaria or building a school or supporting adult literacy and health initiatives, the enemies are the people who champion the causes and those working relentlessly to achieve the organizational goals.

Hence, this social upheaval stifles progress and destroys the good reputation of kind-hearted Sierra Leoneans, whose purpose, passion and hope are to advance the living standards of their compatriots. Many decent and nation-loving Sierra Leoneans have been overwhelmingly exhausted by the bad experience of the moral deficiency and the lack of professional insight of some members or executives over running vibrant organizations. Others still see Sierra Leonean groups as a clash of egos and personalities rather than an ideal place to build a proud legacy.Even though humanitarian, political and social progress have been made by some organizations, the culture of individualism continues to reverse the many gains a few have persistently worked for.

Practically, good leadership means a strong commitment to work effectively with the team, to create a constructive climate for innovations and demonstrating the willingness to work through conflict resolution. Leadership is a shared function among many people instead of being personified by one or two people. Diaspora organizations are famously known for their refusal to pass the torch and groom their successors. Many are caught up into a kind of Robert Mugabe self-centered power lust and convinced themselves that the mantra of leadership must revolve only through their front door. Unfortunately, a lot of groups are embroiled in the battle for leadership while their shared objectives are abandoned and neglected during the course of such bitter struggle.

On the other hand, a lot of Sierra Leoneans psychologically think that if I am not leading it by title-then I am not a valuable player. Many seriously believe that if it is not my idea or suggestion, it is not good enough and must not be allowed to succeed. The social concept of “me, myself and I” mentality have significantly distracted and derailed the mission and objectives of many organizations. It has created a dangerous precedent that continues to destroy and shorten the life span of promising organizations. More opportunities are lost when unnecessary focus and attention are prioritized on who I am- the egoistic tendencies- rather than what someone is doing for the organization on an overall basis.

By design, an executive body or board committees are the life line of any organization. These bodies are mandated to work towards the path of harnessing the potentials of the group, maximize the strength of its leadership and work to achieve common objectives.

Too many so-called "friendly fires" become fireworks in the middle of a January than on JULY 4th-(US Independence Day). Some Executives/Board members develop an obsession to fire shots at targets that are part of their own battalions. Friendly fires are prevalent among people who do not have a shared understanding about their mission or may be consumed by petty jealousy or simply becoming an obstructionist. The friendly fires perpetrators, who see everything from a close reactionary mind, continue to drag many organizations down into the bottom of the ditches.

While team spirit can increase morale and provide effective communication, working against each other as executive or board members defeat the rules of engagement and postpone the success of any organization. Thus, a well defined organizational structure where work is delegated; where there are clear lines of authority and responsibilities can remove the barriers or prevent friendly fires from becoming the fireworks of the day.

On the other front, it has become an easy scenario to bring down good ideas for the sake of instant gratification. The perception of many organizations celebrating failure remains a dangerous instinct than the reality of cherishing success. The blame game bonanza is familiar vocabulary in many organizational circles.

What I found hard to understand is that we are paralyzed by the deceptive psychology of being “reactive” rather than “pro-active” to what matters most to all of us. More valuable time is spent on analyzing personalities and motives than working towards the goal of the organizations. After all, if we do not succeed, what is the purpose of having an organization in the first place? What good is it to rejoice over misjudgments or errors made by some one and not learning from the experience that is gained from past mistakes?

Indeed,passing on or throwing blames would never help any organization build a track record of success. It would only lead to what we see in a struggling continent which is unable to better manage its resources and provide essential services to its citizenry. We would only see the mortality rate among Sierra Leonean organizations rising to an increasing level of disappointment.

The most incredible lesson I has learned over the past six years is that many people do not believe in change. They are victimized by the law of inertia-refusing to move to a changing position. Apparently, many people like to be in the same constant motion, doing the same thing because it creates comfort and stability for them. Thus, these segments of people within a viable organization have been a stumbling block. They are what I call the “progress haters”. Either because they feel they are powerless or they are not steering the ship of leadership- everything should stay the same. They are caught up in a mental state of amnesia and see the world through broken lens that are short sighted and foggy.

I must honestly catalogue those who have good intentions but are sincerely ignorant about the functionality of an organization as the new emerging problem in Diaspora organizations. They are part of the group because they want to feel a sense of belonging. They vote on passion or emotion and not on principles. They do not believe that competence most supersede favouritism. They dislike people whose perspectives and backgrounds are not similar to theirs. They believe that what divides us is far greater than what unites us. Many people who oppose change are so small-picture minded that they are not within the reach of understanding the scope and purpose of the organization’s mission. The worst experience is to have people who do not understand the purpose of your cause but believe in the existence of the organization.

While compliments must be showered on those few organizations that have survived the mortality rate, I think it is professionally helpful to highlight and measure the strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats towards our current mission, systems, planning, structures, people or membership and particularly the vital component of leadership readiness. With such fresh and honest perspectives, many can learn from these short-comings and develop a new awareness to address their existing problems. My personal analysis and observations come from a loving heart with no intention to offend or degrade any person or organization.

Thus, the most persistent question we should ask ourselves is what Dr. King asked many years ago: “What are you doing to help others?” There are many ways we can help make our world a better place. One of them is to contribute meaningfully and impact someone’s life through organizations,mosques,churches and communities.

Our success are not measured by how much we have in the treasury vaults or the extravagant homes we live in or the endowement and level of education we attained. History and great leaders long ago taught us that our self-worth is characteristic of what we do for others and not what we do for ourselves. Let us go forth as Maya Angelo said: “Here on the pulse of this new day, you may find the grace to look up and out-And into your sister’s eyes and into your brother’s eyes.”

Mohamed C. Bah(photo) is President of the Sierra Leone Community Association of Atlanta, Georgia, USA.