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Time to walk on water?

The River Nile near Jinja, Uganda.

2021 became the year of new things. Which may mean more new things lie ahead!

How so?

There’s a ‘circularity’ to change, which in your head and mine goes something like this:

When we tackle new challenges, our brains help to make them ‘normal’ for us by creating new neural pathways. These help us adapt to the new until it becomes habitual. This process makes ‘new’ less scary. We become more able to embrace the new.

In the Global Equity Sector, 2021 was a year of new thoughts.

All We Can was part of a group of charities together exploring ways to make our work with partners and communities more locally rooted. The sector term for this is ‘locally-led-development’.

I love Leo Tolstoy’s Three Hermits parable, written in 1885. It says something about the value of encountering new approaches. It goes like this:

A Bishop visited three hermits living on a remote island.

He finds them to be ignorant of how to pray properly. So, he teaches them the Lord’s Prayer.

On his return journey, he glances over his shoulder to see them walking – running – on water, after his boat.

‘We have forgotten your teaching, man of God. Teach us again!’, they plead.

The Bishop, humbled, asks how they pray. What they say is simple: ‘There are three of us, and three of you, God. Have mercy on us’.

The Bishop replies that their prayers will reach God just fine. He’s now listened to how they pray and has seen they share the same ambition. They don’t needn’t his wording.

I suspect Tolstoy’s point was around loyalty to what we know becoming a barrier to embracing what we don’t yet know – and what we all miss out on when this happens.

For All We Can, our Partnership model asks the question before giving an answer. It advocates listening before advising. And seeking to learn from partners and communities before offering any insights and principles.

Locally-led development says working in true partnership brings the best results.

At the start of this year, may any uncertainty ahead, and any hesitance at new ways of doing things, lead us to discover the beauty in what is new to us.

And, as All We Can continues to partner with communities around the world, we do so humbly, seeking to discover more about what effective locally-led-development looks like, in 2022.

If you’d like to dig deeper, this report captures some of the findings of the work on locally led development.

About the Author Steve Adams

Steve Adams is Director of Public Engagement at All We Can. He was formerly a consultant with clients including the UK Charity Commission, INGOs across Africa and in the US, Germany, Ireland, and the UK; and corporates in the retail sector. He spent 13 years at Tearfund UK as Head of Global Brand & Comms, and previously worked at GMTV.

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