Every social worker, missionary, humanitarian, etc wants to see positive and progressive change in their areas of service. However there is a marked difference between change that comes from understanding and change that comes from power. Change that comes from understanding is slow but long-lasting.
Whereas power change is quick but short lived–it usually is lost as soon as the power figure is no longer present. In the book “Make Haste Slowly” the author shares an example of an effort by a Western NGO in Sudan to get the local people to adopt cotton as an agricultural cash crop. It was actually successful and quite profitable. But as soon as the Westerners left the Sudan the endeavor was tossed aside by the locals.
Why? Because from the beginning it was imposed upon them forcefully and they never truly understood and chose it for it’s lasting potential. Often when change, even beneficial change, is forced upon us we naturally resist it and revert back to our old selves and habits as soon as the power behind the change moves on. I’ve also seen missionaries in Cambodia with very strong personalities seeking to effect needed change through power moves rather than patient instruction that cultivates understanding and thus ownership for all involved. Initially the change that comes through power produces immediate results and one can think that “all is well” in virtue of the fact that everything they sought to implement is taking place.
But as soon as they leave there is a reflexive tendency to revert back to an older form that is more understandable and personal in virtue of it being self chosen. Positive and progressive change becomes embraced by a culture when its wisdom and rationality are clearly understood. Understanding is the fertilizer for true growth and development.