Parallel Worlds

Yesterday I wrote about the subtle language divisions to be overcome here. In pacifying the provincial officials whom we had irked my local colleague took most of the “blame”; as an expatriate the officials appeared to expect that kind of behaviour from me, but they thought that my colleague should have corrected it and ensured a better relationship. It was a conclusion that we partly shared: that one way to avoid such problems in future was to ensure my colleague primarily handled these relationships.

In fact, this passes for standard practice in a lot of development work here. Although when required we can both generally operate effectively in each others’ “worlds”, when dealing with various partners we tend to work in parallel: I handle communication and coordination with international partners and expatriate technical advisers in local partners whilst my colleague handles the relationships with local partners. Even when dealing with other NGOs, I am more likely to call or be called by another expat, whilst my colleague is likely to speak with their local director.

It is a slightly surreal arrangement that mostly seems to work, but relies on there being very close relationships between colleagues at each organisation. When this breaks down, the parallel worlds become detached, and we enter into management limbo. As an NGO we have the ability to hire our own staff, and are better able to ensure this crucial partnership is filled by people who work well together. Bilateral aid projects which typically partner an expat TA provided by the donor with a project manager provided by the recipient government are much more fraught, and I’ve seen a few go up in flames as a result.

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