Cooperation Journal (II) — Fundamentals of Cooperation

When we arrived in Nepal, our main goal was to find a school to cooperate with. In Bahadur, when we start working with a school we do so with their communities as well, implementing a development program that allows families to ensure the education of their children, generally linked to the rural environment. For this reason, it is important to select very carefully those with whom we are going to work, since it is one of the greatest determinants of success. How do we do it? Before taking any steps, we interview the communities, and the factors we take into account are the following: the natural resources of the area, which define the essence of the program; local needs, which will allow us to set our expectations; or the capacities of local staff, since they must lead the change process. These are some indicators we take into account, among many others.

So far the result is similar wherever you go, now comes a differential factor, which is of vital importance: What is success? What will be an achievement for me will be for you too? To what extent are we willing to work to achieve certain results? This is one of the triggers of any cooperation project: establishing a common goal that ensures that both parties will share efforts and will row in the same direction. And this is one of the points where you run the risk of failure: starting without evaluating the interest and the means that the communities are willing to use. Factors that may seem obvious, but are often overlooked, assuming that the local population will unconditionally follow us.

But, how much money will you give us?

One of the main questions we faced when visiting rural communities was: but, how much money will you give us? We were surprised and answered: No, no, we don’t give money, we train teachers. That’s when some smiles began to fade.

We must understand that when something does not work we must find a different way of doing things, which in many cases involves an over-effort, at least until we get used to the new dynamics. Nepal is one of the developing countries with more NGOs per inhabitant[1], and in general many small organizations have based their actions on tackling local problems with external resources and knowledge, which in many cases has given way to a dependency system, in which families and communities expect direct benefits, such as money or outsiders to build their homes or schools.

And when I face these situations, I am even more convinced that, in cooperation, local resources and knowledge must be used to tackle local problems, because cooperating, in the end, is working together to achieve a common goal, so instead of putting money as a solution to a problem, perhaps it is more appropriate to use that money in resources that propose an improvement capable of being maintained over time, an improvement led by local staff, so that we not only propose an alternative, but rather a way of empowering families and communities and, for this, it is essential to listen to the individuals with whom we work before setting any action or goal.

[1] Font: The Kathmandu Post — Nepal has around one NGO per 500 inhabitants.