Have you ever had a Eureka moment when a song describes exactly how you feel? Yep, that OMG moment! I know the feeling.
Now imagine what is being described in the song is not only how you feel, but also your perception of the world, your ideas of how to make a difference, your personal vision, your values. I know, what are the odds? Small, you’d say? Wait until you read my story.
I come from Africa, specifically the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). From a continent and a country that have and continue to struggle with poverty, disease, conflict and natural disaster. From Ebola in West Africa, to the explosion of lake Nyos, to over six million deaths in the DRC conflict, to immigrants risking their lives at sea to escape civil war, and to the devastating floods in Malawi: the picture looks overwhelmingly hopeless.
Yet my continent is also home to the bravest, most courageous and most determined people I have ever met. Men and women working hard to make a difference and change the fate of the continent. For years I have been making my little contribution to this change in a very sprinkled manner: teaching, mentoring young people, helping to resolve interpersonal conflicts, supporting young entrepreneurs, working with community based organisations and indigenous people.
I have been doing things to try and make a difference at a certain level, but I have known that my efforts are too scattered. But I could not help myself: my actions have been strewn because I bear the weight of how far behind my country and continent are in terms of development and how much there is to do to make a lasting difference for my people. I have never stopped; I have continued working with communities and small organisations in the African Great Lakes region while trying to figure out how best to translate my passion and my drive for community change into reality.
Then I came across Well Grounded in 2014. They were looking for a passionate organisation development practitioner (ODP) to join the team. The terms ‘passionate’ and ‘opportunity to work in the Congo Basin’ spoke to me, but ‘ODP,’ not so much. I thought it was some technical lingo you hear in universities, not-for-profits and the world of international NGOS (INGOs). Not much fun! (says the guy that just wrote the term INGO!).
When I was reading the post description before applying for the job, I started noticing that the tune was familiar, that the values spoke directly to my own, and that the approach looked like a more ‘pulled together’ version of the efforts I have been making for years. While the ‘ODP’ thing still did not sit well with me, I was motivated by one specific part of the job description: “assists local organisations in Africa to meet their own goals, to build their own capacity in a way that works for them.” That was my Eureka moment. Like I said, it was like that feeling you get when a DJ plays a song that describes exactly how you are feeling.
I was lit up!! I put my head, heart and soul into the application, and was lucky enough to be chosen to join the Well Grounded team in Yaoundé. Once I was part of the team, my colleagues introduced me to the Well Grounded way of doing things and it was then that I started to truly understand what it meant to be an ‘ODP.’
During my first 3 months on the job, I experienced what drew me to Well Grounded in the first place: helping local organisations (and in the process, communities they serve) to strengthen their identity, strategy and structure with no other motivation other than wanting to assist civil society organisations in the Congo Basin region to make a bigger difference. Which is perfectly in line with my personal values, bringing together my strewn efforts of empowering local communities and local organisations. I have found the ideal position to fulfill my personal vision, and get to work alongside brilliant like-minded and passionate people. I have found a powerful way of contributing to the efforts of hundreds of other activists driving development, environment and community transformation on the continent.
I realise that organisation development is a set of tools and a way of empowering civil society organisations, a way of making a difference through the people that know best: local community actors and civil society activists. As an ODP, I have learned how to channel and focus my passion and drive for community empowerment.
Thanks Mrs. DJ for playing my song!