Sunday, September 28, 2014

The beauty behind buzzwords

Alexandra Plummer, the Managing Director of JWOC explains the buzzwords that the sector uses through JWOC's current projects.

I can talk about JWOC for hours; from the unprecedented commitment of our staff and scholarship students and the positive change we make in the communities we serve to the awe-inspiring support we receive from our donors. This got me thinking about the language I use to talk about JWOC to friends, family, staff and potential donors. I must admit that more often than not I find myself adopting “NGOspeak” – words and acronyms that are familiar to those who work in my field. The fast moving development world is inundated by “buzz” words. These are not to be entirely dismissed; they play an important role in framing an organization’s processes and are essentially used as a summary of their means for implementation. Beyond that, they can also act as key components in securing funds. But for those not living and breathing development work, these words can leave you a little high and dry. Words like empowerment, capacity-building, resilience, governance, civil society can be ambiguous, meaning different things depending on where you stand.

Below I have highlighted what some of these terms mean to me in relation to the work we do at JWOC. Hopefully looking through my lens will give you a better understanding of what JWOC does and why.

1. Capacity Building.

Simply put, I would say that Capacity Building is an investment. It is the investment in activities that can enable an organization to not just reach its aim but sustain itself over time. For this reason I would say it is an integral part of JWOC’s philosophy. Our 5 programs exist to strengthen; they make our staff, scholarship students, the local community and even our supporters and collaborators stronger and more able to face challenges. Projects like our new and exciting Technology Refurbishment expand what is possible for those involved. Learning how to better use technology in a learning environment equips staff and students with the tools to keep up in a technologically driven world. It may be a simple task for Information Technology tools to be delivered to the field, but it takes skills to use them to their full potential - a capacity that must be built from the ground up. Team for Tech and JWOC’s collaboration with the generous support of The Rotary Club of Sacramento helps build these skills to turn unemployed youth into future professionals in Cambodia. (Read more about Team4Tech here)

2. Resilience

The training that JWOC’s Community, Liaison and Assistance program runs is a prime example of resilience in practice. Recently JWOC ran training on practical health and hygiene to reduce health risks during the floods, which are a yearly occurrence. The knowledge that the floods come each year isn’t enough to secure prevention measures. In the squatters villages surrounding JWOC the root causes of flooding cannot be alleviated -- the village has poor irrigation systems, and uneven land. Since villagers do not own the rights to build on the land, the root-cause solutions will be a long time in coming. .Because of this, the chance of a sustainable solution to the flooding is slim.

Resilience means preparing as much as possible to come up against these odds. Working with what we have and what we cannot change, we build on what we can and reduce the risks to those who are vulnerable as much as possible.

3. Self reliance

At least once a week you will hear me highlight the problems that come with giving handouts. Handouts relieve problems temporarily, and are sometimes tempting when faced with dire situations (or necessary in an emergency), but it in the long run it creates dependency on others who are in a position of power.

We don't want to contribute to dependency driven behavior; instead we aim to enable communities to take responsibilities for their own future. How do you motivate a low educated community with poor health standards to improve their living situation? It takes perseverance and a lot of time to alter behavior. JWOC believes that by building strong relationships with local communities, by linking them to access to resources, and by offering training and facilitation, that over time these communities can become self-reliant. To us this means building ability to make informed decisions without external influence.

4. Empowerment

JWOC’s Microfinance initiative (MFI) is a prime example of empowerment in action. JWOC’s MFI increases women’s access to credit to invest in businesses that they own and operate themselves. JWOC’s borrowers have excellent repayment records, in spite of the daily hardships they face -- JWOC has a near 100% repayment rate. However, empowerment is not met by access to credit alone. JWOC operates a group loan system which enables women a space to share new ideas amongst other female participants; it also enables women to be the decision makers. JWOC’s borrowers also receive training on how to manage a budget which challenges existing social norms by empowering women in different ways.

I urge you to take the time to explore an organization's practice behind the trendy language and discover the beauty behind the buzz words. To find out more about all our programs please visit



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