After the meeting detailed in the last blog post, Ashley and I went back to our house and had a long discussion about our options. After trying to look at our situation from every angle, we decided that the best course of action would be to de-facto choose the chicken initiative without actually saying so. We would only research chickens with the women, try to give them a more realistic understanding of what keeping chickens would involve, and then check back in to make sure this is still the choice they want to make and get started on our chicken project.
My concerns were mostly about trying to force the women into a course of action hey are resistant to and destroying the trust and enthusiasm that’s been built up. It seemed better to me to keep the enthusiasm and to listen to the women than to put them through a process they would actively resist and make them still research both options. Although I was disappointed the decision-making process wasn’t going to happen, I was totally okay with moving ahead with the chicken initiative.
Ashley felt like there was no other option except to go ahead with the chicken initiative, but felt very uncomfortable with it. She didn’t like feeling stonewalled by our partners into choosing one option and that our initiative would have begun with a meeting that they hijacked instead of following the process we had outlined.
We let Sam and Ana know about this development and what course of action we were planning on taking. Ana told us, with great urgency, that she would come the next day and we would talk about this.
She showed up the next day, told us that she and Sam had talked it over, and they believed we should continue with our original plan of researching the two options. I kind of resented that Ashley and I had made a decision and that Ana was coming to tell us that she and Sam knew better and that we should do what they wanted. We talked back and forth about our options in a discussion that mostly involved me bringing up the reasons why I thought going ahead with our previous course of action was a bad idea and Ana bringing up counter-arguments.
Ashley was fairly quiet throughout this because, to her, having someone tell her that she wasn’t boxed into choosing a chicken initiative because of this meeting (which was not an option she liked) was a huge relief. She felt much happier continuing with our previous plan and having Sam and Ana’s support in this was a great relief.
Ana left because she had a skype call appointment, but we had not yet reached a point of resolution. We all left thinking about things and I turned over her reasons in my head, trying to asses if I thought her predictions for how the women would react to different courses of action were accurate.
The next day Sam and Ana came to continue our conversation. Unfortunately they came late in the evening (but thought they would come in the afternoon), so there was very little project work we could do because we needed to talk with them before we moved forward. I spent much of the day waiting around for them, hoping they would eminently show up.
When they finally came, we had one of the best project conversations that has occurred this year. Although Sam and Ana came in with a very strong stance that was opposite to mine, it was a discussion with a lot of mutual respect in which they made it clear that they were advising us and not ordering us around. We talked through my concerns about losing motivation among the women, encountering a lot of pushback by them if we forced them to research food processing as well, and the fact that I want our relationship with our partners to be one in which we listen to what they want instead of just telling them what to do.
The two of them managed to assuage these fears (this was definitely helped by Sam’s argument- he can be mighty persuasive at times). The two of them pointed out that, even if the women are excited right now, if that excitement is based in false ideas about how much work the project will take or what it will look like, they very well might lose the motivation down the road once the project has started. This means they need to understand their options first because if they are still excited after knowing what they work will involve, then they will be willing to do the work they need to.
Sam also said that, in his experience, our TZ partners have actually lost respect for us when they see us capitulating to all of their desires instead of standing on our own two feet. He’s seen that us pushing back on them makes our partners recognize us as equals and not just resources to get money and assistance from. I’ve never seen this happen (having much more limited experience here than him), but decided that this sounded like something worth trusting him on. They also expressed the worry, that Ashley was not able to articulate but still shared, that starting an initiative by giving into them despite what we think is best sets up a dangerous precedent that might make them feel entitled to demand things from us and ignore our wishes.
They also managed to convince me to re-think what a good partnership is. Listening to what the women want is not the same as doing whatever they want. There is a reason these women want to work with us and part of that is because we are more educated than they are. This doesn’t mean we always know better than they do, but to ignore our instincts for how to approach problems that are not familiar to them is doing them a disservice and not allowing them to take advantage of the education we bring. I can listen to the women and still disagree with them. A good partnership means paying attention to their needs and wants, but also demanding that they treat us as equals and take stock in the ideas we bring to the table. I had been thinking of our relationship more along the lines of ‘how can we serve them?’ and trying to minimize our resource advantage (education, greater understanding of business, knowledge of financial planning etc.) instead of actively using it to help them.
The end result of these two days of meetings is that we decided to completely change our response to the meeting with the women and return to our original plan. (Just a sidenote that brings me joy: I was going to describe this as a 180, but depending on your reference point it is also a 360. This is one situation in which you could actually say we did a metaphorical 360 and it makes sense.) I think all four of us are happy with this plan (although I am a little bit worried that we will do exactly what Sam and Ana wanted and it is completely contrary to our first instincts). After almost a week of discussions, we will have a meeting with the women (this time with Ana present as well) that has almost the exact same goal as the last one: to initiate researching the two options.
To me, the fact that we lost a week in discussions to get back to the exact place we started is a bit funny, but it has not been useless. I am very pleased with the role Sam and Ana took in this week and think that we have really arrived at a good working relationship with our directors. The thinking that we did to get to this point was also valuable and I think will set me and Ashley up for an even better relationship with our women moving forward. Did we make any advances on the project this week? Not on paper. But as I’ve learned from the way that our project’s progressed this year, you can’t always see when the meaningful work is happening, so this week might prove to have been as crucial as any.