Kristy Dinsmoor, United States of America

In a field driven by donor expectations and feel good projects, we often see good intentions produce negative effects. There are often gaps between academic theory and practical application. Today our guest speaker, Justin Richmond, offered a refreshing account of his experience, which has produced positive results. The main theme – being flexible, staying within your own integrity, and speaking your mind.

IMG_0006-300x200It is important to remember that each effort, group, or project is born from the knowledge and capacity at the time. One of those capacities is the human mind. As people, we operate on limited information and grand expectations. While it seems there are never enough helping hands, those of us trying to build a career in development and peace work know it can be quite competitive. Instead of caving to that pressure and simply following the previous course of action, Mr. Richmond encouraged us to speak up and challenge everything.

This encouragement came with a warning. In his own career, Mr. Richmond has spoken his mind and promised better results. His success provides a compelling example but we must remember to not make promises we can’t keep. We are reminded that Mr. Richmond is able to be effective because he is realistic, creative, and honest. By doing his homework on the ground first, Mr. Richmond arms himself with compelling positions. Exactly half way through the symposium, Mr. Richmond’s visit comes at a convenient time to help us sublimate the intense amount of information from previous weeks and envisage what it could look like on the ground. Throughout our lessons it is becoming clear that it’s not just what you do, but how you do it.

Personalities and intentions matter. The underlying message I left with Friday was that when we open our hearts, ears, and eyes, and trust our instincts we will evoke a similar response from both the target community and the international development and peace community. In this way, we can better close the gaps and put theories on “best practice” to best use.