Earlier this year, I was at a conference attended by some of the world’s top-notch development thinkers and researchers. In one particular session, a panel of development practitioners shared their work in NGOs, policymaking and social businesses. Usually, we tend to hear a lot of buzzwords like ‘sustainability’, ‘innovation’, ‘governance’ in conferences. But, during this particular panel, the words ‘love’, ‘relationship’ and ‘compassion’ were repetitively mentioned. I felt more awake all of the sudden.
Talking about love and compassion has always seemed a bit unprofessional and mushy, but perhaps the scenery is slowly changing. This is exciting, relevant and important. I dare not generalise but the reasons why most of us pursue a career in development is because of the way we see and think about the world – the injustice, the poverty, and the eagerness to do something about it. The root of these emotions and sense of social responsibility are also derived from the fundamental love and care for other people, hence the desire to bring some sort of change to the current state of the world.
How do we start discussing about love and practically apply it to our work? After all, it cannot be measured tangibly. This is especially difficult when the impact is unlike the way donors usually envision. This is why we need to build an eco-system of love and understanding. Discussions around humanistic values like love and relationships need to happen. It is not impractical; in fact it may even formulate alternative impact evaluation benchmarks. We can collect stories about relationships built between the staff and programme participants, or measure the level of love that people involved in the project have felt. The challenge lies in the fact that discussing about these topics or even interpreting them into programme outcomes all of the sudden can be a little intimidating, so starting from within the organisation is a gateway to begin. The key is to not to deviate from the original purpose by being reminded constantly of the people that we are trying to love and serve.