Compliance vs change: Skills missing in the aid sector

More than ever, the aid sector is under pressure to deliver. The sector has created a suite of training to ensure that people learn what must be done – proposal writing, grants, finance, monitoring and evaluation, project management and many more compliance-related trainings. As compliance and results measurements become more complex, our focus has turned increasingly towards these areas.

These are all very useful for getting things done and ensuring that systems function in the aid sector. However, we need balance between these areas and what Aid Works consider ‘core skills’. After reflecting on our work implementing aid projects, conducting evaluations and providing training and learning,  we have identified four core skills that have been neglected and under-valued. These skills are essential to unleash our inner leadership and create leaders in our sector – we are going to focus on them in our upcoming workshop Unleashing Your Inner Leader.

1. Giving and receiving feedback – consider the type of feedback required

‘The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.’ – George Bernard Shaw

A lot of us spend a huge amount of time in front of a computer, giving and receiving feedback on documents or data. We’re often pressed for time and have countless things to deal with.  It’s important as leaders (we are all leaders) that we consider the type of feedback that is required in different situations.

2. Empathy for others

This is a fundamental skill of any leader. We have got stuck in a ‘hustle culture’ in international development, focusing on results and forgetting about people. Right now, when racism and decolonising aid are key priorities, it’s vital that we strive to be empathetic to our colleagues.

3. Understanding that people act rationally

‘An accurate description of a worldview has nothing to do with you or your mission.. it’s the way a person acts without you in the room.’ – Seth Godin

How often have you sat there and thought, ‘why did [insert stakeholder] do that? That is ridiculous and doesn’t make sense?’

The sector doesn’t spend enough time properly understanding the world view of others and almost no time truly accepting that their worldview is right. Because lives are on the line, we often focus on telling people what needs to be done. We need to balance our push for change, with spending more effort thinking about the worldviews of others.

4. Empower decision making at all levels

Have you hesitated in making a decision? Have you passed it on to others as you’re unsure? Thoughts such as ‘that’s the project design’, or ‘the donor won’t go for that’ can block us from making decisions. Empowering staff to make decisions is critical.

What if everyone was treated like a leader in their own right?

So what?

Giving these neglected skills more priority is fundamental in moving some of the sector’s big rocks more quickly. Our goal should be about creating leaders throughout organisations – something we at Aid Works want to help you achieve.

Aid Works is launching a new workshop

Aid Works is also launching a new kind of workshop for the aid sector – called Unleashing your Inner Leader – covering the core skills listed above in more detail. Take the leap with us!