During my time in South Africa, I participated in a course focused on sustainable community development. My professor (who my classmates and I fondly called Yoda from time to time due to the pearls of wisdom he frequently produced and bestowed upon us) made a statement one day that has stayed with me in the months since I left South Africa: “Development workers should always work themselves out of a job.” While I’m sure community development workers are not seeking unemployment, they should remain mindful of the purpose of their work. The goal of development work is not to maintain the large salaries of those individuals working in the non-profit sector, but to create sustainable change and growth within a community so that community members can support themselves instead of necessitating outside support. Projects that are not useful to communities or no longer serve their intended purpose should not be continued simply because they bring in funds. Projects should always be grounded in the needs of the community. Unfortunately, I was witness to the work of an organization in South Africa that had become successful financially but had alienated the community that it was “helping”. After observing that organization, I became more critical of non-profit work. I realized how important it is for organizations to constantly evaluate the value of their projects and assess the needs that exist within the communities in which they work.
Working yourself out of a job doesn’t mean that you have to quit working. It means that once you’ve completed the job or project at hand, you must move on from that project and discover what new job you can create that will be relevant to the needs of the community.
I was pleased to learn that during their visit to Tanzania, our team took the time to evaluate how the work of AIA can better serve the needs of the communities surrounding our project sites. Team members identified several needs that had not previously been address and we are now in the process of creating new projects that will attend more directly to those needs. We will be providing more information soon on these upcoming projects, so continue to check our blog and other forums to stay up-to-date on AIA’s work!