Leena Samuel is Food for the Hungry’s Deputy Director for Emergency Response and recently served as the Integral Coordinator in Nepal following the devastating earthquake. Here she shares with us her reflections about collaboration and experience of bringing people together for a greater impact …
What is the main motivation for your work?
It would be difficult – if not impossible – for me to find joy and peace in the midst of devastation if not for the hope that I have that one day the brokenness of this world will be restored. This truth becomes even more real as I respond to disasters alongside other Christians, many of whom are directly impacted themselves. During my time in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake I was deeply humbled by the faith and hope I saw in Haitian believers. It inspired me to write this blog post: “My first morning in Port Au Prince I woke up to the sounds of worship….I couldn’t see their faces, but could hear their voices, joined in unison to worship the One who offered hope and strength in the midst of tragedy … The congregation was reminding themselves, and the rest of us who could hear, their hopeful song that the battle was the Lord’s and not ours to bring restoration to a land devastated by a horrifying earthquake.”
What is the most useful piece of work advice you ever received?
As a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in South Africa, I was advised to resist the temptation to achieve too much in my first year; that in order to be most effective I needed to focus first on building relationships and that if I failed to do this, any initiative I undertook would likely fail. So I had to resist my cultural urge to measure my ‘success’ by my work rather than time spent with people. My first job after Peace Corps was with FH, and I was thankful to discover that FH see relationships as a critical part of our role in overcoming poverty.
Why is collaboration a good idea? What are some of the benefits?
Given the unique structure of most organisations, choosing to work collaboratively is not easy, and is often very messy, but simply put, collaboration just makes logical sense. In 2011, Stanford University’s Social Innovation Review published an article entitled Collective Impact where they stated that “large scale social change comes from better cross-sector coordination (collective impact) rather than from the isolated intervention of individual organizations…there is scant evidence that isolated initiatives are the best way to solve many social problems in today’s complex and interdependent world.”
What would you say is the main challenge to collaboration?
It’s too much work! Effective collaboration demands that organisations look beyond their individual agendas, be willing to share risks and responsibilities (and sometimes failures), and set aside some of their personal preferences and systems, which much of the time we are not willing to do. It also requires organisations to have a clear understanding of their strengths and limitations – and also recognise the value of partnering with others who are strong in their areas of weakness.
From your experience of working collaboratively in Nepal, what has been some of the highlights?
In Nepal the collaboration between Integral Members and the Nepal-based national partners has been essential for a successful response. Integral Members bring to the table technical systems and expertise in disaster response, and the local partners provide deep connections and relationships, built over many years of engagement, with the affected communities. It is together that Integral Members and partners have been able to provide for some of the most critical needs of earthquake-affected communities in Nepal.
At what stage in the emergency did you find Integral involvement most useful, and why?
Integral’s involvement at the onset of the Nepal earthquake – before the first responders hit the ground – was instrumental in facilitating dialogue and encouraging collaboration between the Members who were directly responding, as well as the Members who were supporting the response. Given the urgency to move quickly in a disaster response, most humanitarian agencies do not automatically default to collaboration. However, in the case of Nepal, this collaboration was critical, and would have been difficult to achieve if Integral was not engaged in facilitating the dialogue between Members and partners from the very beginning.
Has being a member of Integral affected your organisations response to this emergency?
Definitely. FH did not have an operational presence in Nepal prior to the earthquake, and likely would have had minimal involvement in the response if we were not a part of Integral. We were able to actively fundraise on behalf of Members who were responding, and financially supported their responses. We were also able to commit staff time to help support the response. In addition to me going for three weeks to serve as the Integral Coordinator, another colleague was seconded to Tearfund for two weeks to support their shelter initiatives.
What was the biggest challenge in Nepal?
Balancing the dual priorities of meeting urgent needs, (and thus the need to respond quickly, which is often easier to do alone), while also committing to partnership and collaboration (which takes time).
What do find inspiring about Integral?
Through FH’s involvement in Integral it has been great to witness the power of partnership at work. I have been amazed to see 22 international Christian organisations (and multiple partners) from around the globe, each with unique personalities and method of operations, committed to working together due to a common understanding that we can achieve greater impact together than alone.