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Don’t worry! We will continue with recaps from our trip to Lewa after this brief interlude of thoughts from the 2012 AidEx Conference (a global humanitarian and development aid event) that was centered on this very question of being prepared for the future.

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Being welcomed to the AidEx Conference at the Brussels Expo Center

 The question of preparedness is one that many of us in the development or nonprofit fields fear asking – or one that we simply don’t have time to ask as we frantically try to keep up with present crises, projects, and ideas.  However, this conference was a stark reminder of the consequences of being unprepared for the future and its opportunities and challenges.

So what are the risks of avoiding “future-think”?  Well, the underlying consequence to the organization doing the avoiding would be its own eventual phase-out.  If you don’t plan for the future, you have no future – Sweet and simple, right?  This is a very serious and very real threat, especially for smaller organizations like Bread and Water for Africa®.  Our ability to survive in a climate of global transformation depends on whether we MAKE time for strategic thinking, innovation, and planning.

Besides the immediate threat to the organization itself, we must also consider our many partners in Africa.  What are we risking for the communities that we partner with?  What are the threats to the livelihood of the children, the families that they support?

At AidEx, Randolph Kent (Director of the Humanitarian Future Program at King’s College, London) discussed the importance of sustainability for preparedness in terms of

  • Fostering and creating more opportunities for successful innovation;
  • Avoiding a synchronous system failure; and
  • Building resilience to external shock.

When working in a field where people’s lives can depend on how smart and efficient we are in accomplishing a mission, we cannot overlook the magnitude of these outcomes on our partners.

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It’s good to prepare for the future! But Baby Edward at Lewa might be getting ahead of himself…

“Sustainability” is a word that’s been thrown around a lot in the era of globalization.  It is used so frequently that it has come to mean everything and nothing – which is a huge pet peeve of mine, since I believe that “sustainability” has a huge role to play in our future-think strategy before word-overuse renders it obsolete!

So how do we define “sustainability”?  Why is it important in our approach to the future?  Simply speaking, our team identifies a project or program as sustainable once we are confident that it would remain operable without the support of Bread and Water for Africa®.  For us, sustainable means that without Bread and Water for Africa®, the change and impact achieved in the community during the time of our support and through the support of our donors would remain. 

Our ability to prioritize sustainability and anticipate the challenges and opportunities the future holds will dictate our success in supporting African communities, our ability to be efficient and responsible stewards of our donors’ gifts, and our resilience as an organization – and a team – in the face of the ever-transforming global context.

How do you define sustainability?  What do you think is the most important opportunity or challenge that the future poses for us (in a humanitarian context)?  Leave a comment!

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