2013 Capacity Building Program – Let the Progress and Adventure Begin!

If you have built castles in the sky,

Let not your dreams go to waste;

Just build the foundations under them

– Henry David Thoreau

Tanzania, here we come! Tickets are booked and it’s time to get down to work. The TPM team will finally be reassembling on January 31st on Mount Kilimanjaro. We have all been working separately to move this project forward and now it’s time to get together and begin making some major progress.

Of course, I wish I could report that the project was fully funded and that we were getting together to begin building the eco-lodge. Unfortunately, we have not yet been able to raise the full amount of money needed. As we continue to raise money to begin construction on the eco-lodge we want to make the most of the time we have now by preparing for outrageous success and improving the quality of life in Mkyashi.

I hope you know that we would never throw around a buzzword like “capacity building” without being sure to explain exactly what set of activities we are referring to when using the word. Here at TPM, we do try to avoid buzzwords as much as possible (see our last post “The Words We Use“). Our upcoming program will focus on building capacity in four primary areas that will prepare Mkyashi and TPM to support the eco-lodge project as well as contributing to our long-term goal of ending poverty in Mkyashi:

Building Supplier Capacity

Lodges use up resources. Every tomato, piece of meat, or pound of coffee consumed by the lodge is a resource taken out of the local market. We have to be careful to ensure that TPM’s eco-lodge is not causing prices to rise locally and taking food away from local people to feed tourists. This is why TPM is partnering with Better Lives to bring its FAITH Garden initiative to Mkyashi. FAITH (Food Always In The Home) teaches people how to grow enough food to feed a six person family on a 100 square meter organic farm. The program also teaches people about creating compost and organic pesticides

Building Staff Capacity

The Ritz-Carlton’s customer service motto is, “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” We are definitely not trying to build a Ritz-Carlton in Mkyashi, but when it comes to benchmarking service standards, why not benchmark with the best? We want to prepare our ladies and gentlemen to serve the ladies and gentlemen who visit the eco-lodge. It is never to early to begin training in customer service, English language, and other necessary skills.

Building Demand

Having a strong in-country network of support is crucial to the success of TPM’s eco-lodge. Connecting with other NGOs and foreign ambassadors will help TPM connect with development experts who can offer guidance for the lodge’s social mission. Connecting with other lodge owners and tour operators will help spread the word about TPM and bring in guests once the lodge is open. As soon as the lodge is built we want to be booked full and making money!

Building Community Project Management Capacity

As soon as we are making money we want to be able to start putting it into the social projects that can lead to prosperity in Mkyashi. Part of the 2013 Capacity Building Program will include organizing local people into a Village Board and carrying out a series of pilot projects. All projects will have to fit within the following criteria to receive funding:

  • The project addresses a demonstrable need identified through needs analyses.
  • The project is sustainable without continuous funding.
  • A detailed budget has been prepared for all project expenses.
  • S.M.A.R.T. Goals have been established for project outcomes.
  • A committee has been formed which is responsible for over-seeing the success of the project.

We could not be more excited to begin working on the program and we hope you will follow along to watch the progress.

He who waits to do a great deal of good at once will never do anything. – Samuel Johnson


The Words We Use

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

The words we use matter. How we describe what we are doing impacts the way we do it. For example, “giving charity to the poor and helpless” and “investing in local visionaries who want to uplift their communities” could describe the exact same set of activities. However, an organization that thinks in terms of investing in local visionaries it going to interact with its community much different than an organization focused on helping the poor and helpless. The organization is also going to treat its local staff different and will communicate a different message in its marketing materials. These materials will play a role in influencing how others view the world as well. So, the words we use matter because they affect what we do, how we do it, and the impact it has. But the words we use matter for another reason, too.

From a practical perspective, organizations need to use words that are familiar to people and easily understandable. When building a website or blog it is important to keep in mind the principles of Search Engine Optimization (Often referred to as SEO, Search Engine Optimization is the practice of using keywords and phrases on a website that target customers are likely to search for on Google and other search engines. The goal of SEO is to make a website appear more frequently in online searches.) So, the words we use also matter because organizations need people to easily understand what they are doing after a 30 second elevator pitch or internet search.

For organizations interesting in shaking up the status-quo, this can cause some difficulties. Here’s an example:

Recently, I was at a conference where a speaker was advocating using the word “time philanthropist” instead of “volunteer”. He felt that “volunteer” has a negative connotation about unpaid labor and disorganized projects. “Time philanthropist” is empowering and reinforces the idea that time is just as valuable a resource as money, so everyone can afford to be a philanthropist and change the world.

That sounds great; I’m on board! But, will any know what I’m talking about when I announce that TPM is now open for time philanthropists? And how many people are searching the internet for “time philanthropy opportunities abroad?”

The same speaker was also advocating that we drop the term “non-profit.” His thinking: we don’t call anything else by what it’s not. I’m non-chef, but that’s a pretty broad description.

Again, I agree. However, I have had a much harder time getting people to understand TPM when I haven’t used the term “non-profit.”

As we go forward we will continue to straddle this line. We want to attract people who are interested in charity, the poor, and poverty. But we want to encourage them to think in terms of entrepreneurship, local leadership, and empowerment.

One organization that is a role model in this is Falling Whistles. Falling Whistles has a powerful story and they share it in a way that celebrates the people they work with as visionaries instead of patronizing them as poor or helpless. I remember when  Falling Whistles’ founder Sean Carasso and he explained to me that they never publish photos of people looking sad or dejected and they only photograph people with the camera looking up at them or looking  them in the eye. Here was his explanation:

“People in the Congo take pride in their appearance and they would never want thousands of people to see them looking desperate in their worst clothes. When we photograph our partners in the Congo we want them to look bad ass. We want you to get involved because you’re inspired and believe in people, not because you pity them.”

Check out Falling Whistles’ local partners.

Falling Whistles makes the people they work with look like "bad ass visionaries."

Falling Whistles makes the people they work with look like “bad ass visionaries.”