There Must be Reciprocity of Culture, and 9 Other Things I’ve Learned Since my Last Trip to Uganda
June 18, 2013 § 1 Comment
It was just me and Malbec, on Tuesday, washed up in a tiny bar south of Houston.
I was in SoHo catching up with myself. I do it best in new pockets of the city, surrounded by strangers.
Everything is different now.
If someone asked me about it. I’d have to say it was me.
I’d had a beer with a branding mentor and good friend on 28th and 7th just hours before, and told him I wanted to give a singular perspective on Africa – the one that belongs to me. 30 days of business on the ground as a 24 year old New Yorker in Kampala. I go to Africa to make a living. Like any other Joe. Same thing, different place.
I was all pumped up, walking down 7th exploding about social strategy camped out on Africa’s rising place in the international market, and my individual place in driving it forward.
That was before it happened again.
“I hear its pretty rough over there.”
That’s how it started. That’s how it almost always starts.
A woman I met in passing had a friend, Ray, who had told her all she needed to know after a week long clinic he worked in. Ray. The would-be expert in Uganda after seven long days in a hot, white tent.
“Just terrible,” she shook her head. “I’m not sure how you do it.”
Everyone’s an expert on African misery.
I’ve learned that part of my job is to provide something different – first, on the ground and second, in my interactions about the work that I do there. How will I represent Africa?
I am responsible for the stories I tell.
“There must be reciprocity of culture,” Maria Chavez reminds me on a conference call, the next day. “Not just knowledge from us, but capturing knowledge from their language, story and culture.”
She tells me that its the marginalization of the impoverished that most often keeps talented women from surfacing and contributing.
Women have traditionally been asked for their weaknesses, she notes. Work and partnership has been built on that weakness – meeting its need with strength from the an outside source, and, most often, an outside culture. She calls attention to the importance of identifying strength, instead.
Strength is already present, she tells me. My job is to enable it to surface – not to provide it from the outside.
Her’s was the voice that wrapped up the lessons I’d been learning for the past year and a half. I’ve done a 180 since last setting foot in Africa, changing from a perspective of help to partnership, from asking for weakness, as she so eloquently put it, to asking for strength – both from myself, and the women that I partner with, regardless of our backgrounds or prospective occupations.
I’m feeling introspective, once again, from a spot tucked away in a city surrounded by strangers.
This time, in London’s Covent Gardens. Coffee instead of malbec, but the strong feeling of differentiation from before is much the same.
On my mind, today, is a meeting I’ll be having with 12 women on Thursday – women that I’ve worked with for months, now, but will only just be beginning to get to know.
Here are 10 10 things I’ve learned about my work with women, in particular, that I plan to take back to Uganda with me tomorrow morning.
1. Don’t ask a woman what other people have done for her, ask what she has done for herself.
2. Ask her what she wants you to know about her, instead of assuming you already have found out what it is.
3. Look for the strengths she brings to your partnership, instead of searching for weaknesses to fix.
4. Find out what resources she has available to her – and how she is willing to use them.
5. Look for reciprocity of culture – opportunities to learn from her and her culture, instead of simply teaching her about yours.
6. Don’t ask her to to change her sexual or otherwise personal behaviors in order to work with you – protect her privacy.
7. Find out what her goals are.
8. Find out what she is willing to do to reach them.
9. Find out how she thinks you are going to help her do that.
10. Don’t tell her you’re going to do it for her.