Letter from Armenia – No 6 Peter Gay

On why good organisations fail

This morning we took the mountain road from Goris to Kapan the regional capital, further south towards Iran.  We had over-nighted at a nice B&B, really a great example of what can be done. Clear rooms, welcoming host, free tea, coffee and biscuits on tap and a great breakfast and all for €24!
The drive over the mountains was again spectacular as we passed yet more trucks trudging to and from Iran. It must be a miserable journey for the drivers as the roads are so mountainous. 
We arrived at Kapan once again following the President’s election tour.
We started off meeting the regional administration where we had useful meetings and found commitment to de-institutionalisation and ended the morning with a visit to a Children’s Centre. This was a most impressive outfit where we learned about the work they do with families and troubled children, even with young offenders where they practice restorative justice Armenian style where service has to be given to the injured party.
We learned about how they cooperate with schools and provide an after school club that has lots of interesting and challenging activities and also enables working parents to get some support.
Then the disappointment. Apparently another 4 were set up at the same time, 3 have failed and one is almost finished. This led to one of the many arguments I have with my partner who has the view that any structure set up must be strong enough not to be affected by the weaknesses of individuals. My view is a bit different, so much depends on leadership and if leadership is poor, the organisation will become weak and if it relies on external funding may fail. I don’t think its possible to build organisations that are totally fail safe, but by getting the right leadership and systems and procedures there is a reasonable chance of success.
In the Kapan case the leader is well networked with Government, Mayor, Schools and the NGOs working in the region. I think its very important that we can have these frank disagreements so we can really debate things to find solutions that will work here. We did agree that the reason for failure in many cases is a lack of leadership but also a lack of political support. This last point is important as political support can come in and out like the tide. So I agree with Kristine that we need to propose changes that as far as possible are insulated from such political changes and also that we should not propose new organisations that do not have sustainability built in from the start. Neither should we propose organisations that duplicate what is already exiting.
I greatly respect Kristine because she has such in depth knowledge of the country and has seen so many good things started and then allowed to fail. Its hard to keep positive in the face of such bad experiences; yet we must.
We visited the World Vision charity; some of my readers may be supporters. I can tell you that there is a great guy called Sergei running World Vision in Kapan who is doing great work with problem families. They train social workers and then they work with the families. Often they find the main reason the child has problems is because of desperate poverty. In such cases they discuss with the family what would make the difference. They have given families tools, seeds, sewing machines and other equipment that will either help them earn money or save spending it.
This system of giving a person the means to catch a fish rather than just giving a fish works and World Vision can show positive results. I have seen similar programmes in South Africa and they always seem to work. It makes me wonder if we could learn something from this.
Finally a visit to an Armenian Church. They are similar in design to orthodox churches but not so ornate. The walls are stone and the windows are clear. There is no gold or silver, just a few icon type paintings. There was a great sense of peace in the church even though it is only a few years old.
You can send your comments to Peter here – Peter Gay, Yerevan, February 2013

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