Wednesday, April 04, 2007

1 Chron 12:32 report, 39: "Money answereth to all things . . ." -- but, is that the whole story?

A few years ago, while working on projects and thinking about barriers to successful implementation -- a major concept in sustainable development work, I suddenly realised that "we don't have the money" isn't all that it is cracked up to be.

I will explain, through disguised cases. For, we all make mistakes, so the point is to learn the lessons, not to beat up on our favourite whipping-boy by playing that ever so popular sport, the blame-game:

CASE A: "Once upon a time," there was a project that would have addressed a major regional challenge in an innovative, and obviously financially attractive way - investors seldom see numbers like that. Funding was therefore secured on unheard of terms, with a generous contingency allowance. But, when the matured developed project was presented to the decision-makers in the situation, they balked and an office war resulted. The project has never been implemented, and it turns out that the underlying projections on how the market it would have taken advantage of were CONSERVATIVE. That is, the project proposal understated its viability!

CASE B: "Once upon a time" there was a project proposal, which was viable and highly needed. During the initial development and implementation, the main financial backer apparently saw someone else who he liked better, and decided to switch. The original proposers and implementers were left holding the bag. A few months later, when one of the original proposers went to a conference -- lo and behold -- "the new kid on the block" was using a very familiar cluster of equipment to try to implement the original idea, but unfortunately was plainly out of his depth. The original proposers were never adequately compensated for their effort to develop the project concept -- or for providing access to their network of contacts.

CASE C: "Once upon a time" there was a project proposal for which funding had been secured, and the initiative was not only obviously viable and manned by people who could have done the job, but was in a vital area. The decision-makers, embroiled in their own day to day challenges and full of questions, held off deciding until the project's sponsors decided to take their money elsewhere. The main challenge still lies unanswered-to.

CASE D: "Once upon a time" there was a major project for which funding within reasonable limits was simply not an issue, and which was actually being implemented, though it was in need of good ideas and champions to move them forward in the face of passive resistance to change. Someone was brought in. But, this idea champion soon found himself in a situation where the sponsor who recruited him for the project as well as the main "godfather" in high places, left the organisation. [Cf discussion of these terms and related issues here.] The now naked change agent was forced out. Later on, the very same ideas that were so "controversial," "overly demanding," "unrealistic," "unworkable" and otherwise contemptuously dismissed when he was their champion, had to be dusted off and implemented, not too long after he left -- oftentimes (but thankfully not always) without giving credit where it was due.

Notice how, in each case the "money problem" had been answered, but that just led to the next barrier on the track. So, we can see . . .

Take-home lesson, No 1: too often, "there's no money" is short hand for: "our priorities and agenda are different from yours." Indeed, sometimes, I have been led to wonder whether there is an alternate, worldly wise view of the classic Sunday School tale of David and Goliath: Saul should never have let David get a chance to "shine" -- that way he would never have become a threat.

THL, No 2: Projects have a cluster of critical success factors, CSFs for short. These are the several things that must be in place, or must be achieved or must be done well if a project is to work. So, we need to identify them and address them robustly if we are to be likely to succeed.

THL No 3: Something important will go wrong, so projects are inherently risky. That means we have to have contingencies for when things go wrong, and we have to be realistic on the chances that things can/will go wrong. Backup resources and alternatives are not luxuries. If you are an idea champion in a heavy office politics organisation, make sure you have enough sponsors in middle management to ward off routine interference with what you are doing, and enough godfathers at he top to ward off the heavy rollers who can easily crush you without a second thought. Keep your resume up to date, and keep your feelers out to detect job-loss warning signs.

THL, No 4: Trust and cooperation are hard to secure, and harder to sustain in the face of inevitable conflicts in the course of a project's life. So, trust-building, frank but truthful and respectful communication and positive conflict management approaches are vital. So is a sense of humour.

THL, No 5: Adequate money and other key inputs are plainly a major CSF, and are prone to be risky. If a project's goal is vital, fundraising needs to be robust -- from as many sources as possible. Also, it helps to have a contingency sum adequate to handle failure of the more risky founding sources. Likewise, we can often exchange money for time: a project that is not doable due to risky finances in a short framework, becomes much more viable if we slow down the pace and use the strategy of an army of infiltrating ants and worms, not a squadron of highly visible, expensive, easily targetted elephants.

Thus, we can see why GLI advocates the MVAT approach. For, networked clusters of small community based teams that undertake projects they themselves identify and see as feasible are in the end quite likely to succeed often enough to make a difference. The key idea being to start small, with high concept-low budget initiatives, then build up a track record of success and a network of sponsors and supporters that lay a foundation for more ambitious ventures, eventually across the world as God leads and opens up doors.

However, obviously, such a network still needs to raise resources, especially money; especially when we begin to consider projecting missionary initiatives across the globe. That brings us to Basic Fund-raising Ideas, 101, in a nutshell:

1] Some projects e.g.. conferences and courses) can be partly or wholly self-funding through fees and sponsorships (including voluntary or subsidised services and in-kind donations).

2] Income-generating projects e.g.. in crafts or construction or even cash crops) can be undertaken to fund the work. (A successful project can then be developed as a small business!)

3] The Tentmaking model of Acs 18 - 19 shows how such a small business (or a profession) can be used as an economic base for ministry. (Indeed, all believers should view their employment as a base for proportionate giving to/investment in God's work; i.e.. evangelism and life-transforming discipleship naturally build a skills, manpower and financial base for further ministry.)

4] Regular individual/group subscriptions, pledged sponsorships and matching donation challenges can be used, especially for long-term initiatives such as training and fielding missionaries.

5] A portion of the income to the local teams and wider network should be consistently set aside to build a long term endowment. [Maybe here, the Chinese example of tithing resources for full time ministry to global missions support can help us begin: if we cannot give 10% of already offered money, efforts, personnel and skills to the global mission of the church, then are we really following our mandate to disciple the nations?]

6] Prudent investment of the resulting endowment fund then yields a steady income base for further work.

I think that an excellent place to begin is the creation of a regional Internet-based "college without walls," one that will, God willing, focus on helping the people of God and churches across the region build up knowledge, skills and capacity to nurture disciples, train people in ministry and undertake the mandate of gospel based transformation of the nations, here in our region and onward across the world, especially inthe 10/40 window. To that, DV, let us next turn. END

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