Ashmore Consulting

Leading Delegations to Global South

Last week I presented a session on “Leading Delegations to the Global South” at the Council on Foundations conference in San Jose, CA.  The audience was enthusiastic and I am glad so many foundations are considering trips to the Global South (refers to countries in the southern half of the globe – usually developing countries in Africa, Latin America, Caribbean, and southeast Asia).

Yours truly with a delegation to Haiti

Yours truly with a delegation to Haiti

Here are some of the details I shared:

I have led many delegations to visit grassroots organizations in the Global South and want to emphasize that it should be a listening experience. You go to learn and listen, not to preach. Delegations are not mission trips. They are not work trips either, especially in a country with high unemployment. Instead it is a time to meet with the groups your organization has supported (or is considering support) and listen respectfully as a true partner while they share their accomplishments. Think of it as a partnership. In fact, don’t even use the term grantee or beneficiary. You are partners.

Most of my experience has been leading delegations to Haiti, an extremely poor country. So I am speaking from a very minimal perspective. Conditions may be better in other countries.

Allow enough ground travel time. Roads can be difficult. Bring a translator in case there are language barriers. Once you arrive, spend at least a couple of hours with the group. Make introductions and then let the group run the meeting, not you. They have prepared a long time for your visit.

It will vary from country to country but in my experience, they usually start the meeting with singing. Then each person in the room stands up and introduces themselves. It is helpful if you can introduce yourself in their native language. If you don’t learn any other phrases learn how to say that.

Then the group leaders give reports on the organization history and structure, project progress, accomplishments, and even a detailed financial report. Some of this may be tedious but listen with respect. They are sharing their expertise with you. Only after they have finished their presentations, ask questions that you may have but do not turn this into an interrogation. Encourage a dialog or discussion.

Do not expect them to provide you food and drink. Many grassroots groups are very poor and that could dramatically strain their budget. Bring your own bottled water. You may have to use a bush as a bathroom so bring some toilet paper. The meeting may close with a prayer and a song. Thank everyone before you leave. If you take photos, ask permission first.

Another thing to remember is that the groups you visit have gone to great lengths to prepare for your visit. They will be anticipating a grant. So don’t plan a site visit to a new group unless you are pretty sure you will fund them. If nothing else, at least compensate them for their time and expenses.

I then shared with the audience details from a planning point of view. Delegation applications, waivers, list of things to bring, and suggested items to develop for the delegation. I consulted several foundations that conduct delegations, gathered the best practices and added a few I learned from experience to create a comprehensive package for travel delegations to the Global South.

A few other items of note:

First, I make delegations an option for most stakeholders whether they are staff, board, collaborators or donors. For that reason, I created an application that not only helps you determine which people are best suited for a delegation but helps people think through the process and decide if they are suited for a long trip to a remote land. I have had several people decide not to go after they completed the application because they realized maybe they were not quite ready physically or emotionally to make such a trip.

Also except for staff, I asked delegates to cover the costs incurred with the delegation. Each delegate covered their own flight to the country we were visiting. I calculated the cost of ground travel, hotel or B&B, meals, tips, translators and came up with a fee that I asked the delegates to pay to cover in-country costs. I established terms for deposit and payment so that I could calculate exactly how many people are going, which is important for hotel reservations and ground transportation. Innkeepers, drivers and others plan for each delegate so it is disheartening to locals if someone cancels at the last minute. Therefore, I also developed a cancellation policy. I also created a waiver for delegates to sign to minimize liability of your foundation in the event something disastrous occurs.

Immunizations needed can vary from country to country so it is best to check the Centers for Disease Control website to determine which shots are needed in the country you will be visiting. And of course a passport will be needed.

The list of things to bring is important, especially for people who have never visited the country you will be visiting. I also give them homework — books, articles, videos and websites so they can learn as much about the country and culture before making the trip. Include facts such as a brief history (especially the US or European role in colonization and subsequent quests for independence), geography and the needs you are trying to address. What to wear is an important item as well as arrival details.

Often the arrival airport can be the scariest part of the trip since one can be surrounded by hordes of people wanting to carry your bags or drive you to your hotel. A detailed step by step accounting of what to expect from debarking the plane to arriving at the hotel can help put minds at ease.

I have developed sample documents for all these: applications, waivers, policies, what to bring, what to expect, and arrival details.

Ideally a delegation should be anywhere from 3 to 8 people. Any more than that becomes too cumbersome. If you visit two groups a day, dinnertime can be a good time to debrief and discuss what you learned that day. Stress to all delegates to stay with your group. Those who stray from the group can inadvertently put themselves in harm’s way, which you clearly do not want.

Finally, a delegation to the Global South can be a life changing experience for all the travelers. You will be amazed at how enriched your life becomes.




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