Burkina Faso, Part 2
October 28 – November 5, 2014
Using Power – – – Building Global Community
Yes, I’m obsessed, I suppose with the many faces of power as it relates to creating Global Community. It seems so obvious to me that we are a Global Community – whether or not we want to be – – – – and that, collectively we have the opportunity to create a community that actually works for all. We stand on the precipice of creating a new way to “BE TOGETHER.” It is breathtaking!
In the previous post we saw the power of position – of Blaise Compaore, the (now ex) President of Burkina Faso and his party. We saw the power of protestors. And now we will see various faces of power as the work of the transitional government unfolds. We will see what opportunities for the people to be heard are created – or not – and how creative and courageous citizens will – or will not- step up to express their ideas and lead where they can.
Meanwhile, other faces of power continue to be generated – – without fanfare – -power that is inclusive and expansive. Some of these are what we got to engage on our last day in Burkina Faso.
On Tuesday, Nov. 4, We had lunch with Claudine, along with Josephine and Edith. These three and other professional women founded AProFEn, an NGO that works to improve the health, education and economic conditions for women and children.
There is real power here – available to all of us – BUT – we have to recognize it and use it. These women recognized that they were privileged. They had the opportunity for education, training, travel and they wanted to “give back” to their communities. They now provide training to village women who have not had these opportunities. They support these village women in creating projects through which they recognize their own power to improve their lives and life in their community.
In 2009 I met Claudine when she was a Humphrey Fellow at the University of Washington. This is a way we can increase our power. Any education or training increases both our competence and confidence, which also increases our credibility with others.
The young woman across from Jim in the picture above, Frankline, was selected in 2013 as one of Africa’s Most Outstanding Emerging Women Leaders, by the MoremI Initiative for Women’s Leadership in Africa. Claudine was selected by the US Embassy in Burkina Faso to mentor this young woman. Here is another source of power – both for Frankline, and for Claudine. Collaborating and supporting one another increases our power exponentially.
Below, Claudine and Frankline stand in front of the building Claudine is having constructed for the future home of AProFEn. Every month she commits a portion of her salary at the World Health Organization to continue the construction. The facility will house space for training young women in traditional crafts such as weaving and making soap as well as a room in the front where their products will be sold. Passion and Vision are major sources of power.
Also on this bountiful last day in Burkina Faso, we visited the Cultural Affairs Officer at the US Embassy. The Embassy has provided some grant money for the training AProFEn is doing, and the officer was encouraging Claudine to explore other grant possibilities open to alums of the Humphrey Program. There you go – networking and taking time to build relationships with others is yet another source of power.
Finally, as we enjoyed an amazing sunset on our last day here – yes, it seemed especially symbolic – we had the opportunity to meet the rest of Claudine’s family: her son, (another son is away at school) her two daughters, and her husband.
Angeles Arrien, one of my heroes, taught that there were always two plans for every day – her plan, and God’s plan. That certainly applies to our experience in Burkina Faso. I had a plan – Claudine and I. It was a good one. However, the plan that played out has brought new understanding, new insight, new perspectives. The experience intensified my belief that (com)passion and vision are enormous sources of power – – – the kind of power that lights up the room, the kind that is inclusive and expansive. Consider the power of the AProFEn women in the following story.
Recognizing that if women in the village were to feel free to participate in the training AProFEn could provide, the professional women in Association knew they needed to gain the blessing of the Chief. They enlisted a young man from the village who was highly regarded and who could coach them on key norms and expectations. They learned that as guests, they were supposed to be the first to introduce the subject of their visit – but only after drinking water was served which was a sign of acceptance and welcome, and after the Chief authorized that we could speak.
Claudine notes: “At this time, as the lead of our group, I left my chair to sit down on the ground, a sign of humility and respect to the elders who composed the group of the Chief. This was a very surprising but appreciated action, since none of the group believed that, ‘we, women from the town’ would accept to sit down directly on the ground and to get dirty. But this was the ultimate and fundamental behavior we needed to adopt to immediately mark points, and it was done.”
The group explained their aims, which were to empower the whole village, even though they would be working with women. They articulated their intention that working with women did not mean working against men, rather “empowering men through women.” They conveyed their conviction that the entire village would benefit from the training that the village women would receive.
They clearly stated that they sought strong commitment, protection and support of men in the village in order for their work to be successful and concluded, “We seek authorization and recognition of who has the incontestable right and power. Because like a well-known proverb in our setting: ‘No stranger should show up without authorization or permission of whom may give it.’ “
These women knew the meaning of interdependence. They demonstrated inclusive, expansive power! They gained the trust of the Chief. They gained his respect ~ and he responded by entering into partnership with them by giving them land on which they could construct a building for their training. They reveal the power of partnership, power that engages others and expands the potential creativity and energy.
Global Community will be created as we weave together the unique strengths of every culture, when we grow beyond current assumptions of “power over” one another, and engage the potential of “power with” one another. Bill Easterly, economics professor at NYU, challenges us to move beyond the prevailing stereotypes of “wise technocrats from the West and helpless victims from the Rest.” (The Tyranny of Experts)
Creating Global Community requires embracing new understanding of power and deeper understanding of leadership. The vision of what this looks like is all around us, as we can see from the examples above. It is encompassed in Nelson Mandela’s description of how the chief of his village invited all (men) to gather when a decision needed to be made that would affect all. The chief’s job was to convene, listen, and learn. (The Long Road to Freedom)
The vision is reflected in the wisdom of the African women in the story above who sought out the tribal chief, and the chief who responded to their initiative.
Arriving in Burkina Faso on the eve of massive resistance to a “power over” regime, and concluding our journey at the future home of AProFEn which represents a very different, a very generative sort of power – was an incredible experience for me. It both challenges and inspires me – – – to continue to nurture “global community.”