Monday, April 13, 2009

When You Realize It's Time

Today I am feeling very impatient and cynical. It's the kind of day where I realize that there is high burn-out in certain industries for a reason...after a determined point, your heart isn't in it anymore and you can't see your work through anything but gray-colored lenses. There needs to be a reasonable level of turnover, to keep ideas fresh, motivation rolling and spirits high.

The problems start when, as I did today, you sit in a meeting and think, "I don't care about any of this, I don't believe any of it will make a difference." I don't care about soy, I don't care about small-scale farmers, I don't care about malaria, I don't care about the Gates Foundation, I don't care about new proposals or budget categories or stakeholder meetings. It's all just one big cycle - AID begetting AID - even when it is packaged in the alluring label of "private-sector focused".

I find it laughable that the people in the meeting room - including myself - are discussing the future of farmers, of industries, of countries. I can talk the talk - we all can - and some of us certainly walk the walk...but I feel a bit as if I've been tasked to conduct a seminar in astrophysics, that's how far removed I am from the plight of the poor peasant working a plot of maize in Mozambique. And, much like astrophysics, at the end of the day it's really not my passion.

I feel very bad admitting this, like I've stated that I hate kittens and small children and sunshine. Obviously it's not a black-or-white situation, this development game, and the ultimate positive impact or damage of any program is a question of perspective. However, I know that I am burned out in my work here in Mozambique, and that likely I was never the right ambassador for a lot of these projects in the first place. I feel that I am essentially at the end of my line, just as I knew I was at the end of my line when I was directing an HIV Prevention Program in Austin back in 2005. Something shifted, the frustrations became more frequent, the apathy almost constant.

Still, it's hard to make the decision that it's time to walk away. I know I do a good job, despite my bitter days. I know my work is thorough, ethical and high-quality. I know that I have something beneficial to contribute, even if if said contribution is in the context of a system I disagree with. I try to remind myself that, fundamentally, I am lucky not only to have a job, but to have one that pays decently well and offers me so many opportunities.

I need a change, though. I know it's time, and I believe it's the right thing to do. For me and for the supposed beneficiaries of this work.

Stay tuned for what's next. It won't be immediate, and I certainly don't have a plan 100% forged in my mind, but it's gotta happen. Soon!


dead aid said...

What does Aid boil down to, unsustainable governments being given an unending lifeline of money and support, and while knowing that the cash is there with more willing to come in every day they can continue to move with very little progress. Aid is white folks in their ethno-chic uniforms hanging out at the train station or rua d'artes on the weekend with the land cruisers parked out front. Aid is a suburban house wife buying a save Africa t-shirt made with free trade cotton for $60 dollars because there's a cute child on the poster and because Bono says its the right thing to do. Aid is a politician reassuring constituants that he worked to get $20 Million dollar package sent to some country they've only seen on TV, and it makes them feel better to know they have a government that cares, even though most of that money will be wasted without getting to the hands of those who need the help the most. Aid is a rock star jetting into Malawi on her private jet because she needs another kid. Aid is some rock star telling us how bad things are in Africa, before going home to their mansion. Aid is a vicious cycle and aid only begets more aid.

Ali la Loca said...

~Dead Aid - Can I get an "Amen?"!! For me it's been a challenging road as someone who doesn't believe that aid is beneficial or the best way forward...and yet, it's where the best job opportunities are for me as a consultant. If I believed in the model, if I saw real lasting results in the projects, if I felt the passion...then maybe it would be the right thing for me. My situation at this point is that I'm at the end of the line of being a hypocrite. It's time to walk away from the proverbial white land cruiser (we don't have one, thankfully) and find something that feels better.

That said, I also try to make the distinction between the people who work in the aid industry and the industry itself. I have several friends working in NGOs, and fundamentally they have their hearts in a good place and really believe in what they do, and have admirable work ethics. I happen to believe in a different paradigm...radically so. I guess it's one of those things that we just don't bring up at dinner parties lest we want to spoil the conversation.

Monkey McWearingChaps said...

ooh, I completely understand this.

Safiya Outlines said...


I've just had an "Ali blog catch up".

Don't feel bad about being burned out with your job, everything comes to an end.

As for the Aid thing, I know what dead aid says is right... but I always wonder what can I do instead?

Ali la Loca said...

~Monkey - Why am I not surprised? I sympathize 100% whenever you feature a work rant on your blog, even though we are in pretty different industries.

~Safiya - You've inspired me to do another post about the very few examples I've seen or personally implemented of "aid" that works. Stay tuned...

Masd said...

There is a word in Urdu/Persian " Ishq", that means more than passion. You actually "ishq" your work and if you don't feel that spark of passion then you find no justification in continuing that work.

One of the most inspirational poet of Urdu , Iqbal, had written,

" sitaro say agay jahan aur bhi hain, abhi "ishq" kay imtehan aur bhi hai".

Translation: There are more worlds beyond stars, ( so keep moving) as there are more tests of your passion.(ishq).

Ali la Loca said...

~Masd - What a beautiful concept. Thank you so much for sharing the poetry. I think I shall copy this verse and post it where I can see it each morning. It is a perfect mantra for this time of transition I feel arriving.