Purpose, passion and playfulness in windy places

We continued our visits to learn more about the organizations that will participate in our stakeholder/coalition building meeting next week. I am working from the initial design we used in The Philippines. That meeting produced the intended effect as now, several months later, the various parties continue to work on things they committed to. We learned this from one of its champions who is here with us as the lead trainer of the basic service provider skills training.

First we had meetings at two of the ministries that have a mandate to support people with disabilities. The buildings were clean, bright, and airy. Young well-dressed professionals moved to and fro from offices that were equally bright, clean and attractive, sitting in arrangements of two large desks facing each other rather than the entering visitor. Nowhere did I see stickers from donors on furniture or equipment that indicated that others were responsible for what was there. Mongolia’s GDP is right up (or down) there with the DRC, Indonesia, Cabo Verde and Ukraine. But these government offices don’t have the feel I am used to when working with the public sector.

Afterwards we visited two NGOs that take actions on behalf of vulnerable populations. Mongolian NGOs have their offices in apartment complexes where rent is lower than in office buildings. As a result we got to see the inside of a few of the thousands of Soviet style housing buildings that make up a significant portion of the capital.

There is a feeling one gets when entering these buildings that borders on depression despite the lovely sunny weather. I can’t imagine what the experience would be when temperatures are below 30 (C) and winds from the steppes and deserts come raging through the wind tunnels that these apartment buildings create.

I am reminded of Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language. The entrance experience is as wrong as it can get – soul depleting rather than soul enriching. Adding to this feeling are the poorly maintained playgrounds which are ubiquitous but which would not pass safety inspections in my book.

But then, once inside the apartments, the occupants had done a good job to counteract the entrance experience. The spaces, small as they are, were bright and full of color. The association of parents with children with disabilities is doing a great job to educate and relieve parents and appears to have been successful in networking itself with those who can support it through volunteer labor, donations and projects. The other organization has brought together wheelchair users and plays both an advocacy and support role. Both have been successful in pushing for government attention to conditions that are unacceptable. They are good examples of my motto that purpose, passion and playfulness make organizations successful in fulfilling their mission, more so than expertise and technical skills as the latter can be found but the former has to come from the inside.

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