Since 2000, projecthonduras.com has organized and presented the annual Conference on Honduras. Since 2003, the conference has been held in the town of Copán Ruinas (the previous three years, in Washington, DC), where it will again be staged this year, from September 26-28. The central purpose of the event is to bring together as many people as possible, representing as many organizations as possible, under one roof, over a three-day period to compare notes about the work they are doing to empower the people of Honduras in the areas of education, healthcare, and community building. The idea is to encourage "networking" so that individuals and groups can find ways to share information and coordinate their efforts.
The underlying assumption is that working together is a good thing, and working in isolation is generally not. The premise is that more can be accomplished more efficiently through greater economies of scale. No need recreating the wheel when you don't have to. No need to purchase stuff when perhaps it can be borrowed. No need to spend valuable time trying to develop the right contact when someone might immediately point you to that person.
During the past 14 years, there have been endless stories of how the conference has brought people together in ways that have helped to overcome problems and issues, thus making it possible to improve and expand projects. The vast portion of those stories occur quietly, behind the scenes, without any fanfare. Having said this, I think there continues to be a need to push the idea that individuals and groups involved in development, volunteer, or humanitarian relief activities in Honduras should try harder to coordinate whenever possible and always look for ways to complement each other's efforts.
Not too long ago, I received some insights from a contact within our network reminding me that there are still many organizations in Honduras who tend to work alone rather than in partnership with others. Tim, who has been working in Honduras for more than a decade, said that the main reason for this phenomenon has to do with the issue of trust. Tim believes that organizations often lack trust in each other. One group, for example, may think that another group might try to steal its donors or take credit for its work and accomplishments. There could also be distrust with regard to doctrinal issues.
When all is said and done, many organizations often prefer to work in isolation rather than risk losing part or all that they have worked to achieve. There have been enough instances where organizations have worked with others in the past and have been burnt.
"It is a rare thing to find people who will share resources that have cost them money to acquire," says Tim. "I can feel some of that myself in the fact that it is so difficult to raise support, and so difficult to maintain support, and every ministry, missionary or person who represents a non-profit is responsible to their board of directors, mission statement and donors."
Another possible reason for groups opting to work in isolation could simply be that people are so focused on their own mission that they do not take the time to realize the potential that exists for multiplying the power and result of their work through cooperation with others. "It is a complex situation to say the least," notes Tim. "Then you couple that with the fact that most of us gringos who leave our good homes in the United States to come here to try to help Honduras are some really strange birds... I guess sometimes it's just easier to work alone."
In order to truly change Honduras for the better, rather than just applying band-aids to its problems, I believe that everyone who is working to empower the people of the country has to hone their abilities and willingness to work together selflessly. I sense that the potential payoff (... for the people of Honduras) of NGOs, governments, universities, churches, companies, and private citizens sharing their resources and coordinating their activities is huge. It may well prove to be the difference between helping Honduras exit its weary cycles of bad times and less bad times.