The Endgame

Bringing one thousand new members into our program has been challenging in many ways. They live scattered across the wide, varied, and mountainous terrain of two large rural counties, which are connected by only a few roads, almost of which are poor. The families we’re looking for are only loosely tied to the communities around them, the networks of local leaders who might otherwise be able to introduce you to them quickly and easily. They remain hidden, scarcely visible, even to those whom they circulate among every day. Let alone to outsiders. They are shy of contact, even distrustful, living according to a well-tested belief that nothing that outsiders like our CLM team could bring to their community is really for them. And at the same time they are surrounded by neighbors who are on the lookout for any development initiatives that might be in the area and who are expert at drawing available resources to themselves.

But an especially difficult aspect of the challenge has been the number itself, one thousand. We’ve had to enroll exactly that many. Not 999, and not 1001. And we’ve had to respect a firm deadline for completion of this first step in our journey. It’s not been easy.

We can’t afford to enroll fewer than a thousand for two reasons. On one hand, our donors expect it. The grant agreements that permit us to access the funds we need are contracts. We’re to serve a certain number of what they call “beneficiaries” by a certain date. To serve fewer would be to fail to keep our word. It could make it harder to get new money down the line. On the other hand, and more importantly, the misery of our prospective members’ daily lives means that failure to serve as many as we can would be a major moral failing, a kind of criminal negligence.

But we can’t serve more than a thousand either, because our budget is narrowly calibrated to that number in all sorts of places. Adding even one or two unfunded families could deprive those we enroll of the resources they need to succeed. We hope and expect to get new chunks of funding now and again, so the 1001st family will just have to wait.

For the last couple of weeks that elusive number has been an important guide in our work, and we still aren’t exactly sure whether we have it quite right. Getting there involves a couple of challenges. First, new members come in chunks. The program is designed to work neighborhood by neighborhood. So a team that spends a day doing what we call “final verification” and “enterprise selection”, the last two steps in the process might enroll three or seven or fifteen families. And in our hurry to finish in time, we can decide to send two or three teams into the field at once. So it’s impossible to foresee how many families we’ll enroll in a day. That didn’t matter when we were 200 families short of the goal, but as we close in on one thousand, it begins to make a big difference.

It’s become even more complicated as we find that some of the people we think we enroll end up not joining the program. They went along with the last steps in the process, but then didn’t show up for the initial six-day-long training we provide. There might be lots of reasons for this. We’ve heard explanations of all kinds. But it seems likely that part of the problem is how hurried we been about these final steps. We’ve found ourselves taking short cuts, decreasing the contact we would normally have with prospective CLM members before things get started.

So both during the training, and right after it, we were out in the field again, trying to convince those who didn’t show up to change their minds and reaching a couple of neighborhoods that fell between the cracks when we were covering the counties with Participatory Wealth Ranking.

And qualifying members in these new neighborhoods is now complicated by two additional factors. First, we are working in areas where we haven’t had Participatory Wealth Ranking sessions.(See TheRightPeople.) That means that we have no map of the neighborhoods’ homes to work from, no community-generated lists of likely families. We have to work from our own observations, and the kind of homes we’re looking for can be very hard to find. Second, we’ve completed enterprise selection in most areas. That’s the step in the process that lets folks know what we’re about. Word gets around that we’re giving animals or other assets away to the families we enroll. So we start getting much less reliable data. A family can be awfully poor without being CLM-poor. People whose needs are real, but who are too well off to qualify for CLM, lie about their assets in hopes of qualifying.

We have a range of techniques to deal with these problems. We’ve seen enough families to have a sense of what a CLM family and its home looks like. So we make much of our observations. We sometimes tell lies, talking of veterinary agents who will be coming by to vaccinate livestock in order to get people to talk about animals that might otherwise deny that they have. In order to find hidden homes, we ask women whom we qualify to point us towards neighbors whose lives are hard.

But it becomes a process with a catch-as-catch-can feel, lacking the discipline of the long, usual process, rooted in community participation, which we prefer. Our nostalgia for lost discipline might look like officiousness, but sacrificing discipline to speed may have grave consequences. Wednesday I went with two teams to a neighborhood called “Premye Pas”, the last place you go through before you start the climb towards Tit Montay. We found and enrolled seven families, but have no way of assuring ourselves that there aren’t two or seven or fifteen more.

And this matters a lot. Our commitment to working neighborhood-by-neighborhood means that we won’t return to Premye Pas again. We’ll spend 18 months with the CLM families there, but will turn elsewhere after that. Any family we’ve missed has forever lost its chance to join CLM. And it’s hard to imagine what other chance a family that needs CLM will ever find.

So as we look to further expansion in the coming year, we’ll need to apply what our experience has taught us. We need to get more disciplined, more focused during the selection and enrollment process. We can’t let our need to hurry push us to cut corners, miss steps, or spread ourselves too thin. Haitians say “two prese p ap fè jou a ouvri.” That means that too much hurrying doesn’t make the sun rise. It’s wisdom worth bearing in mind.