By Mireille Abi Khalil

The Consultants 4 Change (C4C) programme was an amazing journey of personal and professional growth. But it also threw up painful questions about the gaps between my personal values, C4C values, and our reality in Lebanon.

Through the C4C programme, I gained a better understanding of the change process, and I explored tools to facilitate it. It was an opportunity to exchange knowledge and experience with consultants from five other countries. It gave me the chance to work with fellow consultants. And it made me realize how easy it is to collaborate with someone who speaks your language and shares your professional values.

So I completely agree with my friend and C4C fellow consultant Adisti Ikayanti. While counting her blessings for 2017 she wrote on her Facebook page: “Continued my Consultancy 4 Change (C4C) journey in Putrajaya and Issyk-Kul, Kyrgyzstan was definitely the highlight… I found great friends along the way.”

On the other hand, I find it difficult to apply my learning in this chaotic, small country where 8311 associations are hypothetically offering their services. That is 1.3 associations per 1,000 inhabitants[1]. Complicated political and religious dynamics overshadow everything, affecting funding, NGO services, and the regions and population targeted by these services. The community needs, the difficult economic situation, and the competition for funds and visibility make NGOs convert beneficiaries into attractive numbers to post on their achievement charts. The hidden agendas of some NGOs and the sophisticated, corrupted minds of some who work for them worsen the situation.

The daily challenges put our integrity and commitment under scrutiny all the time. So a question I always have in mind is: how can we consult with soul in this situation?

The C4C programme promotes three core principles that define a trustworthy consultant – consulting with competence, commitment and character. As I reflect on the ‘character’ aspect explored in the programme, I wonder:

  • In a country where the economic situation is difficult, most of the people working in the development field seem to “need to be needed” and “need to be liked”. It is the first step towards sacrificing values. How can a consultant have the “courage to speak truth to power”, while risking her/his exclusive source of income?
  • Does our education make us seek perfection, with a know-it-all attitude? The clients are looking for “the expert” to solve their problems and to finish a task. It doesn’t matter if consultants are humble, good listeners, or agents of change… for clients in Lebanon, they only need to be good achievers.
  • Neutrality is a value some consultants are proud of, yet it is not appreciated in many local NGOs. Here, what matters first is to be a supporter of the organisation’s political or religious beliefs.
  • When injustice and corruption are embedded in our daily life, how we can stay patient and flexible?

I struggle every day with balancing my values and work necessities. I wonder about the bigger picture, the hidden agendas under the top of the iceberg; whether what I am doing aims to serve a good cause. Am I contributing to making my community a better place? Or am I empowering corrupted systems in the country, a reflection inspired by my fellow C4C consultant, Mona Hassouna? It is frustrating to be uncertain of the piece you are adding to these jigsaw systems of empowerment, exclusiveness, and corruption.

The most important thing I learned from the C4C programme was to “detect” my client and to examine the motives for change. I took the advice and started looking among the NGOs and NGO people for the real client. I asked the three useful questions I learned:[2]

  1. Who knows? (Who has most of the information that we need to be able to diagnose and help solve the problem?)
  2. Who cares? (Who loses sleep? Who is feeling the pain? Who is bothered?)
  3. Who can? (Who can do something about the solution? Who has authority to approve the decision? Who holds the resources?)

The more I dig down to understand, the more I discover that clients on the front lines are often not the real clients. Even if some of them care about change, usually the information they offer is not comprehensive, and the decision is not theirs. Most of the time they are shocked when they realize they don’t even own their motive. This situation is putting both the consultant and the client in a puzzling situation.

In corrupted and uncertain environments, the most challenging question is not just related to ‘who knows’, ‘who cares’, and ‘who can’? The question is frequently: who dares to risk it all – both on the part of consultants and NGO clients – and face the ambiguity of the field?

About the author

Mireille Abi Khalil, project coordinator and independent consultant in Lebanon

[1] Civil Society Facilities South (2015), Mapping Civil Society Organizations in Lebanon, page 7

[2] Rick James (2016) ‘Consulting for Change : Strengthening civil society’, p 33

Illustration by Bill Crooks.