Over the past 6 months of working with the amazing women of WEEP, I've been fighting a war of paradox, with proactiveness attacking patience, initiative attacking listening, and perseverance attacking empowerment. Each woman face daunting challenges as they prepare to exit the program and start their own business ventures (read more about it here); and as we (the WEEP staff and I) attempt to prepare them for that exit (i.e., by developing their business acumen and experience), I've fought the strong desire to suggest or implement solutions that I strongly believe will work, constantly reminding myself of ideas such as the above from Jacqueline (our CEO at Acumen Fund).
And the war raged on Friday while sitting with WEEP's site coordinator, surrounded by the cold grey cement walls of our Kibera shack. Walls that quietly displayed items the women sell at the market, while separating us from the same women who were loudly producing those items on the other side. And as I restlessly shifted in my squeaky wooden chair, listening to reasons generously given for why each possible intervention wouldn't work -- without suggestions for other possibilities -- I began to question if patience was really the side that should win the battle.
Then later that afternoon, as the WEEP crew and I sat with 80 other 'friends of Acumen' listening to Jacqueline talk about her book and discuss her experiences at a bakery in Rwanda, I remembered how much she had to push the women outside of their comfort zone -- in a project startlingly similar to our effort at the Maasai market -- in order to increase their sales channels.
While remembering this story, I wondered if perhaps I'm approaching this dilemma the wrong way. Perhaps it's less of a battlefield, and more of a science lab, where both patience and proactiveness have the ability to mix together to create something new and brilliant. But if so, where does this harmonious equilibrium exist? What's the balance between the two? When is the right time to push an idea forward? When is the right time to listen and wait? And is there some equation where we can create the formula the easy way, or is it really just a matter of experimenting / trial and error?
My experience so far is that it's definitely the latter, but I suppose time will tell… Then again, time requires patience!