Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Why Dig Deep? - by James Haughton

James Haughton
I took up the post of Executive Director in May this year to work with Ben Skelton who had almost single-handedly nurtured the Dig Deep we know now. For the best part of two years prior to that I had the privilege of being a Trustee of Dig Deep and overseeing the transformation of the organisation from a student enterprise to the strong organisation it is today. I'm going to take a few moments to explain why Dig Deep has become a life passion for me. It answers a question I get asked a lot by old friends and new acquaintances: Why Dig Deep?

Dig Deep is a young charity, established in 2007, but also youthful in terms of the staff that drive it. All of our full time staff are under 30 years old, as are three of our trustees. It is reflected in our attitude to innovative development solutions such as wind and solar pumps and biogas as a solution for fuel poverty at institutions across Kenya. Additionally it breeds an exciting and energetic environment to work in.

For me personally, it is our shared ethos as development professionals, borne of our educations in institutions rife with charity scepticism (much of it justified) and observations in the field, that has captivated me and drives us on. The tangible benefits of clean, safe drinking water and hygiene education are well established but the crisis of water poverty is still chronically under reported. Every project completed by Dig Deep and charities like us, and every thousand people we alleviate from the scourge of disease, compromised education and economic disadvantage is a worthy part of a global struggle.

Our "ethos" is simple but distinctive; a heart-felt belief that the people we work with in Kenya are the experts in their communities, not us. By partnering with locally elected water committees and local partner organisations we listen to the communities, engage them in critical decision making, learn from them and offer support where they identify they lack skills-typically with sustainable business models to allow the community to maintain the projects themselves. In charity jargon it's called 'Community Led Development'-in our eyes it is common sense!

Before and after at Kagasek Secondary School,
Kenya, with many of the 1,000 attendees of
the opening ceremony in the background.
I always come back to the mantra "give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you feed him for life". Charities have understandable concerns about their own survival as organisations but, in my opinion, good development is about identifying the end game as early as possible and working to make yourself redundant as quickly as is responsible to do so. This is best for those we work with and the most efficient use of our donor's money. It is done by developing the capacity of our beneficiaries to solve their own problems. It comes down to building relationships that are equitable and not hierarchical, sharing resources so as to leave knowledge behind, treating each community based upon their own character rather than using a one size-fits-all approach and setting out to learn as one empowers and builds capacity. It is this approach and the positive way in which our partners respond to it that gets me jumping out of bed each morning for Dig Deep. 

The supply of water has been reduced by its ease of access in our lives to a conception of infrastructure; engineering, pipes, taps and plumbing but, as with all development, it is as much about effective human relationships as it is nuts and bolts

James Haughton is the Executive Director of Dig Deep, with primary responsibilities for fundraising, policy and governance matters. He can be contacted on james@digdeep.org.uk


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