Specificity vs. Flexibility

I believe there’s a fundamental tension that we’re all facing in trying to formulate a mission statement:  while we want to make the mission statement specific enough that it provides direction for members of La Ceiba and for outsiders to understand what we’re doing, we also want to leave enough room to allow La Ceiba to develop in different directions.  To me, that means that microfinance or loans don’t have to be in the mission statement:  though La Ceiba is currently involved in microfinance, that isn’t what defines us.  We aren’t Grameen (much as some might like us to be).  Instead, we’re using microloans as a tool: no more, and no less.  It’s a means to an end.  So our mission statement has to define us without limiting us to what we’re doing now.  Perhaps ten years from now, microfinance will be discredited as a development mechanism (this is  a purely hypothetical situation, before anyone jumps down my throat).  We want La Ceiba to be able to continue without forcing that group of students to completely rework what La Ceiba is, or cause them existential crisis (although part of me thinks that forcing each group of students to confront these issues is good for the organization, even if it’s a bit counterproductive.  This goes back to the issue of whether we’re just trying to help our clients or help ourselves, I suppose.).  So here’s my mission statement, although I realize that it’s probably much too vague for many tastes (even for mine, perhaps).

Building relationships to work together to eradicate poverty.

A.  Building relationships:  The first part of this I draw from Ben’s arguments for “making friends”; I’m taking it on faith (never having been to Honduras) that this is what happens.  I think the constant client contact is an important part of realizing this goal, as well as the more quantifiable goal of improving our repayment rates.

B.  Work together: it’s not a top-down process, where we’re imposing development on our clients.  La Ceiba must always be a conversation between clients and students, both learning from each other.  Here’s where the fact that we’re a student group comes in: we’re not pretending that we’re experts in the field.  We’re here to learn.  This whole project is a partnership, and the fact that we work so closely with one community means that this is really possible, where it’s not as feasible with a large-scale organization.

C.  Eradicate Poverty:  Poverty is more than a purely “economic” phenomenon.  It’s not just about income, or wealth, or purchasing power.  And though this phrase is incredibly vague, and I haven’t quite decided what a better definition of poverty is (although Sen is certainly bringing up some interesting points), I believe that we can’t limit our definition of poverty at this point, otherwise we will in the future continue to discount alternate measures of poverty that could more accurately reflect the lives of the poor.

One Response to “Specificity vs. Flexibility

  • russellscott
    13 years ago

    I have just one question. but before i get to that, your idea seems well reasoned and with sound justification.

    But i absolutely MUST take fault with something you said.

    “…though La Ceiba is currently involved in microfinance, that isn’t what defines us.”

    Remove the microfinance from La Ceiba and you would have a bunch of students presumably emptying their bank accounts and giving it to the people of Honduras.

    MicroFinance is not a tool–its a business plan. I think we can all agree that La Ceiba does not exist to make profit, but it does exist to provide a service, and viewing La Ceiba as anything other than a business would be self-destructive. The money that funds La Ceiba is not coming from nowhere. If we lost that money, we would be in serious trouble.

    Hence the accountability. We need to be able to say “This is what we do, this is how we’re doing it, and this is why.” If La Ceiba is to grow into something more, we absolutely MUST define what it is it does in the first place.

    That being said, i have a quote from my good friend Wikipedia.

    “According to Hill, the mission statement consists of: 1. a statement containing the reason for using your product 2. a statement of some desired future state (vision) 3. a statement of the key values the organization is committed to 4. a statement of major goals”

    I also would like to direct you to this link:

    What i have seen, for the most part, on this blog are Vision statements, or value statements. Our MISSION is not our idealistic goal–thats the vision statement. our MISSION is to do something tangible, with measurable results, using tools that exist. Therefore, i would assert that our mission is to provide a sustainable microfinancing operation which would RESULT in the construction of relationships to allow us to work together to, ultimately, eradicate poverty.

    It is IMPERATIVE that we not forget that, despite our best efforts, we are running a business, and businesses that can’t define what it is they do, don’t last. If we want to make a true difference, we need to embrace the fact that we are a business, and not reluctantly accept it as a necessary evil which permits us to alleviate poverty.

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