Coming to this event was quite a journey; I left home before sunrise on Sunday morning to get to the Port Elizabeth airport and finally arrived in Pietermaritzburg around midday. While in motion for all those hours, I kept wondering what it would be like to enter a space and process that was both strange and familiar. I have not worked with Oxfam before, but have been involved in the NGO sector for more years than I care to own up to.
Would I know people? Would I be able to ease my way into the process and fulfil the role of listener and holder of questions that I had been asked to play? How would the programme be? Arriving at the venue felt like a homecoming. I did know some people (thank goodness) and others whom I didn’t know were warm, open and welcoming. The way the programme had been put together with the intention of weaving wisdom through a combination of input, listening and dialogue excited me. I took a deep breath, worked my tense shoulders loose and opened my heart and mind for what was to come.
I really enjoyed being asked just to listen. I am so often in a position of leading or facilitating processes. Here, my job has been to listen to what is being said, but also what is not being said. To honour the wisdom and experience of people present and to invite that which is not being acknowledged or spoken. To highlight ideas or ways of working that may be in the process of birthing.
My role has been to sit in on sessions that explore the issue of sustainability. Two of the sessions were about practical issues – networking and base line studies – while the other two were about the less practical and overt issues of leadership and reflection. I also thoroughly enjoyed a session looking at the ways in which linking welfare and development approaches could enable sustainability. In the opening address, the Oxfam Australia CEO spoke about being “practical visionaries” in this work – holding onto the passion and vision that generates and drives what we do, but also being thorough, rigorous and practical in the way we do it.
That has been a thread that has woven its way through all the sessions I have sat in on; sustainability depends on nurturing the desire to address the conflicts, suffering and injustices of our world while also paying close attention to the many demands, practical tasks and contextual realities of what we do. The details are a bit blurry after two intense days but I hope to be able to distil them this evening so I can do my presentation in the morning.