Challenging Our Own Mental Models and Our Growth as Consultants (Part 1 of 3)

Sections of this topic

    (Part 1 of 3)

    I have been in Africa for the past month. I am still in re-entry. About once every 12-18 months my partner and I take teams of people into developing nations to work in villages to build clinics, schools, or other projects to assist the local community as a whole. We have been doing this for over 15 years. There are consulting lessons in this work as well as personal development lessons for people who hope to do consulting. This is the subject of my next three posts here.

    The foundation for this work is an organization called Global Citizens Network. GCN is based in Minneapolis and works in 20 countries around the world. The vision of the network is a network of people committed to:

    • The shared values of peace, justice, respect, cross-cultural understanding, and global cooperation;
    • The preservation of indigenous cultures, traditions, and ecologies;
    • The enhancement of quality of life around the world.

    The consulting lessons are a part of the agreement (the contract), that we make with the village as a whole.

    First, we are here to provide help to the village as a whole, not to any particular person or group.

    So we define the whole system, as best we can define it, as our client.

    Second, we only do work that the village elders or committee has defined as their need.

    We do not go in and say, “This is what you ought to do.” We are driven by our client’s needs, not our desires to make it all better or do what we are interested in at the time. This is our content goal. The goal is owned and driven by the village and so is the technology of the work itself. We use local masons to perform the work in a way that is consistent with their culture and methods. We do not tell them we know a thousand ways to make this work better, cheaper, less labor intensive, or whatever; we go in to work with them where they are not where we wish them to be.

    Third, if we bring 10 volunteers to work, the village has to provide an equal number of volunteers to work alongside our team.

    The idea of course is to maximize interaction with the local folks. For our work the clinic is a vehicle for mutual understanding between people, which is our process goal. We are working to build trust and support local self-organizing and sustainable development.

    In my next post, I will look at the personal development lessons of this experience.


    For more resources, see the Library topics Consulting and Organizational Development.


    Jim Smith has over 40 years of organization development experience in a wide range of organizations. He can be reached at