Is There Room For Failure In Development?

A photo of doctors in Fallujah performing a lifesaving operation.

You know that old Chinese proverb that says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”?

It’s true. In fact, I remind myself of this on a weekly basis. It’s an ethos that defines and directs our vision for Iraq.

And that’s why none of us will say our jobs are easy.

If we’ve ever made these lifesaving heart surgeries and our vision of developing heart centers across the country look easy—it’s not. In fact, it’s the most challenging vision we’ve ever tied ourselves to.

I love fishing but teaching a man how to fish isn’t the same as teaching a man how to delicately correct a heart defect, and throwing another fish in the boat isn’t the same as helping a sick child recover in the ICU.

But the principle holds fast—if all we do is provide lifesaving heart surgeries, our impact is immediate and measurable. If we teach locals how to provide these lifesaving surgeries, our impact is enduring and immeasurable.

Just providing lifesaving heart surgeries would be much easier for us as an organization. It would take a huge burden off of our minds and souls each week. We would succeed a lot more at our work. We certainly wouldn’t fear failure as much.

The only problem is that it’s too small of a vision. There’s a greater vision out there for Iraq, but it involves a whole lot of risk, sweat, and the possibility of setbacks and failure.

If we’re going to fail at something, we want it to be something worth failing for.

Every child in Iraq deserves to be within a day’s drive of a lifesaving heart surgery, and we think that’s worth going toe-to-toe with setbacks and failure.

Why am I talking about this?

Because it’s something I’m dealing with right now on this Remedy Mission.

There have been five lifesaving heart surgeries so far—which is great!

But, remember? It’s not all about surgeries. It’s about teaching and developing a local healthcare system that can do this all on their own one day. And, honestly, that vision has had a lot of setbacks this mission.

Mistakes have been made. Things have had to be taught again. We’ve taken a step back in some areas and in other areas we’ve had to go back to the very beginning. It’s just an occasional reality in development, and it’s the reality right now for our work in this heart center.

But we press on. We teach it again. We go back to the beginning and retrace our steps.

We’ll wake up tomorrow, grab our fishing poles, and get back to teaching because, some days, it’s just a tough day fishing.

So what visions are you backing right now? Are they too small but guarantee success every time? Or are they big and worthy enough to take risks and face setbacks for?

Is there a place for failure and setback in development work?

I hope so. If anybody tells or tries to show you different, I would question their vision.

Our Partners:
Living Light InternationalInternational Children's Heart Foundation