In 1997, my late wife Krista and I sold or gave away most of what few possessions we had, said good-bye to our families and friends and moved to rural Bolivia to serve a three-year term of volunteer service with the Mennonite Central Committee. I began making mistakes almost immediately. Of course there were the usual linguistic faux pas and cultural gaffes that contribute today to my repertoire of comical stories to tell at gatherings. But there were other more serious mistakes as well. I arrived with an overblown sense of my own nobility and preparedness. I also deeply underestimated the cultural baggage I unwittingly carried everywhere with me. I arrived more naïvely under-equipped for the responsibilities given me than I like to remember.
I’ve since served as a development practitioner in over two dozen countries with about a half dozen development organizations, both large and small. I’ve come to see that its not just individuals that learn lessons the hard way, but organizations too. Whether you’re a volunteer with a small development NGO like Trickle Up, a professional working for a large NGO like World Vision, an economist at an intergovernmental organization like the World Bank, an associate at a private international development consulting firm like Development Alternatives, Inc, or a researcher at an academic institution like Harvard’s Center for International Development, you’ve probably learned hard lessons that have shaped your ideas about good principles and practices of international development, both for the individual and for the organization. Staying for Tea is an exploration and articulation of these principles and practices.