Leading Change in Medical Missions

Learning to mobilize communities

Community mobilization or facilitation is the highest form of leadership, and one of the most important skill sets for anyone working in global health and medical missions. It means we have learned to inspire communities to recognize, and own their problems, and then create their own lasting solutions.

Last week we held one of our live medical-mission-education workshops, Medical Missions 101 Gathering, at the M3 Conference in Houston Texas. I had the pleasure of speaking first to set the stage for the day, reviewing some core concepts about best practices in medical missions.

We build these events on what I believe are the two important underlying questions about cross-cultural engagement in global health. First, how do we create projects that support patient safety in healthcare delivery? Second, how do we respond to human need in a way that supports human dignity? These two questions are also the underlying theme of my first book When Healthcare Hurts.

What Most People Miss

Like all good community development practitioners, I like to ask questions instead of offering solutions. When people leave our events, or when they finish my book, they often feel like there were a lot of questions asked but not a lot of answers given. What most people miss is that this is a fundamental precept of facilitating change. It is itself an important takeaway. At CHSC we require all CHSC missionaries do at least an introduction to community health evangelism training. Even if they are a surgeon who will never work in a village. Why? Because learning the methods for facilitating community ownership, and response to its own problems is what makes it possible to support human dignity and avoid paternalism.

Posing questions not solutions

This approach of posing questions not solutions is how we respond to human need in a way that respects human dignity across cultures, and within our own culture. It’s about reminding people in loving and supportive ways that they are stewards of God’s resources, not victims of circumstance. Asking the right questions is how we break through fatalistic worldviews and begin to chip away at the marred self-image that underlies poverty. Asking questions, and suppressing our own urge to pose solutions, is the foundation of cross-cultural work that is responding to human need. We need to learn to ask questions, not always be the ones proposing the solutions. At least not until all the stakeholders fully understand the issues and have a chance to create solutions themselves.

How do we facilitate change?

I have heard people say a lot, “So tell us what to do to improve patient safety in short-term medical work”.  And “Why do you ask so many questions and offer so few answers?” When they ask these questions, they are missing one of the key points of my book and my talks. Facilitating change in any community, including the short-term medical missions and global health community, means posing the questions not the solutions. It is about having the community create the solutions. People will rarely trust what you tell them, but they will always trust what they discover for themselves.

Asking better questions

I have never, and will never say, I have all the answers about how to do global health and medical missions work right. My role as a community development practitioner is to pose the questions that inspire a community to identify and own the problems. Then and only then, will lasting solutions be created. If we want to facilitate change, in any community we need to ask better questions of ourselves, and of the communities where we serve. This is true in any community in which we want to facilitate change, from a village community in Africa to a hospital in North America. It is also true when facilitating change in a community of medical volunteers who serve a few weeks per year in low- and middle- income countries.  The principles are the same. Learn to ask better questions, and walk alongside people as they discover and create solutions.

You can find more on best practices in global health on our Youtube Channel MedicalMissions.TV . You can find out more about our training programs that share and promote best evidence-based practices in global health here at healthservicecorps.org/learn/

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