Last year I spent some time in Nepal. Even though I have always enjoyed hiking, going to Nepal and hiking in the tallest mountains in the world was something I had never thought of. But, life always has its funny turns and during a 9 month trip with my wife, we thought it was crazy to past up the opportunity.
Once we decided on a hike, we knew we wanted to get a guide/porter to help us up the mountain. Even though we probably could have done it ourselves, it was nice peace of mind to have a local with us. Also, as far as we understood it, it was a nice way to contribute to their economy and meet locals. I read that with the earnings of a 10-day trek, a guide will be able to feed their family for 3 – 4 months.
The problem? It was really hard to understand how this relationship would work while we were on the trail. There are a lot of companies in Katmandu, all offering similar services and it’s hard to distinguish them all. Also, unless you ask specific questions, they won’t go out of their way to describe the experience apart from the obvious! It’s really hard to know what questions to ask because you don’t know what you don’t know!
This made me think of finding development partners. If imagining what a trekking partner will do and how that relationship might be like, imagining how a development partner will work must be extremely difficult.
So how do you find a partner that you feel comfortable with?
Well, first you need to understand what you will need from a partner and write down what expectations you have. Also, brainstorm what could cause a project to fail from your perspective. Ask your development partners, how they have handled those situations in the past and how would they handle them now. For example, during our trek, we didn’t necessarily enjoy all the huts we stayed at so it would have been nice to know ahead of time that we didn’t really have a say on the places we were staying at.
Having honest conversations with vendors about how they will meet your goals and expectations is highly encouraged. It’s important to be on the same page before the project starts.
What is their process? Why do they do it that way? Anybody can say that they stay within budget and make user-friendly software. But what processes do they have in place to ensure that happens? How can you be sure that happens?
Having these conversations upfront will make it seem less like a leap of faith and more like they are guiding you up the mountain through a well-defined path.