Fly-in/Fly-out development model noticeable on the plane to Sierra Leone and Liberia

I thought I had misheard a fellow passenger taking about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how SDG 16 on peace and access to justice has been the least developed. It turned out that the flight was full of workers like me.

By my right side a lady from the USA (Johns Hopkins University) working with Malaria. On my left side a German lady sharing stories of how Cameroon dealt with HIV amongst sex workers.

I have travelled a lot, but I had NEVER seen so many people working on their laptops writing reports and presentations.

I should be happy that so many good souls are working with the less privileged in Africa. However, realising the plane was full of “US” flying in and flying out in a week or two, actually made me sad.

I do not believe in the fly-in/fly-out model of development. And here I am, replicating the international assistance operating model that has done nothing but make developed countries less guilty of exploiting the resources (natural or human) of developing countries.

At least, I told myself, I’m NOT working on my laptop and I am moving away from reports and power points. For years now, my presentations have been very participatory and I avoid turning on the projector, as usually people turn off their brains as soon as the screen lights up. And recently I have started convincing clients to do an internet website, rather than a report. It is much more user friendly, easy to play videos from and add links and photos. Websites (if structured properly) are also a great repository of information that can be used to track back what has been said and done before.

Yet, there is something about this trip that is bothering me. I am not sure exactly what. I start to suspect it is the fact that I am white and I have become one of these “fly-in/fly-out” consultants.

After all, I was in Sierra Leone just over a week ago and here I am enduring over 10h of flights to get back there. In the past, I would have stayed over. Now family and academic duties draw me back to London. Hence being dragged into the “fly-in/fly-out” model.

In my defence, despite “flying-in/flying-out”, the reason I was in Sierra Leone and the reason I am returning is to pioneer a Peer and Whole Person Evaluation. The peer-working approach promotes sharing power amongst the team and puts into practice the concept of “learn by doing”. Hopefully at the end of this trip, a little bit of me and of the approach will be remembered by participants of the evaluation.

I hope that when I go back to London I leave behind more than only a report. I hope to provide participants with a landmark experience. I hope they will realise it is possible to work and to learn through relationships and dialogue, without Power Point or reports.

Even if it is by “flying-in/flying-out”, I will have made a difference if participants start to understand that the world we live in is too complex and the written format of these tools are not suitable to deal with the challenges we face.

The traditional approaches are not fit for purpose anymore. We need new ideas and new ways of working. If I can plant that seed in this trip, then it will have been worth it.

Isabela Souza