Today's challenges in international development require a broad set of skills that cross disciplines in ways unlike any past decade. Interventions that don't leverage the power of technology often fall short. Programs that are unable to combine creativity with pragmatism will be overridden by local solutions that do both, perhaps less efficiently or with less scale. These challenges often call for young minds and bodies, who can both treck into remote and difficult areas and attach solar panels to generators or operate mobile applications. Our temptation might be to seek only these young minds and bodies to provide the solutions. Yet as our own young and agile consultants might attest, there are great benefits to including all generations on our teams.
Historical context, for one is a critical advantage. Many of my older colleagues worked on programs in the late 1980s and 1990s that offered poor women food or cash in exchange for "work". Some of us might recall the political fall out when photos of women lugging huge bags of rice around the mountains of Peru called such programs to pay fair wages, and not subpar food, for women's work. My own start in microfinance in the early 1990s in Latin America reminds me of how this "solution" aimed at replacing transfer programs such as food for work with more cost-effective and long-term solution to supporting these women and their "work." Today's popular cash transfer programs beware! Another advantage of age diversity is that older professionals can balance patience and pragmatism...It's a bit embarrassing to admit that the corny lyrics of Kenny Rogers' "Know when to hold 'em, Know when to fold 'em" often play in my head when we are met with challenges. Knowing when to keep pushing, and when to stop is critical when working with partners toward a common goal, even at the expense of the integrity of an idea. We're in this to solve problems for others, after all. Connection is another critical point. I encourage my teams to find a connection with those people we aim to serve. One of my "connection points", is typically my motherhood. I can talk with other mothers about our kids to no end. For others, it might be a sport, or the difficulty of living away from family. For others still it may be grandchildren or the "maintenance" of a body in its older years. The more we can link our own life experiences to those of the people we serve, the richer the connection will be. This will inevitably serve our work as well. While I can't touch on all the advantages, I will touch on another- mentorship. I have worked on various multigenerational teams over the years, and have played a different role on these as the years have passed. I have been mentored by great and patient minds and have mentored amazing souls. The opportunity to offer mentorship through these teams can enrich the experience of everyone involved. But the experience of working on multigenerational teams must be cultivated. Young people are coming out of school where they have interacted with people within a few years their age on all of their work. Those with more experience may have difficulty finding their role within a group as it changes over time. The temptation may be to keep people in their comfort zone, but richness comes with doing just the opposite.