So, what did you accomplish, really?

This is a really good response to the typical “so, what did you accomplish abroad” question. Remembering that its not always about products and tangible results is vital.

“The problem is that really good, high-quality development work isn’t about products.  Instead, it’s about processes, and about challenging and even changing systems.  In the end, societal change doesn’t come about when you build a clinic or school room, though those are certainly good things. Societal change comes instead when people have the capacity, knowledge, and desire to change their own circumstances.  After all, what good is a clinic or a school if there are not people to staff that building, or if local residents don’t know how to use it, or don’t trust it? And what happens when the bench outside the clinic breaks?  “That volunteer built it; they should come back to fix it.”  Community buy-in and locally-based knowledge sources are, in the end, more important than brick and mortar buildings (or thatch and stick, if you are using appropriate technologies).”

So, what did you accomplish, really?