Stand Still to Move Forward

Weh head shot-2

We are always eager to go about creating change in the world, but often times what we don’t realize is that the first step is to sit back and reflect. Weh Yeoh, founder of OIC Cambodia, one of Everyday Ambassador’s newest partners, details the importance of taking the time to be thoughtful and purposeful when designing solutions to pressing challenges. 

Weh Yeoh was born in Sydney, Australia, and has lived, volunteered, and worked in Cambodia for the past 3 years. He is a professionally trained physiotherapist who has completed an MA in Development Studies. He has a diverse background, having travelled through remote parts of Asia, volunteered in an orphanage and adult shelter for people with disabilities in Vietnam, interned in India, and studied Mandarin in Beijing. He is an obsessed barefoot runner and connoisseur of durian.

When we see images of suffering around the world, our first instincts are to help.

But sometimes, we need to stop for a while and do nothing.

As someone who works in the nonprofit world, we’re constantly pushed to keep on producing, often with limited resources. There is an obsession with hitting targets – how many children have we reached this year, how many school books have been distributed?

Too often, we lose sight of the good that we are trying to do, because we lack the time and space to think about it. We also lack empathy.

I’ve noticed that stopping work can help you to answer some very important questions. It’s something I wish I had done in previous nonprofit jobs.

At OIC, I work with some of most dedicated people I’ve ever worked alongside.

Though we don’t necessarily work long hours, compared to a law firm for example, we have a small but productive unit. A few months back, someone who had been following our progress commented that we must have a staff load of about a hundred people. At the time, we had five.

I’ve learned that we often do our best work while doing nothing.

Okay, a slight oversimplification. Every second month, OIC staff and volunteers have a Work On Anything (WOA) day. The idea is to have the space and freedom to answer the question “how can I, or OIC, do our work better?”.

These are the rules: No emails or phone calls, no meetings, no work that you would ordinarily do Monday to Friday.

The Australian tech company Atlasssian pioneered this idea. They’ve used this day to squash some major software bugs, to come up with new ideas, and get the team to be creative.

Though I’ve heard about this day for a while, I’ve never been able to replicate it in my own workplace. And then, late last year, during a particularly hectic week, I read this poem – “Lost”. It reminded me of how sometimes, we need to stand still in order to move forward. It now holds a place of pride on my wall.

Lost poem

If the team at OIC is constantly running on the hamster wheel, turning work over and delivering, when do we get the chance to answer some very important questions, like:

Are we actually helping those who we we initially set out to help, or have we become sidetracked?

What one great idea is going to take this organisation to the next level?

If we’re visitors helping out in Cambodia, how do we know when to leave?

The last question is particularly important for OIC. We have an exit strategy to leave Cambodia in 2030.

We don’t want to be in Cambodia forever.

When I worked with a large international NGO in the past, I remember how we never had the space to ask these kinds of questions. Why? Because we were too busy taking money from the donor, spending the money doing work, and then justifying more. This trap, the cycle of donor funding, is common to most NGOs.

Up until what point we should stop doing what we’re doing? I want OIC to be different. I don’t just want us to do good work. I want us to think about how we are doing it. 

Wednesday Wisdom is a series curated by Everyday Ambassador Partnerships Manager Anjana Sreedhar, which features updates from our partners and reflections from the Everyday Ambassador community. To stay current with our latest posts, follow #wednesdaywisdom on our other platforms, and check back regularly for updates.

Leave a Reply


Color Skin

Header Style

Nav Mode