Learning from Failure

Written by  January 18, 2011

How great would it be if people - organizations and government bodies, especially - didn't try to cover up all their mistakes and failures?

I know, I know, it's easier said than done. But one NGO is leading the pack by publishing an annual Failure Report and exposing their mistakes on the web - and we hope others follow suit.

Canadian NGO Engineers Without Borders (EWB) has been publishing ""failure reports"" since 2008. The publications are filled with both organizational or managerial mistakes and small failures and oversights associated with the difficulties of working in a foreign land - in addition to what was learned and how those mistakes can be avoided in the future.

Then, on Jan. 14, they also launched a website called AdmittingFailure.com, where they and other charities can do the same on a frequently updated and easily accessible platform.

Need an example of a ""failure""? In the latest 2010 report from EWB, a piece of equipment was sold to a local carpentry business in Mufumbwe, Zambia, but the project lead neglected to offer training on how to install and use it, which resulted in the equipment getting damaged and extra time and money had to be invested to get it repaired. The lesson? Invest in training, in addition to aligning incentives with customers.

With the belief that ""lessons learned from failure and mistakes are often the most important, and they commonly have relevance and value to others,"" EWB hopes to that others will be able to learn from their mistakes. Now imagine if every NGO did that.

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Zalina Alvi

Zalina grew up in Toronto and began her career in journalism at the York University campus newspaper. Before joining Verge in 2010, she worked for a documentary festival, a non-profit organization and various magazines and newspapers. Zalina has had some eclectic travel experiences, including reporting for a newspaper on the island of Molokai in Hawaii.

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