All posts in Failure

Failure: Fired from Detroit Compact


Winter 1996, 7:30 a.m.
So, here I am, seething, trudging down East Jefferson, heading toward the Belle Isle Bridge, taking the first of many morning walks, designed to slake my anger and help me figure out what went wrong.

One minute I was the Executive Director of one of the most ambitious, organized and aggressive business/education partnerships in the history of the city, and the next minute my staff and I are out. The staff was mostly picked up by the local school district, while I and my administrators were given half a year’s salary and shown the door. Yes, it was called a re-organization. Yes, it was purported to be a way that the school system would continue to build, with help provided more closely at hand, and yes, the business community would still support the program with funds and jobs and such. Right.

It had been a near-perfect program with serious heartfelt commitments from each partner. Then, a perfect storm began to develop. The former Executive Director had done a great job of building an effective machine. I entered a program already running effectively. I was more representative of the community, to the chagrin of the business partners. Then, the highly-regarded school superintendent left abruptly, replaced by one who was not so highly regarded. Then, some of the most activist board members – those who were the conscience and fundraisers of the group – changed. The big funders- business and the state — began to question the success of the program and resent the money and resources provided for the program over the long term. Some of the developments occurred because opportunists were able to step into a fluctuating situation and manipulate them to whatever goal they were getting at.

There were many other events that ultimately led to this day of angry walking, but, as I said, it was a perfect storm. The program continues, unrecognizable from the flagship program it had been. I walked for many days, year long. My anger has gone from a high fire to an easily charged electric undercurrent.


Board Relationships: I was not new to working with a board, having been a head of two community college campuses and required to regularly report to the public board on my campus’ progress, but our president was the ultimate conduit with the board. At my new job, I didn’t build board relationships as closely as I should have. I didn’t know the process of pushing my agenda, and knowing where my votes were prior to board meetings.

Commitment to the Community: Despite the fact that there was a perfect storm of events leading to this “reorganization,” I personally felt that I had let the community down through my own lack of leadership in keeping the program running. At the end I sent an open letter to the community, touting the value of the program for the students, and predicting a critical mass of strong students as a result of the program. Most of my administrators tried to tell me that they shared in the program’s demise, and one even admitted to subversion, but I continued to believe that there was something else I could have done.

More Community Involvement:
Things might have been different if I had understood community involvement better. Hence, this class.

I am a doctor and I fail to pass AHA ACLS course


I attended AHA ACLS course at local training center called thaicpr and I as the only one who failed the test. To my knowledge, it is quite impossible to fail this exam as you can remediate couple times before you really fail the test.

The instructor who graded me had personal bias to me and terrminate my algorithm once I did the wrong step while he encourage the other participant to continue the algorithm eventhough they should have failed multiple times. As I encounter this unfairness, I became so frustate that I could not focus on my next trial.

I was an MD graduated from top tier medical school and never fail any exam before. I was offered a PGY-1 position in one of the best residency program in the state so that guarantee my competency as a doctor. I used to work as intern for a couple years ago and I quite remote from ACLS algorithm, so I studied real hard on the 300 pages ebook they gave in advance.

But yes, I failed the test due to bad luck and too much frustrated about the unfairness.

I felt embarrassed as all the participant passed this exam, most of them are nurses.


I accept  the fact that when I get emotional, I lose control of my concentration and ability to focus on the work. Basically, sometimes I cannot seperate my feeling from my duty. But it was quite difficult for me to get that level of emotions. So unjustice and unfairness are the issue that can trigger me to that point.

I think sometimes, we just met the wrong people who intentionally tease us when they are in the position that they can.

What I learnt is that I don’t let just only one test failure define me. I know what I can and cannot do. The  main reason that I fail this impossible to fail test is that.. I didn’t focus on it, I lose my mind to that trigger.

It was a mistake and I have to forgive myself. There are many ACLS course in different training center available, I will enroll to another instructor. Maybe I will find the better one that fits me and allow me to perform well without those unfairness distraction.

Most importantly, I need to learn to control myself more in the situation that I cannot control what kind of people I ran into, and that needs a lot of practice in the long run.

Here we go again .


So I’m going to tell one of many failures I have had when raising my family . first we start at our child’s birth , nothing is easy when raising your child , so we start off with all the right foods , proper clothing , and education . for me it started off easy , the main thing was having family around to help when the going got tough , we cruzed threw middle school with the usual problems , but kept moving forward . Then came highschool , another tough part of growing , the teenage years , I can write a short story on the things to teach your teenagers so your life will become easier in your golden years , I made to many mistakes to list them all . Now life is hard , even doing every as right as possible still won’t make raising kids easy , but when they get to adulthood , you should be able to breath a sy of relief. Now here we go again is the best way to describe what happened to our lives after the second hurricane swept threw our home and made us homeless . The storm that hit one year earlier did not put us on the street , but the second one did . Now years had passed since my son was born , he was a teenager now , most of my friends and family were either gone from this world , or moved far away , so when it came time for me to look around for some help , I was all alone , now I was always a hustler , never a quitter , so I did what ever I could do to put a roof over my family’s head , I used every resource possible to try to keep it as normal as possible . now for three years I struggled to keep it together , and did a good job considering I was only making minimum wage . well that’s where I went wrong years earlier .Because when the house we were living in went into probate court , my landlord passed away , and his wife and six kids had no where to go , it put us back on the street , now with no family left , and all my resources used up years earlier , I had no where to turn , and don’t believe it when they say there’s help from the state you live in , that takes years . So here we are again , homeless , living anywhere we can , and the only thing I’m concerned about is my teenager , whom I should have saved every penny I made years before he was born , for unforseen disasters that happen . so looking back you need to save as much as possible when your young , and never think you can depend on friends or family , it just doesn’t happen , now a days everyone has to many problems , so plan for your future now , and you will be good , never put off till tomorrow , what you can do today . so at ends note , here we go again , one day at a time , thank you ,


Save from your earliest days living , education is most important , and keep friends and family as close as possible .

Failing with Integrity: An Ngo’s lessons with Failure.

EWB Australia is a member led organisation that engineers a better world through humanitarian engineering.

Failing with Integrity: Our lessons for 2014-15. 

As facilitators of social change, EWB Australia is no stranger to complexity.  We have learnt that to deal with complexity we must trust our knowledge, be resilient and foster a culture of innovation and learning. We have also discovered that with complexity comes failure, an integral part of our growth. We are learning that to encourage real change and shift values in our sector we must promote transparency and publicly discuss such failures.

Failure 1: Learning that to create change, we must change ourselves.

How we failed? Starting 2015, EWB Australia enjoyed a broad sense of possibility – we had the credibility, ideas, and knowledge to scale our impact for the coming decade. We’d invested in our programs and people with a long term view. We failed however, to establish and communicate a sense of urgency around our need to undertake a bold organisational refresh. We were embarking on a period of significant organisational growth, but the internal implications of embracing this growth were not effectively communicated by the leadership team to staff.  This failure lowered the sense of clarity and unified purpose that has existed culturally. It also resulted in a loss of trust and burnout in the leadership team as staff struggled to understand why change was needed and the method by which that change was to occur.

What we learnt? We learnt that communicating change requires inclusion and clarity throughout the early stages of the process. While there will always be significant amounts of ambiguity in change, we will now encourage ownership, participation and articulate our long term vision to staff more clearly. We will communicate the broad steps involved in making change and create effective consultation points to allow staff the space to input their ideas and concerns. We will articulate the pathway that we will use to achieve our organisational goal and continue to foster a culture in which programs are seen as a part of the whole, all contributing individually to a collective success. This way the successful running of individual programs will be complemented by an understanding of how those programs together help us fulfill our mission.

Failure 2: Learning that speaking to everyone can mean speaking to no one.

How we failed? As we grew, the EWB Australia message and brand became diluted by attempts to engage numerous and often undefined audiences.  By placing our focus on multiple audiences – engineers, community leaders, corporate executives and academics – we failed to create a consistent organisational language that reflected our wider values, purpose and mission. This meant that our communications were broad and did not target the specific audiences they were meant for. This minimized the effectiveness of our engagement. This resulted in mixed communications that did not appeal directly to important stakeholders, a result that led to lost opportunity and erosion of our brand.

What we learnt? We learnt that continually evaluating and rating organisational stakeholders and audience is increasingly important to our ability to engage in a globalised environment.  The articulation of strong, clear messages to defined audiences will create a unified internal and external presence that our brand will benefit from. Our unique position across sectors means there is considerable value in being able to connect and attract different stakeholders. Thus it is important for us to identify and articulate our value to those different audiences and target them with our engagement. Without this we continue to risk an ‘all but nothing’ dilution of our communications.  Over the next 12 months, we will refocus our brand by developing key messages and engagement strategies for each audience that builds to create a unified organisational language that appeals all stakeholders.

Failure 3: Collaboration is key – missing opportunities in a busy organisation.

Where we failed? Our reputation as a leader in the field of humanitarian engineering has meant that we often have opportunities to collaborate with industry, partner organisations and influential individuals.  However, the legacy of traditional organisational structures and siloed programs meant that we have not always positioned or resourced ourselves to respond to opportunities in a timely and efficient manner.

What we learnt? We learnt that facilitating peer to peer education to increase staff awareness of all EWB Australia programs will help our staff recognise opportunities for programs other than their own.  This in turn will strengthen and deepen the long term impact our programs have on beneficiaries as we leverage more opportunities that where previously missed through lack of cross-organisational knowledge. This education will also allow us to identify program and knowledge overlap and increase our ability to use our resources efficiently.   Our current shift towards the use of a collaborative organisational structure (Holocracy) and the development of a staff capability framework will provide transparency and understanding of the individual and team capabilities that exist in the organisation.

Failure 4: Tied and untied funding – reducing financial inefficiencies at ewb.

Where we failed? Following the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, our revenue mix was altered by a downturn in the Australian engineering sector. Between 2003 and 2013, we were in the fortunate position of attracting relatively high proportions of untied revenue from our donors. Between 2013 and 2015, although our overall revenue increased, the proportion of untied revenue decreased. This resulted in some key areas within the organisation being unfunded.

What we learnt? That an intimate understanding of direct and indirect expenses, rather than just fixed and variable expenses, can help us be more agile and responsive to changes in the sector. As a result, we are implementing and educating our staff to use a new multi-year rolling budget with each program contributing to indirect expenses. To complement this, we have recruited a Chief Financial Officer into the leadership team. The CFO is now responsible for increasing our capacity to make strategic financial decisions and help us develop a deep understanding of the fully loaded costs of the organisation.



I attended medical school 3 years ago and ever since I feel trapped , I can’t function or cope with other students although they seem to know what they’re doing and I just can’t bear to look at the books so I failed last year and this year I have the same problem . I am not brave enough to drop out the school and choose another career because it’s my mom’s dream and she is the one who made me choose medicine at the first place , but at the same time I can’t succeed or study either and I know it’s my fault but I don’t know what to do because I tried my best to succeed in it but I just couldn’t , Sometimes I think about running from everything but I just ..I am just scared …I think I am a weak person.



I did’t learn any lesson because I am still in this trap but the main thing I learned that I should do what makes me happy no matter will people think just follow my heart and great things will happen .. I just wish I am strong enough to do it .

The Trouble with Sustainable Products


A Global Friendship’s goal is to alleviate poverty in developing regions by focusing on empowering women. Through our main program “Project Home”, we have empowered under-served communities by helping local artisans grow their micro/small businesses in Thailand, Indonesia, Peru, and India. However, this time around we wanted to bring it back home to the United States, specifically to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

Pine Ridge Reservation is home to over 30,000 Native Americans with an almost 80% unemployment rate. It is a community rich in culture and history, and a burning desire to improve their lives. Women at Pine Ridge are working with our designers to develop bands and necklaces that are the perfect mix of contemporary design and tradition. This new design is fresh, innovative, delicate and importantly, on-trend. Not only are the women involved in conceptual design, they are taught to grow their small business to sustain opportunity in the community. Our main product was the Sage Braid.

This past summer has been extremely trying on the ladies on the Pine Ridge Reservation. After a workshop early this summer for the production of The Sage Braid, we thought we were off to an excellent start: ready to fill online and boutique orders as long as the Braids kept coming in from the ladies out on Pine Ridge.

The main issue we ran into was the fact that sage is not malleable as we were expecting it to be. It dries out very quickly and is almost unusable after just a day of delicate handling. This means every morning, early morning, sage needs to be picked before the training session. However the sage wouldn’t last the week’s training session.



Given our desire to use a sustainable, natural product, one that grows abundantly on the reservation, we thought sage was a good choice. However when we realized the issues of choosing a seasonal plant for a product we want to sell year-round, we brainstormed and found sweet-grass to be a viable alternative. Unlike sage, sweet-grass can be re-wetted and therefore does not limit us to strict time parameters.

Going forward it is ideal to consider all the limitations of raw materials. Despite the many great qualities, often the set backs need to be realized in order to save time, and money.


The Importance of an MOU


Context. Hands Across the Nations (HATN) is a Canadian registered charity that has been working in the village of Mana, in Mali, West Africa for over 10 years to improve access to health and nutrition, education and water. HATN initially partnered with a group of missionaries to begin working in this village. Some initial projects evolved around education and the construction of dorms for a girls school. Then, it was decided that a community health center would best serve this community.

Actions. HATN eventually took over the construction and development of this medical center, in partnership with the leaders of this community. Once HATN and the locals had secured trained, local staff and access to necessary medical supplies and equipment, the health center was opened following a “grand opening” ceremony.

What took place. Following the opening of the center, the requirements of the resident doctor became increasingly demanding and the management of funds was not being handled consistently. HATN approached the community leaders to help identify a solution to this problem.  HATN suggested to the partners that a governing board needed to be in place and  made up of community leaders, HATN, and church representatives. It became obvious that the community did not feel that the center was their responsibility, but rather the  local church community had an interest in owning and operating the center as they saw fit. This church community originally had a relationship with the missionaries and was referred to HATN during the building process to source supplies and managing the center while the organization representatives were out of town. HATN was involved with the health centre always with the understanding that it was to be operated by the community with help and guidance from HATN and the local church.

Eventually, HATN was able to work with the leaders of the community to determine that a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was not in place at the commencement of this project and that having one would have prevented this struggle for power from existing in the first place.

This oversight by HATN lead to many misconceptions in the community and caused some division amongst those who supported the church’s possession of the center and those that did not.


Lessons Learned. In situations where a temporary or permanent partnership is being formed between an NGO and local community leaders, an MOU is an invaluable document that can help to outline all parties involved, current and future responsibilities, and that as the community leaders change the MOU stays constant. Additionally, it is important that the importance of an MOU to the relationships be understood by all parties involved. HATN learned a tough lesson and we would not like to see the same mistake repeated for anyone else.

Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.  ~Henry Ford

Scholarship Program Gone Terribly Wrong


Some years ago, a wealthy donor approached GlobalGiving through his private banker. After having launched a series of businesses from Miami to Kinshasa and having amassed a significant fortune, the donor wanted to honor his late wife by supporting university education for women and girls in the poorest of poor communities. From long years of doing business in just such places, this donor had very specific criteria and reporting requirements, meant to hold students and organizations running these scholarship programs accountable.

The subsidy per student had to be no more than $1,000. Students had to be women. Students had to be at the beginning of their university studies and enrolled in business or hard science. Enrollment certificates and report cards were required each semester. Students failing for a semester were no longer eligible. There was as much as $10,000,000 to support such students.

GlobalGiving, with its network of partners around the globe, was in a good position to make a match between this donor and local efforts to educate university women, so we launched programs in Guatemala, Rwanda, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Mexico, South Africa, Tajikistan, and Russia.

For a time, the program worked well, and we were able to fund scholarships for hundreds of students who otherwise would not have been able to attend university. Unfortunately, the donor never agreed to sign commitment letters or any other documentation, and funding began to stop as the donor increased reporting expectations, now requiring students to pose for pictures with copies of his memoir, and interrupting funding when reports came in late.

Finally, we were not able to meet these new expectations for a variety of logistical and sometimes cultural and security reasons, and the donor broke off relations with GlobalGiving. An elderly man, the donor then passed away, and the program is now defunct, leaving hundreds of students who had begun studies with the promise of a scholarship without the money needed to continue.  Local partners that had made commitments to students were left in various levels of difficulty that we have only recently been able to sort out.


Here is what we learned from this experience.
– Know your donor and make sure expectations are clear and documented.
– Don’t launch a major new initiative with uncertain funding unless you have resources to ensure its continuation with other resources.
– Trust your gut about mercurial personalities.
– Don’t be afraid to say no to big opportunities if they stretch your organization outside your core strengths.
– Take care of your local partners.

Hardware Seed Support Distorts Market for Slab

Original story available in the Malawi Country Program 2011 Annual Report.


The failure that has been glaring on the many successes in 2011 has been the Mason Model in our Chikhwawa program, specifically the hardware seed support offered to masons as start-up capital.

The Hardware Seed Support, usually referred to as smart subsidy, was in the form of bags of cement and reinforcement that were given to masons for slab construction. The idea behind this subsidy was to provide the masons with a one-time, input-based startup for their businesses as an initial step to creating sustainable businesses that would re-invest the revenue into purchasing more cement on their own, without reverting to Water For People– Malawi for additional subsidy.

However, this has had the opposite effect. A recent Rapid Market Assessment in December 2011 uncovered that, instead of generating vibrant sanitation businesses, the subsidy created market dependency on Water For People–Malawi rather than self-reliance. Instead creating demand, the subsidy created community resistance towards the slabs as “People knew that masons had received free cements for the slab construction… this made it difficult to sell as it was perceived to be free slabs” – thus making the slab a tough sale.


The result: despite positive results on slabs uptake of 84%, most of the slabs installed were not fully paid for (96%) which threatens the viability of the rural sanitation business model. Moving into 2012, Water For People will engage TEECs to support a re-imagining exercise where the rural business (Mason) model will be reviewed for feasibility and explore options for how best to make the model profitable and, therefore, sustainable.

Finding Room for Error


The power of learning is not just a slogan for many of us working in the non-profit sector. It’s the value that undergirds the programs that we help deliver—programs designed to support people in discovering their own talents and skills to better their well-being, their environment, and their society. It’s a value that supports our own growth as professionals.

Internally, many organizations take learning seriously as well. Few dispute that learning from our failures, even more than our successes, helps us determine how we can be more effective. But often those valuable lessons stay sealed within the organization, rather than being shared with donors where they could make a much greater impact. No one wants to jeopardize their funding by giving donors the impression their projects are not achieving the anticipated results.

We struggled with this on various occasions when I worked on the ground in Ecuador with Amazon Partnerships Foundation (APF). Our local foundation developed a methodology through which communities propose projects to us, rather than us “bringing” projects to communities. In the project solicitation phase, we facilitate workshops for interested communities in how to craft a simple proposal for presentation to our board. For winning projects, we provide a small grant and a year of intensive project management training so community members learn to implement their ideas and own their efforts.

In one particular community that proposed installing household rainwater catchment systems, we saw warning signs from the beginning. During the solicitation phase, some families didn’t show up to the planning meeting to which they were invited, and then accused the rest of excluding them from the project. Later, the project was beset by low attendance at meetings, requests that we purchase t-shirts to help “promote APF” with community members, and a lack of simple maintenance for the rainwater systems.

Having learned from previous failures, we’d developed tools to alleviate these problems, but they didn’t work this time. As we suspected when our board approved their proposal, the community wasn’t sufficiently organized or committed to the project.

So why did we accept their proposal? Under normal circumstances, we would have explained why we couldn’t accept it and invited the community to apply in the future. But we had received money from a funder who was primarily interested in us reporting that 57 rainwater catchment systems be installed within a twelve-month period. The proposals we received during that solicitation phase weren’t as strong as in previous or subsequent years, but unfortunately we didn’t have the luxury of time to extend our search for other communities.

While we did eventually hit the goal of 57 water systems installed, we failed to achieve our real goal—that the community learn enough about project design and implementation so they could prioritize and carry out other projects in the future.


Everyone missed an opportunity because of a false assumption that results only count if they meet or exceed our expectations. But what if we could change that paradigm? Imagine if we could have open conversations with donors—from college students that give $25 online through a campus challenge to the Gates Foundation—about failure and lessons learned. What could we do?

For starters we could make investments go further. Beyond providing immediate program support, donations would actually help organizations improve their approach and experiment with new ideas, which would create greater long-term and cumulative impact. Based on my experience, I’m convinced that the critical mass that donors look for (and that a lot of organizations dream of achieving) is only going to happen with a strengthened, coordinated grassroots sector.

We could also create more honest relationships, which will foster more meaningful partnerships. The better the partnership, the more real information all parties have about what works and what doesn’t, and the greater possibility to improve results.

Most importantly, we could help donors learn to think outside their own box. They would discover andunderstand the nuanced challenges and opportunities that no Excel spreadsheet is ever going to reveal about human behavior and attitude changes.

These are golden opportunities that we have to embrace together, as NGOs, funders, government institutions, communities, and beneficiaries. Some intrepid souls, like those at Admitting Failure are already blazing the trail.

As frightening as change can be, once we decide that we should make room to fail, we create much more room to learn.