Is Efficiency a Dirty Word?

by Liz Ivkovich
(repost from the Life of Liz)

Efficiency is not a value in and of itself.

That was one of the major lessons of my undergraduate major – Sustainable Business. In terms of ‘green’ and environmental issues, why do we seek efficiency? We always talk about reduce, recycle, conserve, but we never talk about redesign. Really, you know you can reduce all you want – you can ride your bike, or drive less, or eat organic tomatoes, and those things are less bad and help the environment, but at the end of the day you still end up contributing to a carbon based economy. All those things could be considered less bad.

We were told… “Less bad is not good.” Even recycling has negative effects on the environment, and really negative effects on the low-income neighborhoods where recycling facilities are located, not to mention the minimum wage employees that work there.

So… Effectiveness! We were taught to think about environmental issues in terms of effectiveness, and to evaluate ‘greenwashing’ and ‘green solutions’ with a critical eye for redesign.

It’s awesome. It’s totally theoretical. It’s frustrating and difficult.

When it comes to serving among the poor, especially with administration, I have to keep reminding myself that efficiency is not a value in and of itself. If we can do it more efficiently does that always mean we will be better stewards of our resources for our friends who are poor? For example, if a North American in Nepal can do the field administration quickly and easily with an expensive computer does that mean Word Made Flesh is actually serving the poor with more excellence? Bonk talks about this in Missions and Money – that it’s super easy to buy into ideas like “we’ll be able to do this so much better if we just buy this and that piece of technology.”

I think there is a way to reclaim excellence in ministry without placing efficiency as the highest value. Excellence is not the same thing as efficiency. I can, in an excellent way, facilitate people in Nepal learning skills to do administration that aren’t as efficient as a North American staff member may be. But this Nepali staff member is going to stay longer, have more buy-in to our community, and learn technology and skills that they would not otherwise have.

I feel like I want to keep looking for inefficient systems, but before eliminating them or making them ‘more efficient’ ask myself if this is wheat on the field. I think we should look at service among the poor, especially service through administration, like the Israelites worked the fields… without picking up the dropped wheat. (I think Bonk talked about this as well in Missions and Money.) We should be inefficient in the service of our friends who are poor, willing to be inconvenienced, willing to take extra time, willing to use even something like accounting to empower and serve them.

Meeting with a friend who runs another NGO he made the comment that Word Made Flesh families/homes are very inefficient. He said “It takes a lot of money and time to care for the Ammas [at Prem Ghar] the way that you do.” Yeah, it’s inefficient. It’s hard, honestly, it’s really hard to be inefficient. But I think that sometimes efficiency IS a dirty word. It’s a word that can easily replace other words like simplicity, love, and relationship. As we grow and mature, I would hate to see us lose our inefficiency, that commitment to relationships that has defined us as a community.

Liz Ivkovich

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