Week 3: Grassroots Diplomacy

Jack is an American student who lived at a youth center in Kenya while working on a social venture. In this role, he lived and interacted with the children at the center and worked closely with the staff. One Saturday evening, kids under the age of 14 years were to receive presents that were sent by an international donor organization. A staff member at the youth center had picked up all the gifts the previous weekend and they were finally going to be distributed this Saturday. When it came time to give the gifts out after dinner, the staff members called Jack up to the front – as he was a guest – to assist in the gift-giving ceremony. The staff members had allocated the gifts for the children and labelled them – Jack’s job was to hand out the gifts to the kids. The only problem was that four children did not receive gifts and the staff members did not appear to be concerned about the four forgotten children. As kids began leaving the hall, they thanked Jack for the gifts. The kids were convinced that Jack had gotten the gifts for them. Jack felt a little awkward but at the same time reflected that a good relationship with the kids would help him in several ways during his five-month stay at the center.
At the bottom of the boxes containing the gifts, there were a few black hats. The kids that did not get a present were brought over to the box and given a hat. However, they were upset about the fact that they were not given the hat as ceremoniously as the other kids. The staff gave them their hat and shooed them on their way as if they had some fault in this situation. As one of the little boys who did not receive a gift left the hall, he walked past Jack holding his black hat, and gave him a stare that clearly indicated that he blamed Jack for not receiving a gift. Jack met with the staff and discussed how the four kids were very upset and felt ‘left out’ after the incident. The staff did not acknowledge the problem and were a little piqued that they were being blamed for such a trivial matter. They were convinced that Jack was making a big deal out of the situation and were concerned that Jack would become a ‘children’s rights activist’ and create unnecessary problems for them. The only response they gave Jack was – “If you think there is a problem, then you go ahead and solve it”. If you were Jack, how would you proceed?

To address this grassroots diplomacy dilemma, the facts of the situation are stated below to establish a basis of what the issue actually is and what ways we can approach it.

Facts of the Situation:

  1. Jack is an American working at a youth center in Kenya for 5 months
  2. There was a ceremony held and the all the children, except for 4, were given gifts
  3. The 4 that were left out were given black hats that were found at the bottom of the box
  4. Those 4 children were upset and blamed the gift failure on Jack
  5. Jack felt responsible and was unsure what the best course of action was
  6. The staff told Jack that if he thought there was a problem he should deal with it
  7. The staff do not want to be seen as child right’s activist and did not care about the gift issue

Next, we will define the problem itself and all the relevant stakeholders:

The Problem

  1. The four kids who received hats feel like they weren’t given the same treatment as people who received gifts ceremoniously
  2. Jack is afraid that this situation will hurt his reputation with the children, which could make his 5 months a lot more difficult
  3. The youth center workers do not believe that the four kids receiving hats afterwards is a problem
  4. The youth center thinks that Jack is being a “child rights activist” and is going to start problems by pursuing this situation
  5. Jack wants to preserve his relationship with the children but also the youth center and is unsure of how to do both of those things

The Relevant Stakeholders

  1. Jack
  2. The kids
  3. The youth center

To get a greater sense of what the best course of action is, the motivations (both professional and personal) of each stakeholder must be defined.


Personally, Jack wants to help the kids as much as possible and be viewed positively during his time here. He also wants to maintain a good relationship with the staff and the children because on a professional level he will be here for 5 more months.

The kids

The kids who got the black hats and not the other gift don’t want to be seen as in a lower social group than everyone else or made fun of. The kids that got the toys probably enjoy being “haves” as apposed to the “have nots” and want it to stay that way.

The youth center

Youth center employees don’t see the exchange as being unfair. They may not want to be bothered to make an effort to make everyone happy. Personally, they likely care about the kids and for their well-being but potentially think there are bigger issues within the center. Professionally, they may not want to be criticized by an outsider and have there center picked apart.

Based on this information, we can formulate 3 alternative solutions and list the positives, negatives, implications, and effects of each:

    1. Ceremoniously administer the same gifts to the 4 children who did not get them originally
      1. Make sure this is in a public place to ensure that they feel respected and the “ceremony” aspect is achieved
        1. A lot of what we know about African culture and culture in general, led us to believe that the issue was not that the hats were a lesser gift, but that they were not given out as ceremoniously as the other gifts, taking away the value.
        2. Therefore, we think if another event is held and they are given the gifts, the problem will go away
      2. Pros
        1. Equality is achieved
        2. No difference in what the kids are getting or how they are getting it
      3. Cons
        1. The other kids might get mad that these 4 kids get the same gifts they got + a hat and another ceremony
        2. The youth center workers might get mad at Jack because they obviously regarded the issue as unimportant.
      4. Saves face for the children, Jack and the youth center
        1. If this worked out correctly, Jack would have saved face for the kids that were embarrassed to have a hat and not get a give ceremoniously.
        2. He would have saved face for himself as well because he was able to handle the situation on his own like the center told him to. Also, he would look so much better in the kid’s eyes.
        3. Jack would also save face for the youth center because they were reluctant to do anything and Jack solved the issue.
      5. Implications on relationships
        1. The relationships between the kids would be salvaged because they would see each other as equals (short term and long term)
        2. The relationship between the kids and Jack would be fixed because the kids would believe Jack cares about them all (short term and long term)
        3. The relationship between the youth center and Jack could be fixed too because Jack would have taken the advice the youth center said and fixed the issue on his own (short term and long term)
      6. Implications on the venture
        1. Long term – Jack could show the initially hurt kids that he went out of his way to make an effort which, in the short term, would get him in better standing with those specific kids and also, long term, strengthen his relationship with all of them, allowing him to be more effective in his work.
        2. Short term, his colleagues may be surprised that he took charge which they could potentially view poorly. However, it could show that Jack takes initiative and could be positive for his relationships with his colleagues in the long term.
    2. Give the kids some type of a leadership role in some event in order to make them feel as though they are on the same social level.
      1. Pros
        1. The kids feel equal
        2. Might seem to the staff as though Jack did not see a problem with their opinion and preserve the relationship
      2. Cons
        1. The other kids may feel slighted for not receiving a leadership role
        2. Maybe the kids actually just care about the gifts and will still be upset
      3. Saves face for the kids, Jack, and the youth center
      4. Implications on relationships
        1. Hopefully the relationship between Jack and the children would be fixed because they would know Jack cares about them. However, the children who do not get a leadership role may feel to be second tier.
        2. The relationship between the youth center and Jack may be fixed because Jack solved the solution but it also may be worsened if they feel Jack went behind their backs.
      5. Implications on the venture
        1. Long term- May be extremely helpful to figure out this situation in the beginning so that it does not spiral into something bigger affecting the actual venturelater on
        2. Short term- There may be some upset between the youth center and Jack because the youth center did not think that this was an issue to begin with.
    3. Work in collaboration with the youth center workers to educate them about the problem in the situation and then plan something nice (but can be small) for the 4 children.
      1. Pros
        1. Not backdooring the youth workers, they will appreciate Jack prioritizing working with them
        2. Teaches the youth workers to better understand and deal with situations like these in the future
        3. The 4 children are receiving something special, and could improve their relationships with both Jack and the workers
      2. Cons
        1. Other kids may be mad bc the 4 kids are getting extra events for them
        2. The youth center staff may tell Jack to “fuck off”
      3. Saves face for Jack, the youth center workers (even though they might not care about that) as well as kind of patching up the relationship with the children
      4. Implications
        1. Short Term
          1. Makes 4 kids feel important/at the same level as the other children, could help them integrate themselves back into the rest of the group
          2. Kids will appreciate Jack doing something for them
          3. Rest of the kids may be mad the 4 kids are getting another event
        2. Long Term
          1. All kids may respect Jack & workers, make the 5 months easier
          2. Workers may appreciate you trying to work with them on that situation, helps your time with them
          3. The health workers may treat the kids better and have better relationships

After considering all the pros and cons of each option, the best course of action would be Number 1: to ceremoniously administer the same gifts to the 4 children who did not get them originally. This resolution would save face for all the parties included. Additionally, many studies have proven that in general people care more about social standing and how others perceive them than they do material objects of minimal monetary worth. Therefore, by evening out the playing field and giving these gifts in a public setting, the kids will all feel equal and the problem should hopefully be solved. Jack will have handled the situation like the youth center told him to and the youth center will ultimately look good in the end. Additionally, Jack would have halted any further issues that could have stemmed from the children’s unhappiness, because he will be working with them for 5 more months. Of course there may be shortcomings to this solution which include some of the original children who received gifts being upset or the youth center being upset because they obviously did not think this was a problem. To address these things, Jack would just have to have an honest conversation with the children encompassing the fact that he does not have any favorites and his reasoning for giving the gifts to these 4 kids now. In terms of the youth center, Jack could simply explain how he thought this was an issue and therefore heeded their advice to handle it on his own. This solution would prevent the situation from worsening and save face for all parties.


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