The decision to embark on an adventure with the Impact Team will undoubtedly be one of the better ones you make. The experience will have a lasting impact on your relationship to the sport of running, and also on your view of the world we inhabit.

Guest Author: Dave Melody

Dave is a 3x Impact Runner hailing from Chicago, Ilinois. He has ventured to Guatemala and Nepal, each time taking on the 42km distance. His love for Guatemala and support of development programs in the country puts him in a unique position to offer up his tips to maximising your Impact at an Impact Marathon

The decision to embark on an adventure with the Impact Team will undoubtedly be one of the better ones you make. The experience will have a lasting impact on your relationship to the sport of running, and also on your view of the world we inhabit.

Long-haul travel to participate in a running event is a dramatic endeavor. Cultural immersion, language discomfort, and joining a team of strangers are heavy things to have happen all at once.  You will have an excellent time, but the risk of letting it all happen and then letting it all quickly end runs high.

If you want to maximize the impact of your experience, please allow me to suggest some ways to do that.

First, let me share some quick background. I’ve spent a lot of time in Guatemala, including two trips as an Impact Runner. My other Guatemalan experiences are not the main point of this essay, so I’ll just summarize by saying I am a supporter of an organization there that provides educational initiatives to a primarily indigenous community. I have visited the country many times, I’ve made many friends there, and I have also made plenty of mistakes when it comes to balancing my perspectives and assumptions against my understanding of the community’s challenges.

Some tips I can share based on those experiences are:

  • Focus on learning the context. Ask questions and listen to the answers: Why does this community not have any real roads? Why does this community not have access to freshwater? What are the differences with systems, government, and support here that make daily life so different from what I’m used to?
  • Build relationships. Make a real effort to connect with the people that you meet from the community. Get to know the people that have dedicated their lives and professions to investing in community development. This will make you more likely to come back, more likely to spread the need for funding through your network, and more likely to enrich your experience.
  • Check your language. A few small wording changes can spark new mindsets. Instead of saying that you’re doing a project for a community, understand that you’re doing a project with a community. Instead of saying that you’re helping those in need, understand that you’re learning how to challenge the perspectives you’ve held throughout your life. Instead of saying that your fundraising is going to charity, understand that it is going towards building equality.
  • Reframe the saviour mindset. Any international trip that involves community engagement, fundraising, or project work will run the risk of falling into ‘saviourism’. Reminding yourself that you are a guest in the community, that you are not there to bring a specific skill set that the community is lacking and that the main impact to be made is on yourself are ways to keep the mindset at bay. These reminders will help bring clarity to the objective of the week and help you see what you can do to ignite the advancement of global equality from your own community. We should not stop traveling in order to stop saviour behaviour.  We should start using travel to educate ourselves on how the daily decisions made in “rich” communities impact the rest of the world. This can include introspection on anything from energy consumption, food supply chain sustainability, and global production processes that rely on wage disparities to reach profitability.

I’ve now been on three Impact weeks, two in Guatemala and one in Nepal. The leaders of the Impact organization understand these concepts better than most. That doesn’t mean they’ve gotten it perfectly right because community development is a constantly moving target. Perfection cannot be the goal or expectation. The Impact Team works hard to promote the voices of the communities to which they are connecting. This takes a considerable amount of planning and coordination, but it also carries an element of discomfort, as they cannot and do not attempt to control the message from the community, and they cannot know the extent to which the community has ever been handed the microphone in the past.

Instead of expecting perfection, or instead of assuming that your skills and talents are just what that community needs to start thriving, you can instead remove any expectations and approach the opportunity with a blank slate. Truly engaging with the community, endeavoring to understand the context of their challenges, while not imposing your own ideas about what you think they should do, is much harder work than performing manual labor for a few days. 

There might just be fewer insta-worthy pictures to show for it!

If you want to delve deeper into the ‘Impact’ part of an Impact Week, then join us at our next Webinar, where we will be looking at how the races have catalysed change in Nepal 

Alternatively - re-watch our 101 Webinar series at our YouTube Playlist