Vincent Mwangi, MAMA HOPE’s Community-led Partnerships lead, recently visited our partner United Hearts Children’s Center (UHCC) in Ghana. He writes how change – not charity – places communities at the center and invests in their potential to make a sustainable difference. Bawjiase, Ghana is a lively town. Your arrival is met with a vibrant beehive of activity. Locals go about their business, catering to daily needs and playing their part in building the national economy. A newly tarmacked road leads you to the town center, alongside it are shops, food kiosks, barbershops, and salons. Trotros (minibusses), okadas (motorbikes), trucks, ferrying passengers and goods. One can’t help but notice the huge role locals are playing in developing their local economy and how they are able to change their lives based on the resources they have. Within Bawjiase, before reaching the town center, there is a dirt road that has been christened ‘Pastor Elisha Road’. It leads to United Hearts Children’s Center (UHCC) a community-led organization. The first thing that captures your attention is the colorful storey building that hosts the United Hearts International School. UHCC’s founder and director – from whom the road leading to the school gets its name – is Pastor Elisha Asamoah. A kind and composed man whose reputation precedes him; small children revere him and elders seek his counsel. Pastor Elisha left Ghana’s capital city Accra to establish a prayer center in Bawjiase. Having made his home among them, locals affectionately call him Osofo (Pastor). Although he is not always serious, he cracks jokes, and is seen as a man of the people. “We started under some palm trees in our old house,” remembers Pastor Elisha, pausing to scratch his chin. “Promise and his mates would go to the local public school. I started with three children,” he shares. Promise Asamoah, who was amongst the first children to enroll at the school, is currently the UHCC’s Administrator. ‘Change seeks redress when met with challenges, and is not afraid to have community leaders at the forefront of decision making.’ ~ Looking at UHCC today, you can easily understand that what has been achieved didn’t happen overnight. It’s been through hard work, resilience, and trust from organizations like MAMA HOPE; that have chosen to walk the journey with change agents like Pastor Elisha. Currently, UHCC rivals many public schools in Ghana. Last year they were among the schools that produced the highest grades, earning the rank as a Grade 1 institution in the district. COMMUNITY FIRST Community interventions have traditionally been treated as a ‘one size fits all’ by the global development sector, with visionaries like Pastor Elisha being left out or facing insurmountable red tape and restriction while seeking access to resources for serving communities. However, like many of his contemporary visionaries, Pastor Elisha has his community’s interest at heart, and desires to see them flourish. When asked Pastor Elisha what unrestricted funding meant to him, he was unhesitant to say, “These are funds that are needs based.” When funds are flexible, much is achieved. Local leaders are able to channel funds to urgent matters within their communities or choose to invest in their long term visions. Rather than having to spend an entire grant on a specified project, they can invest in their communities holistically. When funds are restricted, it can often mean there is no money for staff salaries. It might mean that when a school bus breaks down, it can’t be fixed because while the community organization has some money, it’s not a problem that a particular funder’s mission seeks to solve. Restricted funding certainly means there’s no money available to set up an income generating venture, stagnating the long term growth and sustainability of the organization. More often than not it’s the distance and the disconnect between the funder and the community leaders doing the work that creates these funding barriers. Which is why since 2011 – when MAMA HOPE first partnered with UHCC – we chose to listen first to Pastor Elisha, following his lead to know what his community and his organization needed most, then availing funding for that. Our partnership has been built on trust, and as Pastor Elisha shared, the funding is need-based, meaning it has been flexible. When funds are flexible, there is a guaranteed return on investment on the overall health of the community surrounding the organization. “We want change, not charity,” says Pastor Elisha, understanding that unrestricted funding enables community leaders, like himself, to achieve change for their communities, above all else. WHY CHANGE NOT CHARITY? Charity is a short term intervention that lacks sustainability, and fails to address the deep rooted issues that communities have faced for decades. Charity fails to recognise that communities are an asset, whose growth and potential needs to be nurtured. With charity, outsiders hold the power, leaving members of the community out of the picture. On the other hand, change is broad and bold. It places community change agents at the center and invests in their potential to make a difference in their communities. Change seeks redress when met with challenges, and is not afraid to have community leaders at the forefront of decision making. Change understands that systems need to shift for sustainable community development to be realized. Channeling funds directly to grassroots organizations and trusting community leaders to do what’s needed is that shift. The Bawjiase community smiles at the change UHCC’s presence has brought to them. Children have access to quality education, all community members have access to clean water and to electricity which Pastor Elisha worked hard to see connected. “People will go to the local hospital, and they do not have money. The doctors and nurses will call me to pay for the bills. I will do that, because I do not want to see someone stuck in the hospital because of lack of funds,” Pastor Elisha shares, pausing to dip his banku into the spicy okra stew as we break bread during our recent partner visit. “UHCC also provides food for children in the community, and even passersby going to their farms.” From its humble beginnings, UHCC has never given up on its dreams. It boosts a full primary school, with qualified, passionate teachers and 2 school buses. They have a pure water processing unit, with high level machines – an income generating activity that MAMA HOPE has supported. They have farms where they plant food items for consumption at school, and for income. On our last day at UHCC we watched them play and win a friendly football match with a neighboring school. There is silence, it’s getting dark and human activities have receded, but the crickets are singing. As we left it was hard to imagine that all of this started with 3 children under some palm trees, but that’s the power of community-led development and UHCC is just one example of why championing community-led change is important.
Vincent Mwangi shares his thoughts on how exploring the community-led development model can positively impact the local economy. It is the dream of every individual to live a life that allows them to explore their full potential and impact their local economy. However, in most places, such dreams are limited to the opportunities available. Conversely, the priorities of outsiders determine the same in the global development sector. Unfortunate realities that we at MAMA HOPE are committed to changing. The independent growth of any local economy is key to the advancement of well-being in any given community, and the Community-led Development (CLD) model allows this growth to align with the values of the community itself. While the term ‘economy’ is so often thought of in the confines of finance; the work our community-led partners undertake expands beyond this boundary. Their work represents the social, political, natural, and human capital that actually makes up the true meaning of ‘economy.’ AT THE CENTRE OF IMPACT Two key components in the CLD model are at the center of impact that shapes how development is carried out. The mobilization of local resources, and local leaders holding the power to make informed decisions. There are benefits when a local economy is built from within. Local leaders have the ability to challenge how development has traditionally been carried out. In turn, increases their power to determine what development means to them, and creates space for more home-grown solutions. All the while remaining accountable to the members of the community they are a part of. CLD CHANGES SYSTEMS The CLD model works towards systems change. In our experience it provides much longer lasting and far more sustainable approaches. Mainly because CLDs are the closest to the financial, social and environmental impacts of any initiative; and decision making that consider these three pillars in depth. These elements are only just being recognised as foundational for functional societies, within governments around the world. Yet, CLDs have long understood the power of the intersection. “Community-Led Organizations normally start projects that are based on the need of the community, because they live in it, so when they lead in execution it is easy for the economy to grow due to the relevance of the project and close supervision of the project within the community.” James Nathaniel – Founder & Director | Tanzania’s Children Concern Through our partners’ work we have seen that it not only influences the community’s finances; but also other aspects such as food security, environmental conservation, healthcare, energy and education. All of which contribute to the development of the local economy. The model creates an ecosystem where all these aspects are interdependent. It means that every initiative a CLD undertakes has an impact on the community now and in the future. LOCAL ECONOMY GAINS Independent income generation is a major gain for any community. That is why the model encourages it, and focuses on it being generated from local resources. Our community-led partners generate income from farm produce, rental units, transport businesses, and pure water projects. These initiatives not only contribute to the organization’s revenue but to the community at large. Community members are employed through these ventures, others see their livelihoods improved as they gain access to such fundamental resources. Where partners engage in agricultural exploits, the nutritional wellbeing of the community is taken care of. Through increased food security, the community is less focused on where the next meal is coming from; and has more time to engage in other parts of the economy. There are community-led projects that focus on education and the health of the society. Access to education creates a long term impact on the advancement of a society. Educational projects nurture children, and youth equipping future generations with skills and knowledge to benefit the whole community. This also applies to those community-led organizations that are in the health sector. Central to the development of a local economy is a healthy population that is productive and creative. We have seen instances where community leaders contribute to the development of infrastructure. In such cases it enables the transportation of farm products to the market; and easy movement by community members from one place to another. Community leaders are also advocates for change in their communities. They are able to push for reforms through their elected officials to get access to development of their local economy. “I believe that the local community leaders are the development experts. They understand best the various needs of the communities that they serve. Through collaboration with each other, local governments and other stakeholders, they can prioritise and respond to the community needs in a timely and cost effective manner and spur economic development.” David Omondi, Co-Founder Riley Orton Foundation. The development of the local economy is highly dependent on the systems change that the community-led development model advocates for. To understand how it works, we cannot look at local economic development only from a financial point of view. Taking a wider perspective, there are various interconnected aspects & sectors that contribute to, the development of a healthy economy. Finally, we encourage the continued investment in CLDs. The development of a community is best determined by the people who are close to the problems they face. And when we invest in this model, we are not only impacting the current generation, but also future generations. Vincent Mwangi is MAMA HOPE’s Community-led Partnership Lead. Feature Image Caption: Asia Juma – Member of Boresha Jamii Women Group, Tanzania.
Systems have changed in the last two years: from how we manage health care, to how we work from anywhere, educate everyone, support communities, and view sustainability. As the world locked down, we were reduced to our innermost spheres of influence – our homes. We discovered that despite how far in the world we may have traveled prior to the pandemic, we were only as good as how well our immediate communities could sustain us. In many cities, droves of people packed up & left – due to lack of employment, food, the inability to pay bills or the need to catch a breath of fresh air- returning to their rural towns and villages. We discovered that while our cities are growing in leaps and bounds, our hometowns have a different sense of security. As we saw global supply chains break down, we remembered the value in buying from local farmers. Where we couldn’t adventure to new places, we created space for community events, acknowledging the need to practice joy, especially in hard times. Yet, the pandemic driven urban-to-rural relocation presented both challenges and opportunities, bounding with many questions: How are we improving not only the cities and towns where we live but also the distant locales & villages where we come from? How are the health care systems, schools, being made better, affordable, and accessible? Is there a food security plan in place ensuring that everyone is well fed? Is the water safe and clean for all? What are the most sustainable socio-economic activities and how can they be better supported to increase self reliance whether via employment or entrepreneurship? Can one access uninterrupted electricity & internet access to be able to work from anywhere? Is there enough being done to raise the standard of living across the rural and marginalized areas in one’s country? It’s not only good to ask, but better to act! These very questions have been asked and acted upon in so many ways by the local communities who, over the years, have taken development into their own hands. There has been a quiet, yet revolutionary, growth in community-led development initiatives that has seen the emergence of a new global approach to tackling injustice. Communities Leading Their Development Community-led development is an approach where local community members identify challenges and create solutions based on what’s important to them. Challenging the well crafted narrative that local communities are not capable or resourced enough to drive their own agenda – therefore that they must do what they are told by those who fund them. Maïli Gasakure, our Fundraising Lead shares that, “Prior to COVID-19, community-led development as well as grassroot leaders were not really seen as active members of global development or as parties that could have any kind of agency in solving their own problems with community centered solutions.” Yet, what has been fascinating is how the community-led development approach has created resilience in our partners who have in turn supported their communities through the pandemic with great success. “To be a successful leader in Community-Led Development, one must have a people-centered mindset. Community members are at the center of this model, and for it to work the people need a leader who puts their voices and needs at the forefront,” shares Vincent Mwangi. Why then, one may wonder, is this model not as widely adopted – if indeed it is a society altering concept? Community-led Mindset Challenge Community-led development requires the adoption of a mindset that counts local resources and inputs – local volunteering, staff time, in-kind donations, natural resources, community knowledge and community networks – as equal in value to funding coming from outside. It also means ensuring that decision-making power is firmly in the hands of its community led partner organizations. The growth and development of a community is shaped and determined by the people who are close to the problems they face. These people, together with their leader, should also play a major role in coming up with the solutions they need to improve their community. VINCENT MWANGICOMMUNITY-LED PARTNERSHIPS LEAD – MAMA HOPE Through providing flexible funding and adaptive programmatic support MAMA HOPE is part of the movement that is seeing community-led organizations gain access to the tools that they need to grow successful initiatives and advocate independently for their own visions for change. With the freedom and resources to better life for future generations, the unique knowledge that each community holds is also able to find footing. A win for all of us, if we are to combat some of the biggest challenges our world faces today. Support also includes connecting our community-led partners with each other to grow their collective power as well as offering a platform – through the cultivation of a global community of individuals and organizations – where their voices can be heard and listened to. It’s a continuous process of listening, adaptation, and collaboration around a community organization’s unique plans allows flexibility to the ever changing needs of each community MAMA HOPE works with. “It’s been so refreshing working for an organization like MAMA HOPE who puts our partners’ voices at the forefront of all decision making. Who sees the importance of approaching partnerships with trust and by listening first.” Margot Hinchey – Operations and Finance Lead, MAMA HOPE Communities Owning Their Future The pandemic was a stark reminder that there are shared vulnerabilities across the globe; and while there have been many discussions on the effect of the pandemic on global development, there is need for real change in terms of agency of communities, their access to resources, and their ability to mobilize effectively on ground. ‘International’ Development has increasingly become outdated as it has connotations of ‘the other.’ Global Development encourages a global effort to better the world and it allows space for community-led development to be considered accurately. Our partners aren’t doing ‘international’ work but they are contributing to global development. COVID-19 was a wake-up call, we have turned the tides and have learned from this Global pandemic, the importance of Community Development goes beyond what we see, it is taking the long view and seeing how to create sustainable change and impact for the long term. Maïli Gasakure Fundraising Lead – MAMA HOPE Sustainability – part of what makes MAMA HOPE different – is at the heart of our approach and is deeply integrated into all of its programs and our core. By focusing a majority of our investments on building economic, social, and environmental sustainability, we seek to build the overall self-reliance of our partners, thereby decreasing their dependence on outside sources of funding and supporting their progress towards complete autonomy and self-direction. Our Internal Community-led Shift We are tasked not only with providing sustainability to our partners and their projects but internally as well. Fifteen years since founding the organization, Nyla Rodgers said goodbye as she transitioned to the Board. A move that has undoubtedly brought about questions on how the new team will move forward with the mission to champion community-led change. It was from what Nyla experienced and dreamed of that gave birth and grew MAMA HOPE’s voice as that of being loving, passionate, respectful, understanding & caring. Now that she has stepped aside, introduced Denis & Maïli as the two leading voices that will be speaking on behalf of MAMA HOPE – how will this be sustainable? Our organization operates as a flat structure where decision making power lies within the team as a collective. Meaning, we hold each other accountable as an executive team. Since adopting this structure in 2018, the team has felt that they have more ownership of the organization therefore increasing our internal strength. There is more transparency across the board, and the flat structure more accurately reflects the community-led model we champion. “One of the things I love most about working for MAMA HOPE is the focus the organisation has in maintaining integrity. At every point we are checking in with ourselves to ensure we aren’t just talking the talk, but truly living within the values and the practices that we promote.” Jane Body – New Strategy and Advocacy Lead, MAMA HOPE There is a robust team in place, working side by side with Denis & Maïli to bring to realization a community-owned future. The task is to understand what work it will take to do this, the required support, and the partners with whom we shall be working with. “One of the cornerstones of creating a conducive environment for any kind of global development is understanding the work itself. And for community-owned futures that means listening to grassroots leaders and experiencing the depth of their work.” Denis Muwanguzi – Learning and Impact Lead, MAMA HOPE We know that a community-led future is a sustainable future. We are ready to work with people everywhere that believe communities should have the power and the resources they need to drive their own futures!