Community-led Sustainable Change
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!