PART 2: APPROACHING SF GRASSROOTS INITIATIVES WITH CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM
I, along with a team of board members spent Week 38 traversing the ‘last mile’ of rural Nepal, where SF has, i came to learn, an impressive imprit. It was a week of immense learning, unlearning and relearning for me – starting with a new understanding that the SF approach was not only unique and popular, it was also copied by others. I gained a new appreciation of the tremendous calling (read work) engrained in its thousands of ambassadors – i.e. local teams and partners in development – whose passion in sharing their experiences simply blew me away.
From listening to very young people organizing and being very invloved in their realities, to youth and adolescents taking charge of identifying their issues collectively, finding solutions and holding leaders accountable, to women’s groups spearheading social change and disruption to hegemonic patriachal socio-economic and environmental practices, to rural commmunities mobilizing for social change. I never heard the word ‘I’ much, to be frank. It was always ‘we’. It was communities, together dialoguing, participating and making decisions together. The poor, reached out to the poorer. The vulnerable reached out to those worse than them and lifted them up. The youth talked to their parents’ generation who listened and acted and vis-versa (Just to mention, where I come from children, are to be seen not heard).
So, what is the trick and whats SF’s role in this trick? I wish to briefly summarise my impressions (which by all means are my interpretation and any misinterpretations are my own).
SF organizational set-up: SF is organized in such a way that a lean and mean staff in Kristiansand constitutes the head quarters. This team of highly sudious and efficient development practitioners – fundraise, organise, monivate and manage the overall organisation’s operations. The General secretary, an International coordinator and a team of hard workers constitute the HQ team. Regional coordinators are from and are located in the three regions. These have solid regional knowledge and practical expertise to assume the organisational, managerial and monitoring role for the respective local NGOs. It is, in my view the local, grassroots NGOs who are stars as these have the hands-on responsibilities and influence in reaching and promoting change in the last-mile – the Motto is: No one to be left behind. The board met and engaged with the folk at the bottom of the pyramid. We wanted to see their faces, hear their stories – gain insights beyond the beautiful statistics we had been accustomed to reading about. Unlike other international organizations whose ‘Western’ you can find officed at the grassroots giving instructions to social chage, SF did not do that – the local people were in charge of their own development. They were free to identify their pressing challenges, think of solutions and implement the solutions with the support of SF – which I thought was unique and cool!
Community mechanism: Another winning perspective for me was the fact that the family was heightened as a unit model where each family member was supported with respective interventions or self-help group – but ultimately family cohesion and individual and family well-being was important. This opposed to other experiences where, for instance, women were choosen for development aid – often leaving men bitter and vengeful – a reported cause for GBV and failure of development initiatives.
Family development plan (FDP): In line with the family unit model, every household was encouraged to capture family and individual expectations, capacities, challenges and wishes in order to plan inteventions. As such it was impressive to find each family/individual has a development plan – and they were accountable to each other and to themselves. As a matter of fact, every office or home has a plan on its walls – like a vision board.
Participation: The high levels of participation and dialogue were also an aspect of great impression. The members participated in idea conception, planning, implementation and evaluation – ensuring sustainability through ownership.
Technical and educational training: Based on needs assessment, targeted groups recieved relevant skills, while others were linked to appropriate service providers such as the government schemes, and others were linked to markets – an example being the fabulous women who make baskets for hotels across the country. This, along with the Livelihood promotion scheme empowering local people to take charge of their needs was impresive.
However, the SAMVAD program, for me was the most amazing. Read about my impressions in PART 3 and also what areas could be strengthed