Stephanie de WolfeBuilding Systemic Change From the Ground Up

By: Stephanie de Wolfe In: Global Philanthropy

2 Dec 2011

At this week’s Global Grantmaking Institute, much of our discussion has focused on the role of communities in fostering lasting systemic change. Engaging community actors who work closely with vulnerable populations is a key factor. Focusing on community-based organizations (CBOs) challenges the typical development paradigm of imported solutions. Investing in their strengths, their existing resources, and their capacity to apply contextual solutions on a wider scale can influence major trends, key policies, and legal infrastructure, enabling relevant and powerful change.

Often occupying or connected to the lowest ranks of social strata, people working in grassroots CBOs are uniquely positioned because they are affected firsthand by social inequalities and therefore most vulnerable to their effects. The flip side is that these individuals understand the context, cycles, and intricacies of the issues that affect them better than anyone else, and are better positioned to mobilize and respond to structural or social inequalities.

Investing in grassroots organizations is in many ways investing in local experts who have the potential to initiate and effect lasting change from the ground up. An example of this is the Global Fund for Children grantee partner Zanzibar Association of Female Lawyers (ZAFELA). In addition to running comprehensive life-skills trainings through all-girls clubs at local schools, ZAFELA advocates for child and girl-friendly legal changes. The organization has succeeded in empowering girls to be peer-educators for female rights at their schools. It also has persuaded the government to adopt important acts that protect the rights of children in an area where child trafficking is common.

Another example is Bureau pour le Volontariat au Service de l’Enfance et de la Santé (BVES) based in Bukavu, South Kivu’s capital. This organization believes that “children’s rights [should be] taken into the hands of the community.” The group operates three transit centers that help children abducted by armed groups or orphaned by war rejoin their communities. It targets young girls, former child soldiers, and children living on the streets.

In light of the stigma associated with child soldiers, BVES also actively works with local law enforcement and the surrounding communities to (1) create awareness of children’s rights and protection and (2) prepare them for the reintegration of the children housed in its centers. BVES has succeeded in making children’s rights an issue that people across society feel empowered to take on, and its advocacy efforts have helped make child recruitment a crime under Congolese military and national law.

Local groups like BVES and ZAFELA are mobilizing with few resources to address urgent issues affecting their communities. Equipping these types of groups with additional tools and resources to engage their communities and organize effectively around change is one way to interrupt the cycle of poverty and give globally to local solutions.

Stephanie de Wolfe is program associate, Africa for the Global Fund for Children.

3 Responses to Building Systemic Change From the Ground Up

ALLIANCE FOR DEVELOPMENT AND POPULATION SERVICES [ADEPS]

December 5th, 2011 at 10:41 am

WE ARE A NONE PROFIT-NONE COMMERCIAL CBO THAT ENGEGES IN SURPPORTING/ INITIATING VARIOUS DEVELOPMENT ACTIVITIES AIMED AT IMPROVING THE LIVING STANDARDS OF THE POORER OF THE POOR IN WESTERN PART OF KENYA.OUR MAIN POBLEM IS THAT WE FIND IT DIFFICULT CARRYNG ON EFFECYIVELY WITH OUR PLANNED ACTIVITIES AND PROJECTS BECAUSE OF LUCK OF A RELIABLE RESOUCE BASE.OUR QUESTION IS; CAN YOU CONNECT US TO PARTNERS WHOM WE CAN WORK WITH ALONG THIS COURSE?

John Harvey

December 5th, 2011 at 1:09 pm

I would recommend you look into The Resource Alliance, which works to build the fundraising capacity of NGOs in the global South. Go to http://www.resource-alliance.org. In Kenya you should also look into the Kenya Community Development Foundation, which has an asset development program. Go to http://www.kcdf.org.ke

John Harvey
Managing Director, Global Philanthropy
Council on Foundations

Jennifer Lentfer

December 6th, 2011 at 4:16 pm

In my experience, home-grown, grassroots-up organizations like the BVES and ZAFELA start because local leaders are responding to problems in their community with undying commitment and resourcefulness. Their strengths–their deep contextual knowledge of the problems facing their families, their rootedness in the community, and the ability to operate in a responsive manner to local needs–are the strengths frankly that large international NGOs and donors lack.

I’ve had the privilege of working with over 300 African grassroots organizations over the past decade and I firmly believe that international philanthropy and aid must do a better job at supporting local organizations that are grown from the inside and fueled by the dedication and vision of the very people they serve. WiserEarth.org has already registered over 113,000 local organizations and movements working on a wide variety of issues. They conservatively estimate that there may well be over 1,000,000 such groups operating across the globe.

Yet the sad reality continues; local organizations are not the drivers of development, nor the setters of priorities, nor the controllers of resources. I’ve also had the unique privilege to experience the impact and potential of alternative funding mechanisms like that offered by Global Fund for Children that directly support community leaders and that, for me, highlight the way forward for our sector. People, under the direst of circumstances, can and do pull together. My hope is that soon enough, we will have finally recognized this. Groups like Global Fund for Children are leading the way.

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