Doing Good…Says Who? A book review

Doing Good…Says Who? A book review

It’s rare that a book about international aid and charity reflects Spirit in Action’s core philosophy of partnership and responding to the needs of the community. (In fact, that’s why I’m working on a book of collected essays about the importance of small grants and true partnership. More details to come!)

When I read Doing Good..Says Who? by Connie Newton and Fran Early, I immediately recommended it to all of SIA’s Board members. This book, which came out of interviews with 430 Guatemalans and non-Guatemalan aid workers and volunteers, features stories that clearly demonstrate the importance of listening to community members and trusting local knowledge. I came away more sure than ever that that is the only way to create lasting change. And it’s also an enjoyable, non-technical read!

The book is organized in five chapters, each focusing on a principle that is, “at the heart of guiding good intentions into productive outcomes.” Overall, good intentions are nice, but they are definitely not enough to ensure the desired outcome!

Respect and value people.

The people in poverty described poverty in terms of powerlessness and voicelessness. In a poignant moment in this chapter, a donor marvels at how their project is like a three-legged stool. The donors raise money in the US. A program director in Guatemala runs the organization and communicates with donors. A woman from the area manages the school lunch program site. A sturdy stool. Then the local woman points out that the donor missed the fourth leg of the stool. The stool would not stand without the mothers who are cooking and making the program happen every day. And it is the mothers who know how to face and overcome the challenges on the ground.

Build trust through relationships.

A woman from the US goes to a remote village to establish a clinic. How successful do you think she is going to be on her own? She quickly realizes that she will only be able to provide help if she is ready to learn, respond to local customs, and work on local time. Her focus becomes, “how can I build their trust?”

When medical volunteers come from the US, she makes sure they also understand the important of trust. The trip is not just about North Americans giving to poor people, it was about a relationship of exchange where they all are students as well as teachers.

Building relationships. COMSIP Sharp! Tanya and Boyd met with the leaders of the national COMSIP organization in Malawi's capital city. We met to share our support of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative.

Building relationships. COMSIP Sharp! Tanya and Boyd met with the leaders of the national COMSIP organization in Malawi’s capital city. We met to share our support of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative.

Do “with” rather than “for.”

“Never do for someone what they can do for themselves.” A group of philanthropists want to help people in Guatemala. Once they get there, they realize that they don’t know the first thing about how to invest in real change! There are a lot of potential negative consequences to giving money without understanding the larger systems in play. I love the stories in this chapter as the group makes a tour of several grassroots organizations. They see that the local organizations are able to challenge the inequalities in their system. This will do more in the long-run than a handout that only covers over the inequality.

"The

Ensure feedback and accountability.
Evaluate every step of the way.

“I wish those human factors could show up on our spreadsheets,” laments an organizer of a microfinance group. They are getting pressure from donors to keep the program numbers growing. And this means that there is no time to really build relationships and establish the mutual accountability that is key to the group-backed loans.

The last two chapters show that checking in, getting honest feedback from workers on the ground (rather than pushing to match an outsider ideal), and constantly reflecting and trying new tactics will ensure a strong and sustainable program. (Read about our SBF coordinator conferences.)

Let’s Discuss!

The book ends with a discussion guide with some thought-provoking questions. For example: “Think about a time when you had a personal experience of someone doing good for you. What worked? What didn’t? What were your feelings?”

The overall take-away is that programs for lasting change are successful when there is dialog, humility, understanding, flexibility, and a true focus on local leadership. (See the example of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative and their locally led micro-loan program.)

I highly recommend the book to you, both in order to understand more clearly the work of our partner organizations and to see the potential pitfalls of only relying on good intentions. I hope, like me, you’ll come away with a renewed appreciation for SIA’s partnership focus. Once you’ve read it, drop me a line and let me know what you thought!

**Click here to buy the book.

Training youth to run better businesses

Training youth to run better businesses

We know the value of business training from our Small Business Fund program. Grant recipients are trained in marketing, record keeping, risk management, and planning so that they are well prepared to start their small enterprise. This helps them find the right product for the market and make sure their businesses will be profitable.

Seeing the confidence that people have after the training, I am so excited to announce our new partnership with Junior Achievement (JA) to train high schoolers in Malawi to be entrepreneurs! The JA program is being run in 120 countries around the world, including 16 in sub-Saharan Africa. Nick Vilelle saw the “mind-blowing” benefit of the JA Company Program in Swaziland and is eager to introduce it to students in Malawi.

boy makes samosas in uganda

Youth making samoas for his family’s business in Uganda.

Hands-on Learning

The Company Program is a hands-on way of learning business, teamwork, and creative thinking. Approximately 25 students at the high school learn by doing as they form, capitalize, operate and liquidate their own companies over a 12-week period, using real money raised from “shareholders.” JA uses volunteers as teachers, mentors and role models for the students, keeping the cost low and integrating the community into the program. Since it is an extracurricular, after-school program, it attracts students who are motivated to learn and get involved.

The SIA Community Grant will fund implementation of the JA Company Program at five urban and 5 rural schools in southern Malawi. This will reach a total of 250 high school youth! And  will serve as a test case for expanding the program to other parts of Malawi.

Paying-it-Forward

I really appreciate that JA has Sharing the Gift built into its model. To begin with, the majority of the work is done by volunteers from the community. Often, these are accomplished business people, donating their time to help teach the students these important business basics. This is a great example for the students to see.

Second, as a part of forming these mini-companies, the student teams are expected to build Corporate Social Responsibility into their plans. This often takes the form of students volunteering on Saturdays to help out a less fortunate member of their community. “The learning gained from carrying out this part of the program is powerful,” reports Nick, from his experience in Swaziland.

Gardens and pigs in Uganda

Gardens and pigs in Uganda
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Small Business Fund leaders in Amukugungu Village in northern Uganda welcome SIA to their village.

“I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates

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“If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.” – Deuteronomy 15:7-8

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The five business groups pooled their grants together to invest in a pig rearing project and planting soybeans.

“On some positions, cowardice askes the question “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” And vanity comes along and asks the question, “Is it popular?” And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but we must do it because conscience tells us it is right.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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The groups are excited with their success and they regularly visit each others’ gardens and piggery projects to check in on progress and encourage one another.

Lord, give us the audacity to live as though we believe our hands and feet are instruments of prayer. Amen. – Common Prayer: A liturgy for ordinary radicals

A Better Way to do Education in Kenya

A Better Way to do Education in Kenya

Arsons have burned over 100 public high schools in Kenya this year, affecting over 6,000 students. These aren’t terrorist attacks. It seems to be the work of some of the students themselves. And speculation about possible motivations is flying around without any clear conclusions.

What is clear is that this is very bad news for the government schools that are already underfunded and overcrowded. It also clearly highlights the value of supporting good schools like Samro School.

Rhoda Teimuge in Oakland in June.

Rhoda Teimuge in Oakland in June.

A Dream Come True

When Rhoda Teimuge, director of Samro School, spoke at our 20th Anniversary party in June, she shared how a dream called her to start the school. Two years after the dream, in 1998, the school opened. And it took on the special mission of serving the mind, body, and spirit of each student.

“The only thing that lasts a lifetime is what is in your brain – education,” Rhoda said, her strong voice conveying her passion and dedication to the work. Many of the students, some of whom are orphans from the adjacent Empowering Lives International, are dealing with challenges outside the school and so the encouragement and mentoring at Samro School are essential to their success.

The newer kitchen and dining room for the students when it is raining. The dining room doesn't have tables or seats yet but it keeps the students dry.

The newer kitchen and dining room for the students when it is raining. The dining room doesn’t have tables or seats yet but it keeps the students dry.

Student and Teacher Success

This past year, SIA grants to Samro helped pay school fees and support the teachers. Paul Karanja, a 6th grader, recently came to Samro from another school. He is older than most of his classmates and has some challenges reading, affecting his confidence. Rhoda reports that the teachers are giving him extra attention to help him improve.

The SIA grant covers the room and board and school fees for Gloria Jepchuma, a 7th grader. She is the school’s head girl and very active in classes and after school. However, Rhoda reports, family issues are disrupting her studies. It’s not just enough to pay for school. True caring and encouragement are critical to better future for Kenya.

Teachers are central to creating this nurturing environment. Rhoda met with them to discuss raising the standards of the school. She came away from the meeting encouraged. “They have even offered themselves to do their best in dealing with slow learners and also to develop talents amongst the students. They have come up with ideas to help learners broaden their minds through various Clubs like Gardening, Environment, Home Economics, Poultry, Animal Raring, Debate, and Christian Union. Teachers want to have Samro to be the best School.

It’s clear that dedicated teachers, a caring administrator, and encouraged students will make for a good and safe learning environment.

Training leads to jobs in Nairobi

Training leads to jobs in Nairobi

“This is an opportunity for me to change my life from idling and gossiping around in the community. I am happy that the number of cases involving me with other women will now reduce with this lifetime opportunity to gain embroidery and tailoring skills. I would like to specialize in school outfits like track suits and girl’s skirts. Thank you so much Progressive Volunteers.’’

Rosemary Ochieng is 19 years old and dropped out of school after elementary school. She lives in the Ruaraka community – one of the poorest areas of Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi. There aren’t a lot of good opportunities for women like Rosemary to turn their lives around. The opportunity that Rosemary credits for changing her life is attending the Mathare Dressmaking Training Centre. The centre runs classes for four months with skilled training in tailoring, machine embroidery, and fashion design.

Rosemary is not the only one to benefit. She is one of 168 women and 13 men who have completed the training course.

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Trainees gather around a table to practice their sewing.

Training leads to jobs

Of the 181 trainees, 124 have managed to secure employment with Ruaraka Clothing Industries, a large employer in the area. In most cases these women and youth are working as skilled machine operators, meaning that the classes directly opened this employment opportunity for them. There are also 27 trainees who are working for independent dressmaking businesses. Four more are remaining in the Dressmaking Centre to help with training and management.

George is one of the instructors and is a skilled machine operator.

George is one of the instructors and is a skilled machine operator.

With a Community Grant from Spirit in Action, the Mathare Dressmaking Training Centre rented a place to hold the trainings. They also bought high-tech sewing and embroidery machines, and hired instructors to develop the training curriculum.

The Centre continues to improve their offerings by changing as they learn from each training cycle. They found that many women were missing the evening classes because of family obligations. For the next round of classes, they will focus on morning and afternoon classes to better accommodate the busy schedules of their students.

The training team is also looking into ways to make their program more sustainable and they are considering a Sharing the Gift component. This would encourage the trained students to give back to the Centre, especially after they have been able to secure steady jobs.

Congratulations to the Mathare Dressmaking and Training Centre for truly empowering poor women and giving them hope for the future.

 

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