Aminata and I both want to be proud…

» Posted by on Mar 25, 2014 in Africa, Food security, International aid, International non-profits, LIvelihoods, Local Participants, Participation, Results, Sustainability, Transparency | 2 comments

Aminata and I both want to be proud…

I met Aminata in Mali in 1990 during my doctoral research. She was a Bambara farmer and an impressive woman, with pride in her community. She was a helpful informant during my research on how communities cope with famine, and how famine early-warning systems could support them to do so more effectively (Note: 'early' warning is often far too late to prevent anything, I found, as donors don't want to intervene until far too late). 

 

She's stayed in my mind these 24 years, and I want her to be proud of our international development work. I too want to be proud of what we accomplish to alleviate poverty and ill health by improving lives and livelihoods. We do so much in agriculture/ natural resource management, health and nutrition, education, etc.  Yet do we start with communities' burning needs? End with their evaluating us? Or do we mostly use them to implement our ideas?

I've been part of the problem, part of the development 'industry' for 25 years.  While I've used participatory methods such as PRA/  RRA and Appreciative Inquiry, I've mainly been focused on answering donor questions as to how successful we were, rather than helping communities ask the questions they want to answer and get the resources to succeed. I am no longer as proud of that work. We've left African Aminatas, Asian Aainas, Latina Adrienna's and millions like them behind in our rush to implement, to get more funds, to succeed, win more, 'develop' more….. 

 

In founding ValuingVoices I put myself in their shoes, seeing projects come, projects go, temporary changes coming, some unintended results coming, some building on projects coming, but mostly going.  It's never hard to celebrate local capacity when surrounded by vibrant voices, teaching us about their communities and their needs. What is hard is when so much of those decisions are not in their hands, but are at the mercy of donors who often decided not to support them (after our fieldwork showing both need and great capacity was presented): 'this region was not a priority' or 'we are now working on a new sectoral focus or a new initiative and this is no longer in our priorities.'

 

I am that much more deeply encouraged by a recent article on nutrition that points the way toward building these women’s pride as well as my own by starting with their voices and with donors being willing to listenNutrition research in Rwanda suggests that scaling up community-based solutions is the way forward. They decreased (stunting) malnutrition by 18% in five years which is very fast by "'setting up an almost universal community-based health insurance scheme… with the help of [each village determining its own way to tackle malnutrition… and not packaged interventions provided by donors" said Fidele Ngabo, director of Maternal Child Health. The article says "the Rwandan model could be used in other African countries, where foreign donor-driven initiatives tend to focus on treatment and technical solutions…. Change will only come when nutrition research is led by Africa, and interventions are designed to meet a country’s priorities, according to the findings of a two-year European Union-funded SUNRAY (SUstainable Nutrition Research for Africa in the Years to come)."

fricanPride

(a future Aminata?) 

 

This groundbreaking research highlights the issue so many of us encounter.  "Researchers from developed countries search for African partners for joint research, based on funding and research priorities defined outside Africa… so, despite enormous amounts of money spent on nutrition research and interventions, malnutrition rates have not fallen [in Benin]. Instead, the research agenda should be based on needs identified within the continent. Calls for research proposals of donors should match this agenda… [and prioritize] the locally identified needs and priorities." That sounds almost heretical in some circles.

 

In Benin, "researchers and policymakers wait for 'the dictate of donors before taking action. Hence, donor-funded programmes aren’t sustainable. As soon as they end, all activities are stopped, and acquired benefits and good practices are lost,' said Eunice Nago Koukoubou of the Université d'Abomey-Calavi in Benin, an author of the published findings." Yet the crux of the problem is that donor funding is filling a gap not filled by national governments. It isn't even so much that they are unwilling, rather in the case of Benin, “the government is trying to raise funds for the [strategic plan where nutrition should be central in development]", which also needs technical capacity building, a means of carrying on data retention and learning and a means of sharing findings with each other. What is needed is a "partnership between African researchers, 'who have more credibility and knowledge of the context', and Western researchers with the resources and opportunities (e.g. the African Economic Research Consortium).

 

Until we get to national partnership, let's improve our local ones. Let's really listen to participants in co-designing activities in projects we still think are best. Let's build on and share SUNRAY's approach of starting with what Aminantas, Aainas, Adriennas want and get Rwanda's great results. Let's partner in the truest sense of the world. After all, this excellent article underscores that "ultimately it is about political will…. [some] who feel they lack resources to tackle their long-standing battle with chronic malnutrition have to realize that “your children are not the donors' children, they are yours." They are our children, at least we need to treat them with respect as if they were.

29 years of listening to participants in Africa, Latin America, the Balkans, Europe and the US. I Value their Voices. Let’s have sustained impact!

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2 Comments

  1. I so agree with the fundamental starting point, of listening to the very people who know their own needs but who also are critical actors for meeting them.  They must be able to define the obstacles and priorities – and then be part of designing, implementing and ensuring the continuation of responses.

    There are a couple of points to note, however:  First, we have learned over the years that it is essential that we listen to ALL voices.  Hence women's and children's health needs cannot be defined, understood and addressed by consulting only with male doctors or village chiefs.  At the same time, it does not suffice to talk only with the women, as their ability to act and the success of solutions, depend on supporty from and engagement by the full community.

    One other caveat – which I put forward reluctantly: While local solutions are the best, as they are tailored to local and immediate needs, it is also important to ensure that the local actors will continue to be there as partners.  Often those with the greatest talent, skills and even commitment, are those who leave their villages to pursue other professional or economic opportunities elsewhere.  And in many African and Asian communities, the young women end up leaving their community once they are married – to live with their husband's family. 

    Hence sustainability continues to be a real challenge – but not one that in any way justifies outside interventions that will leave as well!

    • Marcia – Many thanks. Absolutely key to talk with a wide array of voices, even donors :).

      You are so right, we had not talked at all about continued personal presence of the key NGO staff, the evaluators, the dynamic youth. It’s true they too will move on. Ideally communities will become stronger and grow in the array of key folks to lean on in supporting their own self-sustainability. And the fact that our projects come to an often-artificial end is lamentable, but worse is not caring enough to go back at all to listen, to learn to repeat that which is best and leave the rest 🙂

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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  2. Making up your mind. Prioritizing and making it happen | Valuing Voices - […] PPAR evaluations), and only one was perceived as successful.  On the other hand, in 2014, IRIN highlighted Rwanda’s very…

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