I understand you first encountered FVS-AMADE at a conference you recently attended. Can you tell us more about that?
emBOLDen Alliances (eA) attended the Global Summit on Community Philanthropy in Johannesburg, South Africa in December 2016. Attendees represented 60+ countries and included over 350 people. The movement behind this Summit was called “Shift The Power,” meaning directing meaningful support to grassroots and community-led efforts. The focus was: How do we collectively, as the international community, shift the power back to communities? This involves all sorts of resources, not just financial, and really putting the ability to change communities for the better back into the hands of the communities where it belongs.
eA was in the minority of participants as a nonprofit based in the Global North that works entirely through partnerships with community-based entities. There were quite a few community-based organizations in the Global South represented along with many community philanthropy foundations. And, it was an amazing conference. It was a global gathering of our like-minded peers, all in one room, all of us trying to figure out how to get away from the traditional mindset in which we have collectively engaged for decades, e.g., orchestrating development from afar. We know that communities know themselves best, including their needs, wants, and visions for betterment. The Summit was quite a productive few days. We met a lot of amazing representatives from organizations doing pretty incredible work and all trying to shift the power.
You mentioned you connected with a lot of like-minded peers. What is your own personal interest in shifting the power back to communities? Why is it important to you?
Why am I interested? Because I know that community-based organizations are fully capable and qualified to support themselves, rather than needing a top-down mindset, e.g., the tradition of handouts and cycles of dependency we see in international development. On the whole, we haven’t really gotten very far in the last many decades of aid and development work if you think about it. The amount of money that’s been poured in, the time, and energy wasted, and we’re not all that much better off than when we started. In fact, I would argue that in some ways, and in some places, we may even be worse off.
It seems to me that the only right way to do things is to listen to communities, to the organizations that support them. We need to listen to what they want, what they need, and what they need help with to achieve their own goals. This is why I feel so strongly about emBOLDen Alliances. I really do think it’s the right way to approach aid and development. What impact we want to see doesn’t matter. It should be what impact do communities want for themselves. Where are they now and where do they want to be? And that’s the bottom line.
Tell me how you encountered FVS-AMADE! What was the exchange like? How did it lead to a further connection?
Initially, I met one of the FVS-AMADE Staff Members, a gentleman named Rémy. I think I crossed paths with him during a coffee break between sessions. I asked where he was from, what organization he worked with, what kind of work they do, and he asked the same of me and eA. Our conversation was natural and a very organic process. He learned what we were about, I learned what they were about, and he remarked that it was interesting what we do – help organizations with their self-identified challenges – because they actually had some very clear self-identified challenges. And, they weren’t sure how, at that point in time, to overcome them.
Rémy mentioned that, primarily, they were at a crossroads with their Monitoring & Evaluation. They had very clear understandings of their beneficiary numbers and their outputs, but they didn’t know how to get beyond that to prove outcomes and impact. Rémy mentioned that they felt stuck and were not sure how to get to a better understanding. They wanted to show the impact of their services on communities and desired learning how to communicate this impact externally as well.
Rémy also told me that they were interested in reducing communities’ dependence on their services, increasing communities’ independence and self-sufficiency, and therefore, ultimately, their sustainability. This point is also one of eA’s primary interests. To us, this is a big part of shifting the power – creating that durability and sustainability for communities to be their own solution and not need further external help. It was great!
“They just needed a bit of a boost, and help with tools and resources,
to better frame and understand their Monitoring & Evaluation
programming, data analysis, and ultimately, impact.
It was an exciting conversation!”
I asked Rémy if the desire to improve their Monitoring & Evaluation and proving impact was something that had been self-imposed or donor-directed. And he said that no donors asked them to do that; it was a need that they recognized. FVS-AMADE truly wanted to better recognize their value and their impact with their communities. The organization has been around a long time and identified this as a key priority, but it can be challenging to take that next step.
FVS-AMADE was ready. They just needed a bit of a boost, and help with tools and resources, to better frame and understand their Monitoring & Evaluation programming, data analysis, and ultimately, impact. It was an exciting conversation! And I think this all happened just over a simple coffee break. Now, here we are, having gotten a grant for the partnership with plans for a one-year partnership to help them get where they want to go!
It’s so great when that type of stuff happens organically!
Yes! We have had a lot of pre-arranged meetings with other potential partners and other organizations, but this chance encounter turned out to be very fortuitous for both organizations. FVS-AMADE is very excited to reach their next level, and eA is very excited to help them get there. They have such incredible programs and enthusiastic and qualified staff. I believe this is a great partnership!
What have you achieved with eA during your tenure that makes you feel like this vision of shifting the power is coming to light?
The greatest testament in my mind to eA’s value and successful model is the feedback from every single one of our partners that we have had over the last several years. Unanimously, they have said that they are better able to do their work because our partnership. I think that speaks volumes. We are a unique organization — I don’t think there are any other nonprofits doing what we are doing or in the ways in which we are doing it. Our successes are about the communities and the community-based organizations. When they come to us and tell us that they are doing their work better because of us, that tells me everything. We are doing it. We are doing what we set out to achieve and not be needed any more.
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Photo credits: FVS-AMADE and emBOLDen Alliances.