Wanted: New ways to communicate about global poverty

Take a moment and think about how you most often hear development work portrayed in the public discourse? Two divergent narratives come to my mind.

First, international aid is unashamedly tied to foreign policy objectives, money is wasted, and day-to-day aid work is challenging, if not futile. The narrative goes something like this: So-and-so country is poor or vulnerable. Rich countries try to help them. So-and-so is still poor and vulnerable.

On the other hand, according to many NGOs and international agencies, our day-to-day work in the development sector is instantly transformative, not to mention selfless. The narrative goes something like this: So-and-so person is poor or vulnerable. We [the organization] helps so-and-so. So-and-so is not poor anymore.

That’s a pretty polarizing view of anti-poverty and development work – all good or all bad. People working on the ground know that neither is an accurate picture of reality. And this reality is harder and harder for communications staff and the media to ignore.

Illustration from "The Barefoot Guide To Working With Organisations And Social Change" www.barefootguide.org
Illustration from "The Barefoot Guide To Working With Organisations And Social Change" www.barefootguide.org

40 ways to help your organization survive tough financial times

By Isaac Roy Kyeyune, Director at FIND Partners International in Kampala. (This originally appeared as a guest post on how-matters.org.)

The year 2013 saw trends that are changing resource politics for civil society. These are a wakeup call to not only strengthen, but diversity your organization’s fundraising, as well as develop your structures, systems, and skills in resource mobilization:

Critical funding trends in 2013

  1. The global credit crunch;
  2. The temporally shut down of the US government;
  3. The potential rise of China and its partners as interested donors;
  4. The continued development of EU as a funding bloc;
  5. The increasing interest by donors in consortia rather than isolated projects;
  6. The change from sustainability to integration and holistic approach;
  7. The new era of implementation research as opposed to mere project interventions; and
  8. The emergency of modern technology and social networks on the funding scene.

We have declared 2014 a year for institutional resource independence at FIND Partners!

So we share below 40 PRACTICAL TIPS on how you can steer your organization through resource-constrained times. Though we hope these tips won’t be necessary, roll up your sleeves now for a prosperous and more resourceful 2014!

Donor Cultivation

(1)  Increase all resource mobilization activities to generate more funds. Tap into the local resources.

(2)  Ask Board members to contribute or increase their existing contributions, and bring in additional individual donors to the organization.

(3)  Ask your donors if it is possible to make more financial commitments (although this can be difficult for institutional donors).

(4)  Cultivate relationships with a couple of donors that you can approach if “rescue funds” are needed.

Cost Savings

(5)  Re-bargain contracts and consultancies. Negotiate services for lower costs such as fuel, bank charges, and exchange rates.

(6)  Centralize secretarial services like photocopying and printing to avoid wastage and misuse.

(7)  Limit field activities that may not necessarily affect the project outputs – such as supervisions.

(8)  Officially ground some vehicles to avoid movement for non-essential journeys.

(9)  Limit less critical services; intercom, newspapers, or reduce security guards.

(10)  Switch off unnecessary power lights and gadgets mostly at night. Ask someone to oversee this daily.

Alternative Sources of Funding

(11)  Increase membership dues or costs. Always explain this to members.

(12)  Explore non-typical sources of funding, e.g. renting some space, consultancies, sale of old equipment.

(13)  Have your agency provide consultancy services to other agencies or organizations. Many Directors are slow on this. While it can take away from your organizations’ activities in the short-term, it can provide quick funding for your agency.

Strengthen Existing Systems

(14)  Strengthen your financial, accountability and personnel monitoring systems. Staff are more likely to stretch these during tight financial times.

(15)  If the staffs have a savings scheme, ensure it’s managed well especially during this period.

(16)  Pay salaries on time, as always as you can. If this becomes not possible, always explain this to staff.

The Hard Choices

(17)  Eliminate job-related redundancies in your organization. Sometimes, you can merge duties of a resigning staff to current staff rather than refilling a position.

(18)  Revise staff contracts to short term and/or cut salaries or limit/suspend benefits payments like compensations or leave pays. While painful, this is always better than having your agency burst.

(19)  Limit staff medical insurance to only health-threatening conditions.

(20)  Hire out some services such as security guards, cleaning, auditing, etc. if it is cheaper than employing staff.

(21)  Cut staff allowances, trips, and parties. Always explain this to staff.

(22)  Suspend uncritical insurance policies.

(23)  Keep your lawyers well updated in case any issues arise with staff or suppliers.

(24)  Beef up security around your organization. Thefts tend to rise during uncertain periods.

Engage Staff

(25)  Ask respective units to devise means of cutting costs, e.g. the IT staff to ration internet surfing and downloads.

(26)  Ask top management to take some pay cuts or reduce time efforts.

(27)  Inform and train your staff on effective resource use. Draft policies and guidelines on who, when, and how to manage critical assets such as cars or photocopy.

(28)  Ask staff to double their efforts. This increases chances to get more funding.

(29)  Suspend staff appraisals. They often generate unnecessary tension and contract negotiations.

(30)  If Project activities are lighter, encourage staffs to go for leave. This softens demand to the general facilities, infrastructure, and services like food, internet, and transport.

(31)  Train, support and mentor your staff away from costly personal ventures outside of work (e.g. alcohol consumption, smoking, gambling/borrowing, over-dating, clubbing, etc) as these may threaten their personal financial security.

(32)  Create a buffer of volunteers and interns as you are likely to have many staff either resign, ask for leaves, or fall sick more regularly due to stress.

Strengthen External Relationships

(33)  Share resources with partners doing similar work. For example, use same car for field visits.

(34)  Engage government. Many of them (especially through the President’s Office in Uganda) are allowed to offer discretionally funding to key community activities that are struggling.

(35)  Ask for advice from other peer organizations and partners on how they are coping.

(36)  Manage external relations well and avoid negative publicity. Caution staff on both internal and external information sharing as it can worsen your creditability with the community and donors.

Stay Connected

(37)  Talk to each of your staff personally to explain the situation but also show that you still value them.

(38)  Ask supervisors to be highly involved (without necessarily micro managing) and more available. In such times, interpersonal conflicts/ problems tend to rise hence need to be urgently addressed. Ask supervisors to show extra care to staff in order to avoid more stress.

(39)  Encourage social activities among staff. You can reserve a Friday evening for social activities like road workouts, internal competitions and dances, or prayer. This keeps staff together in hard times.

(40)  Create hope. Be seen by your staff to be doing your best.

***

 

Isaac Roy Kyeyune’s career spans a period of over seven years working in Uganda and across eastern Africa in the areas of: identifying funding opportunities; developing fundable concepts, proposals, and grant applications; building capacity of staff and stakeholders in resource mobilization and grant writing; setting up grants/resource mobilization offices/teams; building capacity in key institutional development issues such as strategic planning, management tools and structures, and mentorship, among others; and conference management and reporting.

Kyeyune has worked with Makerere University, Ndejje University, Uganda Cancer Institute, International Health Sciences University, many research Institutions, and over 100 non-governmental organizations, community-based organisations, and civil society networks.

Kyeyune hold a Bachelors of Arts Degree in Adult and Community Education, and is currently pursuing a Masters of Arts degree in Community Development and NGO Management.

Wanted: Films that illustrate how aid works

 

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The Social Impact Media Awards, organized by DEEDA Productions, have announced their 2nd annual call for submissions for their juried 2014 awards. Filmmakers and do-gooders, show us your video-based products that portray people grappling with the realities of aid programs on the ground!

SIMA is looking for videos that share unique insight into “HOW AID WORKS”, or videos that highlight distinctive approaches, creative models, successful tactics and innovations, emphasizing processes used and impact measurements. NGOs, foundations, local grassroots organizations, and community activists from all over the world are invited to submit their videos and compete for recognition of the process behind their development work. These how-to stories can be between 3-20 minutes long. (Check out the 2013 Educational Impact nominees here.)

Learn more about the rules and regulations of this film competition and submit yours here!

***
The Social Impact Media Awards makes juried impact documentaries available to institutions and community groups who wish to host screenings and utilize social cinema to inspire and mobilize their constituencies. See the SIMA 2013 Screening Catalogue and book a screening here.
***
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Leading From Love: The attentiveness that brought accountability

A guest post on how-matters.org by Rajasvini Bhansali

It had been six months since I started my new role as a management advisor for a network of youth polytechnics[1] in rural Kenya. The Wakamba village elders in Maseki village where I lived had named me Mutanu meaning “one who smiles a lot.” My career, coursework, and volunteer training in management consulting, policy analysis, community organizing, and organizational development, had prepared me well for the task.

Or so I thought.

Thoughtful Conversations & Sideways Approaches: The Barefoot Guide Connection

Are there alternatives to the cynicism and disillusionment that pervades in so many organizations that are working towards ‘development’? Where are the people who are interested in creating more grounded, creative, human and humble ways of doing this work?

You can find them here.

When I first picked up and started reading The Barefoot Guide to Working with Organisations and Social Change almost four years ago, it was one of those strike-you-through-the-heart moments. Finally, someone had given voice to what I considered my role to be as someone working in aid and philanthropy. Finally, someone was talking about authentic leadership and how to make it more possible for ordinary people to acquire more power over the choices and decisions that affect their lives.

And more importantly, they were talking about my role in it.

This was very different than the conversations I’d been having about reports and strategic frameworks and research proposals. These were pre-how-matters days and upon finishing the Barefoot Guide, I sent it to all my colleagues, printed out the pictures to decorate my office walls, and made readings from it part of our team meetings.

I don’t think I’m the only one who felt this immediate kinship. The Barefoot Guide has now been downloaded well over 50,000 times as a vital resource in enriching development practice. Two popular Barefoot Guides have already been produced. Four translations currently exist and five more are nearing completion. Two more Barefoot Guides are in the works.

All of this flurry of activity, which had been happening via listserves and emails between a global team of seasoned practitioners across many organizations, has moved to a home on the web, The Barefoot Guide Connection, where all of us can join in.

Among the many great online communities focused on aid, The Barefoot Guide Connection is invites practitioners who are interested in a genuinely 'developmental’ approach to their work. The following excerpt from The Barefoot Guide shows what this means:

***

The authors of The Barefoot Guide offer four “guides” that we have found to be particularly true and useful in our work.

1) Development (and the will to develop) is a natural, inborn process.

In whichever state we may ?nd organisations, they are already developing. They may or may not be developing healthily or in ways they like or are even conscious of, they may be stuck in some places, but they have been developing long before facilitators came into their lives and will continue to do so long after they have left. We cannot deliver development – it is already happening as a natural process that we need to read, respect and work with.

2) People’s and organisation’s own capacity to learn from experience is the foundation of their development, independence and interdependence.

Learning from experience is as old as the hills, one of the natural, organic processes, though seldom used consciously, by which people develop themselves. We learn by doing, by thinking about what we have done and then doing it a bit better next time. We also learn especially well from peers, horizontally, who share with us their experience, connecting it to our own experience.

Learning how to learn effectively, from own experience, enables people to take pride in their own intelligence and knowledge and to build a healthy independence from outside experts.

3) Development is often complex, unpredictable and characterised by crisis.

What does it take, and how long, to help a woman in crisis to ?nd her courage to deal with an abusive husband or for a community to ?nd the con?dence to deal with corrupt councillors? When an organisation seems to be on the verge of imploding is this the end or a chance for renewal? What complex and unanticipated development of forces contributes to a once-?ourishing social initiative rolling over and dying?

Development is inherently unpredictable and prone to crisis. Yet almost miraculously, developmental crises are pregnant with opportunities for new movement, for qualitative shifts.

Practitioners or donors often avoid offering support in times of crisis, thinking it signals failure, when the opposite may be possible. Recognising and working with crisis, with all its unpredictabilities, are central to a developmental approach.

4) Power is held and transformed in relationships.

We live, learn and develop within three kinds of relationships: relationship with self, interpersonal relationships with people around us and external relationships with the rest of the world. Power is held in relationships, whether it is the struggle we have with ourselves to claim our inner power, or the power some have over others or the power we hold with others, or the power the State wields in relation to its citizens – without relationship power means little, it has no force, for bad or for good. If we want to shift power, we have to shift relationships.

***

Come join and explore The Barefoot Guide Connection with me! (I’m excited to follow the blog and I’m planning to jump in the Café to discuss, “Has the word 'learning' become overused?” Right up my alley.) The site is a hub for the sharing of questions, frustrations, possibilities, and resources—something all of us working in development can use.

***

This post originally appeared at: http://www.how-matters.org/2012/12/03/the-barefoot-guide-connection/

***

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Why Organizations Matter

How do you tell a compelling story about people in need that doesn’t simplify or stereotype?

I use my How Matters YouTube channel to highlight portrayals of international assistance that inspire more nuanced conversations about the politics of global development and international aid. Frankly though, there’s not enough content to keep that page very active. Very few video-based products show people grappling with the realities of programming on the ground and the stories of grassroots change-makers too often remain overlooked.

The Social Impact Media Awards, organized by DEEDA Productions, seeks to change all that. See below their call for submissions for their juried 2013 awards.

Filmmakers and do-gooders, show us how aid really works!

How are international aid projects like U.S. presidential elections?

Yes We Can: The campaign/proposal writing

You have to get lots of people involved. In fact, the more people who share your vision, the better. You tell the voters/donors what they want to hear. Persuasion and hyperbole can be more important than substance. The popular vote/buy-in of the people served may be irrelevant in the end. You’re happy (though thoroughly exhausted) when the campaign is over/proposal is submitted, but the hard work is yet to come.

Yes We Are: Governing/project implementation

What you face now is inevitably more complicated than what you portrayed in the campaign/proposal. With everyone wanting something from you, there are many competing priorities and it’s not always clear which is the best decision. Are there ever enough resources? Despite the election promises/logframe, the arcane and dysfunctional aspects of the system(s) in which we operate often get in our way.

Yes We Did: Seeking reelection/report writing

Despite what you did or did not accomplish, ultimately people’s perceptions will determine if you are considered successful or not. You highlight what you accomplished and ensure there’s a good explanation for what you didn’t. After four years, you may have a better idea of what you’re doing, but a rapidly changing reality means no election/project can ever be the same.

Most importantly, if you don’t inspire people to believe that a brighter future is possible for everyone, you might as well go home.

Forward!

***

This post originally appeared at: http://www.how-matters.org/2012/11/08/aid-projects-like-presidential-elections/

***

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The Ego and International Aid

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Community Resilience: An Untapped Resource for Sustainable Development?

Want to make aid better? Let us play!

A new kind of aid donor: Four things they do differently

The storm’s a-comin’

I’m quickly writing this post before the 100-mile wide Hurricane Sandy, which has already killed 65 people in the Caribbean, takes the power out in Washington D.C. where I live.

We’ve got a little extra food and drinking water set aside for the next couple of days, but there’s nothing much else to do but hunker down and wait out the storm. I’m uncharacteristically glued to local news. Not because the news reporters in their rain-soaked jackets are whipping up fervor, but because I’m captivated by the feeds of the Atlantic Ocean as the gray waves become higher and angrier with each passing hour.

As we wait, not knowing exactly what’s coming, vulnerability has been on my mind—namely my own.

Don't you talk about my...that way...

“Excuse me. What’s that you’re reading?” the woman wedged next to me in the busy restaurant asked.

Sitting on the table in front me yesterday was Tori Hogan’s new book, Beyond Good Intentions: A Journey Into the Realities of International Aid. (Now available here.) I told the woman and her companion about Tori and went on to praise the book’s accessibility and grounded depictions of the problems that plague international assistance efforts of all kinds.

“Is the [insert government agency well known for sending people abroad] in there?”

Even though I had read the manuscript prior and knew that Tori would encounter many related stories along the way in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, I replied, “I haven’t read anything in particular about them yet. Of course since there’s lots of issues with [agency that shall remain nameless], I’m sure it’s bound to come up.”

No response. Looks of what? Disbelief? Disgust?

“Do you work in aid?” I ask, trying to fill the uncomfortable silence amidst the clanging dishes and murmur of the Sunday brunch crowd.

“I work for [yes, that agency],” she replies. “We both do.”

I back pedal just a little. “Of course, the [agency] is only as successful as, well…each volunteer has such different experiences and it’s what they make of it I suppose.”

“Do you work in aid?” they solicit my credentials. I list the organizations with which I’ve been employed and try to give an example of how the book breaks down issues, one of which I assume they will relate.

“In the chapter I’m reading now, Tori traces her steps to find her host family in Uganda from a decade earlier and she’s dealing with the inevitable ask-for-money.  That’s a situation we all have to know how to deal with gracefully.” Stares still blank.

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