AGAG recently talked with Pamela Pratt, Program Associate for Africa of the Global Fund for Children (GFC), about their approach to knowledge exchange and learning in their work to improve the lives of children.
Q: The GFC brings the organizations you support together for knowledge exchange workshops. Tell us about the one you had in May in West Africa?
This knowledge exchange was the first of its kind for GFC. The Africa team has struggled with how to bring together our partners for networking, knowledge sharing, and most importantly, offering space for partnerships across various interests. However language has been an obstacle so we decided to pilot a hybrid conference of both French and English speaking partnering organizations. We had a total of 19 organizations, 8 from French-speaking countries and 11 from English-speaking countries.
Although there was some shared sessions such the “gallery walk,” each group focused on a different theme. The French-speaking partners focused on sustaining growth through staff development and resources mobilization while the English-speaking partners focused on team building and capacity strengthen for sustainable community-based programming. The purpose of these exchanges, besides the deep dive into the above themes, is building the organizational capacity of our partners and ensuring they have the opportunity to share experiences, practices, and resources while building and fostering peer networking.
During the “gallery walk” each partner presents its mission, vision and the context and environment of its work. But most importantly the gallery walk was an opportunity to share their organizational challenges and strengths in hopes of gaining some valuable practical input from others while also passing on their expertise.
Q: Were there things that emerged from the discussions that surprised you about the challenges these organizations are facing?
Doris and Janine focused on the ABAN’s revenue-generation project of using recycled plastic water bags in creating various items, such as purses, key holders and wallets. ABAN came to being as an idea for a class project by three university students. This idea has blossomed into a program that empowers impoverished street mothers in Accra. It aims to help break the cycle of poverty by providing these women with shelter and educational and economic opportunities to gain life skills to achieve their personal goals. ABAN’s entrepreneurial arm now funds a significant portion of its programming which in part ensures the organization’s sustainability.
The other touching moment came from Mapaté. He became very emotional and started sobbing midway through his presentation as he shared the story of a very young talibé who lost his life from a disease that could have been prevented or cured had it been discovered earlier. As Mapaté pushed through his presentation the conference room had many wet and somber faces around the table.
The session led by Hayford Siaw of Street Library Ghana in Ghana on community stakeholder engagement and volunteer relationships was very thought provoking. It touched on volunteer-related issues, board engagement, and community incentives. Hayford shared ideas about how to tap into experienced volunteers as resources for outsourcing various projects that would otherwise require payment, such as website creation, preparing policies and manuals, and staff trainings.
Another session focused on board development and organizational transitions. The most debated issue was founder’s syndrome. With the majority of participants being founders and managers of their respective organizations, they recognized some of the signs listed by the presenter. But they were also cognizant of the approaches for coping with the different aspects of the syndrome. The presenter offered realistic steps that can be taken in ensuring smoother leadership transitions and in building long lasting resilient organizations.
Q: What type of growth and stability you have seen over time in the organizations GFC has supported?
One of our partners, Bureau pour le Volontariat au Service de l’Enfance et de la Santé (BVES) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has been with GFC since 2010. They started with a budget of $35,000 and five years later the budget has grown to over $200,000. Recently they underwent an organization capacity development process that focused on community assessment and analysis for replication. As a result they have opened a second program site. This year BVES was also named a Global Rising Star, by Stars foundations, among other accolades they have won.
It has been great to see Murhabazi of BVES mentor the more recent GFC grantees that have just started this capacity building journey with us. He has highlighted the necessity for organizations to have human resource practices and policies such as signed employment contracts, payment schedules or mechanisms to inform employees of late payment, compliance agreements, child protection policies, and employee evaluations. These may seem like “common sense” things that all organizations should have in place. But it demonstrates the organizationally nascent stage of many of the new GFC partners. Some organizations are started by self-made community leaders with no formal education who responded to a need or an injustice in their community.
Q: Ebola and Boko Haram are both realities for communities in West Africa. What did the workshop reveal about how these challenges affect their communities?
During the workshop our partners in Sierra Leone and Liberia explained that in the case of the Ebola outbreak sensitization was a significant part of what they were able to do but sensitization alone is not sufficient. They expressed the need for more funding sources and support from donors. Although these countries were hit hard by the Ebola crisis most donors had specific funding interests.
GFC provided flexible emergency grants to buy sanitary buckets and soap to improve hygiene and prevent the further spread of the disease. We also supported psychosocial counseling and trauma training to help the organizations cope with the physiological aspects of the pandemic.
Ebola and Boko Haram were the top issues of the English-speaking group. Due to their resilience these community-based organizations continued their work despite and amidst such challenges. At GFC, it’s our hope that we can equip our partners with the necessary tools to continue their work despite the obstacles and challenges that will inevitably occur. Therefore, it was great for all to hear the practical strategies that are being used by the partners to adapt to the challenges while ensuring they still serve their communities through its children.
Q: Are there things you would highlight for your colleague grantmakers working in communities dealing with crisis?
There were discouraging times when GFC partners entered communities to find several corpses being discarded. Schools were closed and children were neglected and abandoned. Slums were the most affected leaving many children as orphans. All of these things required different responses.
Ebola was brought under control because there was the realization of the need to involve the communities. Children were mobilized to give out radio sets to help with sensitization and teachers were recruited as volunteers to help monitor the epidemic. During the workshop it was pointed out that in such emergencies staff and volunteers also need counseling to help them overcome the trauma they have witnessed.
The family and community were the keys in ending the pandemic. They had to be the primary contacts for any progress to be made in ending the transfer of the disease. When this was acknowledged and communities were sensitized, trained and given the responsibility, they were able to prevent the cause from the roots. This illustrates the importance of community ownership in the development process.