Monday, September 13, 2010

Appreciating Community Activists

As our first MicroGrant competitions start unfolding in Rwanda and Uganda some themes are coming up about community organization. In Uganda, some women are getting impatient and the massive enthusiasm at the beginning of the competition is waning in the midst of the long process of writing and revising proposals. A good number of women (seen above) are still seeing the project through, consistently coming to meetings and keeping the energy high. These women undoubtedly should gain praise for their dedication to community work. Two primary questions arise from this:
1.    How long should the competition be?
2.    How can we socially support outstanding community activists?
In response to the first question:
The length and process of the competitions (often nine weeks) could pose problems. If a community of women who are subsistence farmers, mothers, small business participants etc, and are gathered for weekly meetings to do extra work for their community, it could take away their time for other projects. What if people are impatient and want things done quickly? Should we reject this notion? How would projects compare if the timetable for designing them were different? Shorter competitions could engage a larger group.
The length does however have bountiful benefits. The experience of working on a project for a long time before seeing the benefits, is quite useful as an experience to reference when the community attempts future projects. Likewise, knowing how to design a project plan and budget is incredibly valuable for any public or private sector endeavor. Holding long competitions where only 2/3 of the original participants actively participate can be useful as a mechanism for knowing who will sustain interest in their project throughout its lifespan – similar to how professors sometimes try to weed out uninterested students by making their classes hard the first few days. If a group of people cannot dedicate themselves to the competition then they may not be able to dedicate themselves to the implementation and sustaining of their projects. If competitions are shorter, it probably means fewer participants will be heard and revisions will be shorter. This could be dangerous for the ultimate quality of a project and opportunity to empower those who are often seen to have a weak voice. In Wanteete, dozens of women still show up for all the meetings persuaded to work by the chance to improve their children’s future. These are the women who should be recognized by the global community for their persistence.
Ultimately I think that having between 5-9 weeks to host a competition and design a project is greatly beneficial. The exception would be if the community already had a project thought through, such as the water project in Bugesera, Rwanda (although even this one is taking about a month to solidify before implementation).
In response to the second question:
For those who enthusiastically work throughout the MicroGrant competition and thereafter for the benefit of the whole community, we should provide them extra social support. Ideally internal support will work, but it is always nice to have other support too. At work or school, your colleagues are great, but a great supervisor can really keep you and the group motivated. Potentially the facilitator can relay messages of support from a global community and advocates who are in great position to publicize their work. Showing positive media and global appreciation of the project can help anyone involved feel encouraged. During the last competition meeting, we could provide a small amount of funding to purchase some snacks and drinks for the group to celebrate their work. Facilitators could also meet with the community every now and then after the project is done and express encouragement.
If you have additional thoughts, please add on!

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