Monday, March 28, 2011


After three months of planning, debating and excitement, Nyabageni village has started implementing their agriculture project! Eighty families are members of the project and they are actively working together to start a registered cooperative for growing potatoes. They have divided the land and labor into three groups that coordinate for the work. With 120 acres, the community is hoping to grow over 27,000 kilograms of Irish potatoes.

Just a few months ago this group was socially and economically divided and seemed unable to cooperate. The Twa population has remained very poor, while the rest of the population has had some access to agriculture jobs, subsistence farming and capital. Some of the Twa refused to work with the others Rwandans and many of the non-Twa were unsympathetic to them since they repeatedly steal.

Last Thursday I visited the group and they – for the first time – came to the meeting early. Ernest and I found them sitting together and resting their limbs with their hoes by their sides, having just come back from the field.

I have to admit I had been worried about this one; it is not the easiest group we have worked with. Even so, the community has proven once again to be completely capable of handling their own project with just a little encouragement, organization and financial support.

Since they started planting they have contacted us requesting for us to resolve problems that have arisen and we have turned the questions right back to them. Each time they have dealt with the problem and strengthened as a group. When they bought their hoes there was a problem of where they will be stored. Some people wanted to keep them for themselves but they came up with a solution to store them in the group leaders homes and check them out when needed for the project. During last weeks meeting people openly expressed their discontent with the group leaders storing the hoes because they believed the leaders were ‘treating the hoes as their own property’ so they reconsidered where to store them. Now they are keeping all the hoes on the chief’s property. The community also put in a penalty of 5000Rwf for anyone who does not do their share of work, of which they now record in booklets.

The community spent some time reflecting on the process of developing their proposals. They said the group never before came together to address problems and work together in the capacity they have for the MicroGrant project. They said they would start having meetings twice a month for their cooperative. They also said they never believed they would work in the field with their village chief, and now they are because they are all part of the cooperative!

There is newfound energy and organization in the community and Ernest and I are very excited to see it! Thank you to the Segal Family Foundation and Ernest who made it possible!

Village chief with his hoe

Community meeting after planting

Potato seeds

Community land for planting

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Spark MicroGrants Semi-Finalist for Buckminster Fuller Challenge

The Buckminster Fuller Challenge has named Spark MicroGrants a semi-finalist for their prestigious annual design science competition. The Challenge awards $100,000 to support the development and implementation of a whole systems-based solution that has significant potential to solve humanity’s most pressing problems.
Spark MicroGrants was chosen because of its novel model for stimulating community-led development. The Spark model could potentially be used around the globe to provide the poor the chance to design and implement their own development projects. The Buckminster Fuller team recognizes the potential global impact in their review of Spark here.
“This innovative approach to development could be very timely and have a global impact in that the micro-loan model, once touted as a panacea, has recently been revealed to have very serious potential pitfalls, and many aid initiatives have very high administrative costs and still ultimately fail to pull communities out of poverty.”
This recognition reaffirms Spark’s mission to shift the paradigm of global aid where communities are entrusted with their own development.
Semi-finalists will be reviewed and discussed by 11 jurors and finalists will be announced in May. The winner, runner up, and honorable mention will be announced at the conferring ceremony in New York in early June. Hopefully Spark will continue to progress in the competition!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Here's an idea

I just found out about this book with the simple title "Just Give Money to the Poor." Here's a video of one of the book's authors explaining this simple thesis:

Intriguing!  Approaches like this are exciting in part because they're so simple.  Don't get me wrong, I love a good techno-fix, like developing the technology that allows you to have a chain of refrigeration from a pharmaceutical factory to a village in rural Africa.  This kind of thing is awesome, important work, but also expensive, and often doesn't involve a whole lot of input from the villagers themselves.

Something about "just giving money to the poor" that relates to Spark's approach is that it's putting communities at the center of things, and connecting them to the resources they need; communities developing, rather than being developed.  These kinds of approaches alone may not solve every problem -- sometimes you need a global refrigeration chain -- but in terms of "bang for the buck," and empowering development's end users, they can go a long way.

You can read more about the book here and here

Friday, March 4, 2011

Kigundu Zone implements and Kitimbwa plans for their project

The Kigundu Zone sanitation project in Uganda is almost complete. The group built up a canal to stop flooding of the sewage system into their homes and pathways. They raised the height of the existing canal by about a foot and a half (shown in the picture below).

The canal before the project started is shown on the left and afterward on the right. They plan to finish the sidings in soil to protect the structure. The women expressed their appreciation for the project and also pointed out another section of the drainage system that needs improvement (see picture below). Regular floods plague the families living around that region of Kigundu. They proposed expanding the project to help that region as well and are designing a follow up proposal to see if we can help support it. As for the first project in Kigundu, we’ll have to wait for the rainy season to see if it really works!
The newest Uganda project is with the Kitimbwa Women’s Association which has over 200 members. They are developing a proposal for a vocational training center. Two local woman politicians are helping support the project by donating pieces of land for the center. They are developing their proposals and have started discussing the skills that will be taught. Skills include making soap, candles, beads, tie dye, cakes and baked goods, vaseline, and chalk.


The very first MicroGrant in Uganda was for a preprimary school in Wanteete Village. Six months ago children had to walk miles to over stuffed classrooms with poor facilities. The women in the village decided to take up the cause when they were offered a MicroGrant for a project of their choosing. In February, the mothers in Wanteete Village opened their very own school and over 100 students are attending! News of the simple un-walled spaced, covered by iron sheets, is spreading and more children have been coming each week. The women’s spirits are high and everyone involved is incredibly proud of the group for their high dedication to the project and their children. The school, New York Junior School, was started with a mere $1600 MicroGrant which was in large part due to the generosity of the Segal Family Foundation ( This week the Foundation even more generously provided a follow up grant of $5000 to BESO who facilitated the MicroGrant process there. The follow up grant will enable the school land to expand. They will build an additional structure with five classrooms, hire more teachers and expand into a primary school. BESO ( is coordinating the expansion with the women. Both the BESO staff and the community members are even pulling from their own resources to support the project – from donating wooden poles to follow up support.
Aaron, the Director of BESO, beams when he talks about the school and has mentioned how impressed he is by the women in the area. His dedication to the community is outstanding and we’re very happy to see him and the BESO team help facilitate the schools growth and continually support the women!