Friday, April 8, 2011


We’re envisioning our future and standardizing our procedures. Some things we’ve learned over the past few months and our ambitions for the next few are getting us hyped up to scale. Just to sketch out what scaling can look like, we’ve elaborated on each actor and program of Spark MicroGrants below.


Loosely organized communities that have little to no experience with other aid/development projects are great candidates for a MicroGrant. Our multi-meeting planning process for communities to develop their project proposals has explicit redeeming qualities. It often increases community trust, organizational capacity, project planning skills, and empowers communities to reach out to new resources for other projects or to improve their first one. After we engage communities they typically have large voices and gain confidence in their capabilities and ideas, which is a clear indicator to me of increased dignity. Even if the communities don’t benefit so greatly from the process, they walk away with a development project that addresses a specific goal, like increased access to clean water and nutritious food. 


We’ve worked with a number of facilitators but are moving more towards a Facilitators Corps; recruiting university students or recent graduates to facilitate community meetings and help communities develop their MicroGrant proposals. Students interested and showing a passion for development, media and peace and conflict studies are of particular interest in Rwanda. These students tend to be energetic, passionate and caring about communities with little previously developed biases or project ideas that could potentially corrupt the process. They are familiar enough with local situations of under-resourced communities and can relate and communicate well while also seeing the bigger picture of the organization and their appropriate, short-term role in individual communities development.
Our facilitators have done remarkably. One of our first facilitators in Rwanda, Moses, is giving a goat from his salary; Aaron in Uganda got a $5,000 follow on grant for the school in Wanteete; Erneste is at the National University of Rwanda working towards his undergraduate degree, dedicates the rest of his time to Spark and is even writing articles about community projects; Belitia, our only woman facilitator is now standing up during meetings and speaking with a louder voice; and Fred is starting a social business for pig rearing in Bugesera, Rwanda. Towards the end of each MicroGrant project facilitators often come to me with suggestions for other groups to work with and asking that we can ‘please support them also’.  They start feeling for each community they engage and become concerned with the disparities in wealth, not just in the world, but their own countries. They often explain to me that there are people with money in Rwanda and Uganda, but they aren’t investing it in the rural areas – that is why they appreciate working outside of the cities and with the worst off in their country.


I may be the only example of an organizer for Spark currently but why should I hog all the fun? I get the sense that there are hundreds of people eager to get on the ground and support community-led development. Organizers will have the chance to help a global movement meant to support community-led development and do hands on fieldwork at the same time. The position is dependent enough on the organizer that two years in the field would yield high impact development, but also not fall apart when they move on – a large dilemma for many western initiated grassroots efforts. 

We have a wonderful group of Spark Advocates thus far who are helping to support MicroGrants in Rwanda and Uganda. Advocates are helping to mobilize energy around specific community projects while being based in America. They are helping to get the word out, support our communities in East Africa and raise funds. Andy Pritchard is leading and developing this arm of the organization!

Spark Voice is a new initiative to promote citizen media reporting in MicroGrant engaged communities. Spark Voice will work with community members to train them on media tools, develop and promote their stories, and stimulate a dialogue within the international aid community where voices of under resourced communities are heard and appreciated. This program is unique in that we will help depict a community voice, along with individual voices, and will report on one region over time, through the MicroGrant process and after, providing for depicting developing local views of a developing region.
Justine Esquivel will be moving to Rwanda to help launch Spark Voice, which was in part inspired by our facilitator Ernest Ngabo, a journalism student in Rwanda. Ernest and a fellow university student, Claude Muhire, are passionate about helping rural Rwanda develop and getting the real stories about their lives out in the media and to the world. We’re really excited to see it get off the ground. Advocates and Voice will work closely together, and complement each others work to promote the communities work.
If you’re interested in learning more about the current team, visit here.

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