Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Promoting sustainable growth at the grassroots level

Getting the community involved in finding local solutions to is not a new concept, but lately it appears to be gaining popularity. The truth of the matter is local solutions developed at the grass roots level have proven to result in long term sustainable growth. MicroGrant initiatives have helped with promoting community development where part of the responsibility is put on the community to find solutions for problems. 

The international development community recognizes the importance of, “small scale assistance.” An example of this is the Millennium Village Projects (MVP), which was created to help accomplish the Millennium Development Goals. One of MVP’s popular and successful projects is the Mama Kit. The kit is used as an incentive to encourage pregnant women to deliver their baby at a local medical facility, rather than delivering at home. Delivering at the local medical facility is much safer for both the mother and child. The Mama Kit contains cotton cloth, laundry soap, gauze, and other items, many of which are not made available in most medical facilities. 

In 2009, two health workers in Ilolangulu, Tanzania had the idea to do something similar. They wanted to encourage women to give birth at the clinic by offering free diapers and soap. With nominal assistance, these two women wrote the first proposal of their lives, refined it, and received four months worth of funding. Deliveries at their clinic increased almost immediately. Ilolangulu's clinic went from 10 deliveries in September to 35 in December. Just $615 delivered soap and diapers to about 200 pregnant women and gathered evidence to evaluate their strategy. This was the beginning of Spark MicroGrants.

Despite the trend toward local involvement in development, there's still work to be done before local solutions to local problems is seen as the norm. On a recent trip to a developing country, I was surprised by the number of NGOs and development non-profits were springing up. It seems like everyone I spoke with was involved in starting a new NGO. Yet when I spoke to some individuals about the idea of MicroGrants and small scale, locally-led development, many did not seem to fully understand the concept. However, many were excited about the idea of giving the community a voice in local solutions. 

One gentleman mentioned that the issue facing a lot of well-meaning NGOs is there is no follow up plan or matrix to measure progress so the problem keeps re-occurring. Other issues that are often discussed: 
  • lack of funding,
  • ensuring that aid dollars are used for the intended purposes,
  • solutions are often short-term which means that the problem eventually returns, 
  • political factors get in the way. 

Given these issues facing development efforts, it is easy to see how solutions that are planned by the people with the best understanding of local contexts, and that are able to get a big impact out of a small amount of money, can be so powerful. In general people I spoke with were excited about idea of getting the community involved in creating local solutions. It all boils down to finding measurable, sustainable, long term solutions. Local people living with a particular problem have the best understanding of that problem, and are in a unique position to develop a solution. Creating a framework for communities do develop solutions to their own problems is a step in the right direction.

-Hary Rakotondrazaka is a Spark MicroGrants volunteer. She has also worked with humanitarian organizations in Madagascar addressing HIV/AIDS and violence. 

UN Millennium Project. online at
Lief, Jacob. "Why Small-Scale Assistance Works." Dec. 2011. online at