Reflections; The end of a first trip… and the beginning of many more

And we’re back. Over the last 4 weeks we have had the opportunity to meet 3 great grassroots NGOs. Organisations that have worked from the ground up, focussing on their specific area, understanding that community’s needs, and delivering those solutions that have been worked out with the end users. No overreach, no handouts, no projects for the sake of the money, no activities for the sake of the project. Just strong, hardworking, motivated individuals looking to help their own society improve, and making do with what they can get in terms of resources and community participation.

With Quidan Kaisahan (QK), in the Philippines we saw them run an integrated programme with villages to reduce child labour, increase child attendance and reduce poverty. They establish and train village level self-help groups, help them understand their rights and the government’s obligations, and how to engage with local government institutions. Just before QK we met Roots of Health who are engaging communities on the sensitive issue of reproductive health by involving and supporting local women and youth in their programmes so as to realise their potential for self-determination on this and many other health issues that are important to them. Informed communities means that individuals and families make the choices that are in their best interest rather than waiting for outsiders to service their needs. In Nepal, CEPP focussed on improving primary school education. They support and train teachers and parents to be more involved in the child’s education; with skills to run their associations better, to conduct their classes with locally available materials instead of buying everything, and to get the community to contribute with labour and materials for school maintenance and improvement works.

Each of these organisations work in the background, helping improve those systems, processes and capacities that exist within the social fabric of communities, working to empower those local authorities that are actively engaged in the process instead of dismissing them as incapable, incompetent, or corrupt. Like many civil society organisations around the world they gap-fill, create that check & balance to government and in the meantime gather like-minded motivated individuals to work together to support the needs of their community. This has been what many of our (western) countries have done since time immemorial; the local church led action to feed the homeless, the community fair to raise money to save the library, the cooperative movement.

We also had the opportunity to meet some interesting institutions both private and public that work to improve and support civil society; certification bodies, human-centred design agencies, incubator hubs, impact labs. Amazing, not only for the work they do but also for the lack of knowledge we “outsiders” have of the structures available in country.

And finally we even had a chance to test our “pitching” skills with two foundations in San Francisco introduced to us by a friend of mine (thank you @StefaanPoortman @globalheritagefund).

So, is FieldWorks still the same?

Yes. FieldWorks aims to make it easier for good grassroots organisations to connect with motivated people who want to give either their time or money to locally led sustainable social change.

It isn’t about “fundraising”, or being another NGO with money and ideas to come and save the “poor”, or “those who don’t know better”, or any other label. We don’t want to foment the (“white”) saviour complex – and please, if it looks like we’re going that way, someone, please, tell us! It’s about making that “community” spirit a little bit wider, and offering a few alternatives for ways that community can engage with one another. In a world that is trending towards looking inwards, it’s about looking further afield and committing yourself wholeheartedly to supporting a group of people; knowing there is more that we can achieve together if we listen to one another.

Did we achieve our objectives?

Yes. The purpose of our trip was to test our tool, better understand the actors in different countries and have as many conversations as possible. We want to make it easier for people (you) to find good grassroots organisations to support, but in order to do so we need to give you some information that will make you at least consider trusting them. This is our profiling assessment and thanks to the organisations we worked with we were able to understand its limitations and have it challenged.

So what happens next?

The experiences over the last 1.5 months have helped us learn a lot both in terms of our weaknesses but also to help us focus our next steps. The first version of our assessment tool worked amazingly well, but is still a ways off from truly capturing a snapshot of organisations not only on the basis of our own expectations but from the expectations of those the organisation directly impacts on the ground. We now need to upgrade it with what we learnt. Being out in the field has given us much more confidence to think about fundraising, and our first foray into “pitching” has shown us key areas of messaging we need to tighten up. We’ve also started considering income opportunities and how to help socially minded businesses and philanthropic organisations assess their local NGO partners; such as @impactmarathons who we had the chance and pleasure to meet in Nepal as they prepared their upcoming marathon.

We’re still a way off (and, yes, we still expect a lot from ourselves), a lot closer than we were 9 months ago but probably understanding that our journey is going to take more time than we thought. So yes, a few more months of hearing us rattle on, but hopefully everything about FieldWorks will get clearer. If we think back to our first conversations we think we’ve come a long way…at least people don’t fall asleep….hello? 🙂

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