We have created a dynamic model for community organizing and granting that can be adapted for any community in need. We work with enthusiastic local facilitators who want to help an impoverished community that they know of and care for. We do very little, yet we spark major change – we have supported a community of women in Wanteete Village, Uganda to organize and build, as well as sustain, their very own pre-primary school for a mere $1600, enabled thousands to gain daily access to clean water in Ethiopia, and sparked women in Rwanda and Guatemala to increase their food security so their families can eat nutritious meals every day. Our involvement in each community is succinct. A local facilitator organizes community meetings, asks the community to define their most pressing social problem, come up with ways to solve that problem, and implement the best one with funding from a MicroGrant.
Assess: We realized that most development projects hire someone to identify a problem or merely assume a problem is present in the communities they aim to help. We believe that impoverished communities know the problems they are facing very well since they deal with them on a daily basis. In the first community meeting we ask the community to come together and discuss their problems, such as the Community Toll Box’s page for assessing community needs suggests. We then ask them to vote on the most pressing one. In Karambi Village for example, community members listed problems like access to food, shelter and health care, but they unanimously voted that access to clean water was by far the biggest problem. By directly asking the community to identify the problem we cut out the middleman, where things may get lost in translation and funding gets wasted.
Plan: We require community members to propose solutions to the problems they face, design a plan, and do the work. We support them in writing and revising their proposals and by gathering global support and expert advice. Our proposal guidelines are similar to this Out of the Box Grant proposal, involving problem definition, plan, budget, a sustainability plan, and how success will be measured. In Bukomero Village, Rwanda, the community proposed animal rearing projects. During the second meeting each member with animal rearing experience presented their views, which stimulated discussion on the sustainability of animals that need lots of feed. In the third meeting, three different groups drafted proposals. Spark then gathered external advice and cautions from experienced animal raisers. The group revised their proposals in the fourth meeting. After more revisions in the fifth and six meeting, the proposals were complete and they received funding to purchase animals.
Act: Spark MicroGrants is a dynamic model for community organizing and granting. The entire process revolves around the knowledge and imagination of communities in need. We are the spark and connector that enables them to effect change. Through our model we connect three groups to communities in need: donors, field experts and eager volunteers. Volunteers facilitate our MicroGrant development process in communities, field experts provide feedback on community proposals and donors provide seed funding for the project.
Wanteete Village, Uganda, now has a pre-primary school to send its children to; the members of Mekelle Village, Ethiopia, have daily access to clean water; three hills in Bukomero, Rwanda have better income based on an animal project; and women affected by war in Guatemala have better food security. All we did was stimulate a process where each community can flourish. Community members took advantage of the opportunity and provided all the work
Evaluate: We are currently in the middle of a yearlong project to evaluate the Spark MicroGrant model through iterations of competitions in Rwanda and Uganda. We are collecting information through participant surveys before and after the process, site visits and discussion groups around the model. So far we have seen MicroGrants transform local NGO leaders and communities alike. Communities have expressed new enthusiasm and hope for change.
Each MicroGrant proposal must include a monitoring plan for internal evaluations of project success. Midterm and project completion reports are required. In Ilolangulu, Tanzania, community health workers wanted to increase in-clinic births to prevent maternal or child death. They measured how many births took place at the clinic before and after the project was implemented. Within two months deliveries at the clinic more than tripled and after the money dried up, delivery numbers have sustained, suggesting that the grant kicked off a positive cycle!
Sustain: Each MicroGrant is facilitated by a local volunteer, often an NGO leader or university student with an intimate connection to the community. After a project is implemented, facilitators check up on the projects and ensure the community is able to manage it on its own. Each project also must include its own sustainability plan. For the water project in Ethiopia, community members pay a small fee for up keeping the tap; in Rwanda, the pigs in the animal project will reproduce and can be sold for income.
As an organization we are seeking further funding to enable new competitions to commence in communities that have never been provided the opportunity to develop their own community project before. We provide one-time grants only, enabling the projects to be self-sustainable from the beginning and with large community ownership. Grant us with $5000 and we will spark sustainable change in two new communities.
We have completed two MicroGrants and have another eight underway in Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Guatemala. We effect change in two ways: the impact of the project and community empowerment. We help communities address social problems themselves with global support and encouragement. The women of Wanteete Village, Uganda, didn’t feel they had a voice before their MicroGrant was introduced. With the MicroGrant opportunity, the women have established a new school, improving their children’s access to pre-primary education and they have also been empowered in the process. They have even taken it upon themselves to use their success to pressure their local government to support the school and other social projects before upcoming elections.
Each project must have a measureable indicator, such as the number of women giving birth in a clinic before and after their project was introduced.
SPARK MicroGrants Website: www.sparkmicrogrants.org