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Sustainability is key

Di Hornby is someone who has been helping people in impoverished areas for many many years. As Director of the Centre for Social Development at Rhodes University (now under Cathy Gush), her activities were focused more closely to Grahamstown and Grahamstown East in particular. The Raglan Road Multi-Purpose Centre, which is now by all indications flourishing (a new library is being built, the centre sees hundreds of young children using the facilities in particular the BingBee kiosk and adult computer literacy classes are booked out) was a particularly successful intervention, in which ICTs also played a role. Since then Di has moved her efforts further out into the bush. North of Grahamstown at Kwandwe game reserve several communities are prospering owing to her efforts and those of the Kwandwe funded foundation she leads: the Angus Gillis Foundation. There is one thing Di does not compromise on, and that is, that communities must do the work themselves. The foundation is there to make things happen easier, to provide advice and an arm to lean on. As she puts it, "we are here to walk next to you, not infront of you. We don't lead the way. And as your strides become more and more confident and your progress faster, so we will gradually fall behind. Then you'll find one day that you do not needs us any more. But until that day we are prepared to walk beside you as long as it takes." This is Di's metaphor for the spirit of sustainability. No hand outs.

The standard method is this: a community must propose and implement improvements itself for an entire year, before it receives any great financial support. The foundation helps by organising and advising and generally supporting (holding hands). A community working group is established among the poorest individuals. They are taught how to save and how to collectively pool money and resources and to implement projects to further their aims. Within the first few weeks, a champion or two are identified. This is one of the main points at which the facilitators actually actively participate in the processes going on, since they suggest the role of the champion and also nominate the champions, providing reasons why these people should take leadership roles and asking everyone to support the motion. The rest of the time, the community is making its own decisions and prioritising tasks as it wishes. With an active community and an engaged leader - most of these participants are women by the way! - after a year there are usually results the community can be proud of and some sort of momentum is built up. If not, which may also happen for a variety of reasons, the programme is discontinued.The next phase is to match the savings of the group with foundation money Rand for Rand, to enable larger projects, safe in the knowledge that the group is established, can deal with crises and has a positive track record in completing projects.

The way Di talks and thinks is quite clearly outcomes based. After I had explained to her the SELF solar computer lab project we are working on, and the training programme we are initiating - about which I had some misgivings, because it involves rewarding teachers for extra-mural work, which they are actually meant to do within their job description, Di immediately proposed a possible solution. Payment is restricted to bonuses, and involves making the learners independant. So after an intial phase of additional teacher work, training, etc. the computer lab can actually be run by the learners who should be self-organised. The exact nature of how this can work may be explored in another blog post. This is a neat solution to the problem, which promotes win-win-win situations! Everyone wins, and one avoids the trap of demotivating people because funds eventually run out. Instead the value of the activity itself is promoted, which makes it much more sustainable and this will hopefully have short- and long-term benefits for all the learners in the programme!

It was a very exciting meeting - it highlighted many of the problem areas in our project of which I was aware and proposed solutions to the problems. Thank you Di!
[Ron Wertlen, eKhaya ICT]

Posted: May 24th 2008 08:02

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