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‘Angela, join in and work alongside your aunt! One finger can’t kill lice!’ I can still remember my grandmother, Gogo Lisnet telling me in my mother tongue. I had been watching my aunt Ines (she wasn’t that much older than me) struggle to winnow maize for the mill. My grandmother seemed to have an adage for everything and she would use it each time to teach us about life. I was particularly surprised by this particular proverb and asked her to explain it. She spoke about her own mother, my great grandmother Anazunga, who would inspect her children’s hair every month to make sure they hadn’t caught lice. She fondly remembered how she would be asked to sit down while her mother sat on a stool, and she would painstakingly look through her thick, coily hair. If she found one, she would show it to her, then place it between her nails and crush it – and more often than not proceed to cut her hair. With a hard outer shell it would be impossible to use one finger or even one hand to kill the mites. This was my first introduction to the concept of collaboration. With my support, winnowing was easier and quicker and achieved a better outcome all round – I learnt a new skill.
There are many African proverbs that speak to the value of collaboration including, ‘One hand can’t tie a bundle’ – but not just in Africa. Many cultures have similar sayings, all ultimately pointing to the benefits of working together.
In my grandmother’s village people largely rely on subsistence farming for their livelihoods, and many support one another during the toughest parts of the farming cycle. The cycle begins with Kusosa, which is clearing the land and using a traditional hoe to dig the soil and form mounds. This is hot, backbreaking work done in the dry season just before the rainy season begins from September to November. It is the toughest part. This is followed by Kubzala, which is planting once the early rain has started, then Kupalila, which is weeding, and finally Kukolola, which is the harvest. Harvest is a happy time, but it is also taxing and needs to be done quickly to avoid post- harvest losses, and there is a lot to do. Firstly, to remove the maize cobs; then pull out the stalk from the roots, gather the stalks and finally to take the maize home. Two or three households, especially female-headed households, would support one another to do the land clearing and the harvest – knowing that in helping others, they too will receive support and all will gain. Many hands make light work; they can sing and talk while they work together and each will fulfill their objectives.
Well, this is exactly what we do at All We Can. We can’t achieve what we want as an organisation on our own. We need others. Crucially, we can’t fulfill our vision and mission without our local partners. Each brings to the table their strengths, position, knowledge, and resources to make change happen. We work together to bring about flourishing and resilient communities in some of the world’s poorest countries. Initial estimates show that together, in 2019/20 we reached just under a million people. This is the power of collaboration!
All We Can needs its partners, and our partners need All We Can – there is a mutuality there that keeps both parties humble, realising that on our own we cannot get to our destination. We are aware that when we identify a partner, we are joining them as they work towards their own mission, and although we commit for the long term (up to 15 years), there will be a time when we will exit as we are a non-indigenous organisation and the partner will continue towards their vision for many more years, serving their communities. We therefore cannot be extractive or selfish, or use partners to further our agenda without helping them realise theirs. And when we do leave, we want to leave our partners resilient and in a better position than we found them, leaving a net positive contribution.
We aim to walk the talk in the localisation, shift-the-power and decolonising development agendas. At the heart of this is enabling partners to respond to priorities set by their communities, whatever these maybe. All We Can does not have a sector focus – rather, we support partners to set and implement their own mission and strategy to respond to the most critical needs around them. Our funding is flexible and offered unrestricted, for partners to restrict themselves to priorities set in their annual operations plans derived from their strategies. Our community of practice has adopted an evidence based culture, which means we must demonstrate that all interventions are based on community needs. Similarly, we must show that the most vulnerable are not left behind and that there is full accountability for all funding provided. We take our due diligence and compliance processes seriously, whilst being respectful and honouring in the way we work with our partners. Collaboration is one of our three core values. We work in solidarity and partnership, alongside not in control.
Angela joined All We Can in September 2014. She has over twenty years of experience in international development, NGO training, capacity development and organisation development practice. She holds a BSc in Industrial Psychology from the University of Malawi, and an MBA from the University of Leicester. Angela began her career in Malawi working in disaster management, policy analysis and advocacy for EVARD, and then in organisational development practice for the Council of NGOs in Malawi and Concern Universal. In 2001, Angela moved to the United Kingdom to help establish the educational arm of Freedom Centre International, and followed that with a role in disaster risk reduction at Tearfund before moving to Revenue Watch Institute in 2008.