That rogue elephant! (help us find a solution)

Local experts we partner with, across many nations, all share a common problem. A rogue elephant.


 Photo by Kebs Visuals. 

They say it’s often there. Sometimes disguised. But it’s so big they can normally see it.

The elephant doesn’t mean to do harm. But not being native, or local, it’s unaware of its environment, of its size, and its power. And of the damage it so easily causes without intending to.

The elephant in the room is a metaphor for today’s commonly accepted approach to tackling poverty.

We’ve learned from local organisations, that local solutions are the right ones. But that our local isn’t their local! This can mean we define poverty in a very different way, even misunderstand it. Economist Brian Fikkert puts it like this: “The way we define poverty plays a major role in determining the solutions we use in our attempts to alleviate poverty. If they need help – give it. But if they do not, you giving may do harm”.

We support a model of development that is locally-led.

Local solutions take longer, cost more and offer back less ‘thanks’ from those who benefit – because they brought the change themselves.

Victor Mughogho has become something of a pioneer of what locally-led eradication of poverty looks like, in Malawi. He’s got the bruises from this uncomfortable journey, to prove it.

“We are living in a world of donations”, he explains. “But I have realised that NGOs – local and international – also try to donate solutions”

There’s the red line so easily stepped over when, out of good intent, we give a solution, a strategy for eradicating poverty. Doing that, says Victor Mughogho, can make any change that follows, short-lived.

“You will never sustain development when the answers come from outside, into the community. What we have discovered is that people themselves know their own challenges. All they need to know is, how do we solve our own problems? Our role is to facilitate problem solving.”

You may be considering how to make the pound you give go further, or the volunteer time you invest be meaningful. Know that you have a role, a voice, a part to play, led by those most affected.

These questions may help you evaluate how to best use your money and time in relation to poverty:

  1. Do communities you support, offer thanks?
    Real locally-led development is owned by the communities. They wouldn’t have reason to thank outsiders for what they’ve done. If they do – why is this?
  2. Is the local partner-organisation an implementor, or do they have a seat at the table?
    In true partnership work is shaped locally, not at Donor HQ.
  3. Who is in the driving seat of work you support? Are local communities in the driving seat?
    If they are, they will have identified their community needs; developed plans with support from charities. If the charity or donor is in the driving seat, the community won’t be.
  4. How are updates shaped for supporters?
    Are they showing a dependency on the input which your gift has enabled – and thanking you? Or are they showing, with pride, the outputs of their own potential?

If we give a community a fish, or a fishing rod, or we teach them to fish, it would be short lived: the river may run dry, get fished-clean, or the rod may break.

The community, then come straight back to us, for a new rod (reinforcing why our role is so critical). Imagine if we instead spent that money in facilitating the community to identify their own needs. And find the solutions to these needs. We are doing just this. Over the past 7 years we’ve worked with organisations across Africa and Asia to develop something we call “The Partnership Model”.

It’s a powerful tool. And it deals with the elephant in the room!

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