International Development

As a result of the alarming trends discussed in the publication ‘Go to School or Go to Work? more schools are needed so that more children can have educational opportunities. However, in order to effectively implement this strategy, more pragmatic approaches are needed, especially projects that aim to engage rural communities. Undoubtedly, this might sound obvious to some people, but the reality is that many projects fail to conduct thorough research on community needs before implementing their project. Equally, there is a lack of identification of the primary and secondary stakeholders.

The majority of enthusiastic philanthropists and community development projects that I have come across, who have big purses and big hearts, are overly keen to:

  • Provide training to local staff;
  • Build a school or a hospital in a rural African village;
  • Conduct research on a specific community;
  • Provide funding to install water and electricity;
  • Start agricultural projects etc.

These funders often fail to identify who the local stakeholders are and how to engage them. This is the first most significant aspect of beginning your new intervention. Identifying the local stakeholders and engaging them will accelerate your collaborative effort, reduce power struggles, reduce project apathy, lack of passion and save you time and money.

In addition, it is essential to understand the structure of local institutions. It is equally imperative to pay particular attention to their working procedures. This is necessary because it will help projects to strategically structure their concept notes and their proposed engagement with the partner institution in a format that comport well with accepted local procedures. By adopting acceptable procedures, the introduction of new ideas or modifications to existing ones does not seem as threatening to the established order, as otherwise would be the case. For projects that are related to the rights and welfare of children in traditional societies or the alteration of cultural practices and perceptions, it is absolutely imperative that these projects understand the culture of the particular community they intend to work with and pay diligence to cultural relativism.

Remember that it is not enough to think that knowing the culture of one community, immediately transfers to knowledge of another. For instance, each African community has their own unique culture and traditional system that is completely different from the other communities.

When making an observation on the children’s rights and cultural norms, from legal standpoints in Africa, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC)1990, recognises children as bearers of rights. However, the Charter also indicates that children too bear responsibilities to others. This reflects on the concept of African traditions which might be outlandish to western thinkers. Nevertheless, Article 11 (2) (c) of (ACRWC) emphases that the education of the child is directed to the preservation and strengthening of positive African morals, traditions and cultural values. Furthermore, the Charter went on to state in its Article 11 (2) (f) that children’s education shall be directed to the promotion of African Unity and solidarity.

Consequently, understanding cultural relativism is not only embedded within the African Charter, it will also enable substantive influences in favour of the rights and welfare of the child, which will accelerate the successful procedural elements of projects related to the promotion of children’s rights to education. Contrary to this, interventions that do not accord appropriate regards for the procedural observations of local institutions run the risk of rejection of their new concepts and therefore impede the opportunity for substantive discourse and engagement with traditional communities.

The urgency is to understand the influence that local institutions have and how they influence developmental projects. As a result, a funder needs to engage with the institutions and local communities to effectively design and implement their projects. They need to consider the acceptable procedures that will be most valuable and welcomed by the beneficiaries with regards to; the allocation of financial resources, the deployment of human resources and the sharing of knowledge. This strategic intervention in community engagement programs would enable the communities to embrace new concepts and welcome new ideas. Moreover, it will foster an equal partnership between funders and beneficiaries that subsequently may lead on to further sustainable projects.

To understand and engage local stakeholders in Africa is imperative. AIDER’s associates are experienced in community engagement and work with local institutions and governments implementing successful community development projects. We can provide a funder with guidance and support to develop their portfolio within rural communities.

Author: Lamin. F. Daffeh © AIDER 2016