Last week the OVP team in Sierra Leone held a workshop on Theory of Change. Many nonprofit and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) develop theories of change to be able to communicate their mission and vision for their organization and how they plan to meet ‘big bucket’ goals. As OVP’s model has emerged, the need for a Theory of Change to illustrate how we put our mission and vision into practice emerged too.
Physical space can be a challenge at our current hub in Bunumbu, Eastern, Sierra Leone so we loaded up about 15 motorbikes and a vehicle and made the trek to Kenema – Sierra Leone’s 3rd largest city, about 1.5 hours from Bunumbu. It’s always exciting to bring the team out of our hub location and into a new environment that can foster creative thinking and excitement as we dive into new topics.
Gathered in a large room with a blank wall to illustrate our Theory of Change, we began the workshop by talking about our overall organizational goal. OVP’s mission is to inspire and equip rural villagers to transform their lives and communities and OVP’s vision is a future of engaged and thriving communities throughout rural Africa. Keeping these two foundational statements in mind, members of the OVP team developed the following goal that will guide the Theory of Change: thriving rural communities across Africa.
Now, this might sound like more of the same, but here’s where the Theory of Change can really be a guiding light for any organization – how do we get to thriving rural communities across Africa? Along with the development of the overall goal, the team also came to the following sub-goals that will guide future activities of OVP: equity, resiliency, social cohesion and good leadership. Think of the goal as the delicious dinner and the sub-goals as the crucial ingredients. Without any one of these sub-goals, we might not be able to create the thriving rural communities we envision.
After some serious high-level thinking about OVP’s goal and sub-goals, it was time to dive into causes. Specifically, why are rural communities across Africa not thriving? Why is there a lack of equity, resiliency, social cohesion and good leadership? It was really important to us that we had our entire staff in the room for this discussion including everyone from senior managers to support staff – we are a participatory development organization, after all!
The discussion was lively and everyone was involved. It was difficult to allow everyone to get a word in edgewise, as the discussion was bouncing around from person to person, each bringing new and critical points to the conversation. As we came to a break for lunch, the following light-bulb moments occurred, which will ultimately guide us in finalizing OVP’s Theory of Change:
- Sierra Leone is largely culturally insular, especially in rural areas where communities don’t have any perspective outside of their own cultural experience – therefore creative thinking, visioning for the future, and innovation are largely untapped skills.
- Culture is the root cause of a lack of gender equity – it has led to fixed gender roles, women being discriminated against, without empowerment or confidence to use their voice in the home or in their community.
- People are resistant to change and resistant to prepare for shocks because they are locally satisfied and don’t see the need to change; there is also a culture of immediacy that leads to poor planning, donor dependency, and ultimately a lack of ownership and involvement in development activities.
- Social fragmentation is common, due to a lack of pluralism and the prevalence of clan-based thinking that perpetuates marginalization of certain groups and dissuades people from working together as a group to accomplish goals.
- Root causes of poor leadership point to systemic exclusion, where leadership has traditionally not been representative on a national or village level. Corruption is the norm and tenure is very static with little room for diverse leaders to emerge.
As we continue with the process of developing our Theory of Change, we remain focused on our mission and vision – to find new and innovative ways to help communities in rural Africa emerge as thriving, engaged and inspired. Stay tuned for the final product coming in 2017!