Author: Sheku Mohammed Gassimu, Community Projects Manager
As a community-led organization we pride ourselves on our commitment to accountability and transparency. We believe that, in order to create lasting and sustainable change, community members should be involved in every step of the project design and delivery. We work alongside volunteers from the communities we have partnered with, in order to build skills that will positively impact the wellbeing of everyone. We recognize that, in requesting that partnered communities be transparent and accountable to us, we also have a responsibility to be accountable to, and transparent with them. In an effort to further build the skills of community members, and be ever more transparent, we now share all project budgets with community members. This process is innovative and exciting, and very rare in this field. Even in its early days, we have already begun to build more trust between communities and our staff, with community members taking even more ownership over their projects.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
As the size of the communities we are working with has grown significantly, it became an operational necessity to determine the budget for each community according to population size. While we used to develop the budget in conjunction with community volunteers, these volunteers now take the lead in developing the budget. They build the budget around material costs, transport costs, workmanship, while setting aside a 10% buffer in case of any problems or changes. When they have developed the budget, the volunteers of the Community Action Group go through the budget line by line with the community. They set a certain amount aside to set up a community bank account, and if any money is left over following the project, it carries over into the next project cycle.
WHY DID WE DECIDE TO DO THIS?
We believe that information is power: by sharing and developing budgets alongside community members, they are able to prepare better for their projects. By sharing budgets with the communities, we are preventing them from running out of materials in the middle of implementation, as they are in total control of planning. When a community understands the amount of resources it has, and the amount of buffer available, they will manage the finances accordingly. This is about more than just accountability and transparency, we wanted to be able to equip the communities we have partnered with the skills necessary to plan and implement community development projects after they are no longer working with OneVillage Partners.
WHAT HAS THE IMPACT BEEN?
We have found that communities have more realistic expectations about the scope of the project and can envision the scale of impact. Being able to see line by line, the cost of items, communities are able to make informed decisions about their project. They are able to decide whether they would prefer fewer, more elaborate latrines, or a greater number of simple latrines. When all parties know they are receiving the same information and they know where the money is being spent, there is a greater sense of trust and collective decisions are made with greater ease. Community members are thrilled with this new development, as they see the value in the heightened transparency and trust. Some communities have demanded receipts to see how money has been spent. One community volunteer, Jeneba Kamara stated: “In the history of Baaka and its relationship with NGOs, only OVP has shared a budget with our community before implementing a project”. We believe that, as communities begin to accept this new system, they will feel confident to request transparency from any other organizations who may wish to operate in their community.
We have seen the sharing of budgets inspiring action and openness across partnered communities. While this process can be messy and chaotic, it is a joyful experience that inspires community members to think creatively about what can be possible with a small budget. This level of transparency demonstrates to a village that change is in their own hands and they have the creativity and power to work to address its felt needs.