A 2011 Glance Ahead for African Community-based Organizations

Looking into 2011, community-based organizations (CBOs) will play an important and creative role in development. The ambitious goals stated by donor countries and governments invested in Africa's child and family development will require the sustainable network CBOs provide. CBOs’ ability to stretch a dollar, reach not only heads of families, but entire families, marginalized groups, and children directly make them essential to advances in development. Four issues come to mind as I look to the year ahead:

1)    The end of mother to child transmission of HIV is in sight, and community organizations will play an important role. A simple drug regimen administered to pregnant mothers at birth eliminates much of the risk of HIV transmission to children. Eliminating “verticalmother and child transmission” is thus the key to ending pediatric AIDS. In 2010, donor countries and governments made a serious commitment to eliminate vertical transmission worldwide by the end of 2015. A number of Firelight grantee partners, like Matero and Ambuya in Zambia specialize in preventing vertical transmission and in treating pediatric AIDS. Dozens more of our partners already include vertical transmission in their holistic programming. These established networks play a critical role in women’s access to treatment and will turn the commitment to eliminate vertical transmission into a reality through efficient, informed service delivery.

2)    African grassroots technology advances. At Firelight we estimate that just half of our African grantee partners have reliable internet connectivity in their offices, and that up to a quarter must travel long distances to reach internet cafés. But this is changing: information technology is reaching African villages, especially through cell phones. An exciting trend is that a number of organizations, such as Frontline SMS and mHealth that have developed “helper apps” that help rural areas in Africa access health, education, and financial services virtually. These technologies can lessen traditional obstacles to access such as long distances and limited staff and transport. Firelight predicts this trend will continue and even more CBOs will build advancing technologies into their work.

3)    The US government – the largest funder worldwide of support to children affected by AIDS – increases focus on community-based organizations. As its name indicates, the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has understandably treated AIDS as an emergency. Now into its second five-year appropriation, PEPFAR still earmarks significant resources to orphans and vulnerable children – about $1 billion per year – but also places more emphasis on country-led, sustainable, efficient long-term response to AIDS. We at Firelight know that successful country-led strategies require good coordination between government services and community action. A move toward both sustainability and efficiency will increase interest in investment in low-cost, resource stretching grassroots organizations. A review of PEPFAR-funded orphan and vulnerable children programming will be carried out in the first half of 2011, and its findings will have a broad impact.

teacher action

4)    The creative role of African grassroots organizations steps up to the black board in student and school success. For years, US foundations avoided investment in basic education in Africa. This picture has been changing for the better in the last year, as a substantial number of US foundations are developing global education strategies. Within this field, there will be an important role for community-based organizations. Much of the foundation funding will focus within the school, on improving teacher training and learning materials. But any teacher will tell you that the motivation, discipline, and love of learning that come from supportive family and community environments are equally important. Community-based organizations are better placed than ministries of education to help families and communities foster these aspects of children’s schooling success. As our foundation colleagues increase their education efforts, Firelight will remind them of the determination of communities and families to help their children succeed in school. We were very impressed by the breadth and creativity of community efforts in education that showed up in our recent survey of partner organizations – watch for the survey report in the coming months.

As awareness increases of the value of community-based strategies, Firelight will use its ten years of working with African community-based organizations to inform and persuade others of the importance of getting resources to the grassroots. Firelight knows the vital difference CBOs make in the lives of children. Our knowledge of their daily choices, the ways they work, and the challenges they face can help others to invest in successful, efficient community-based work in Africa.

Starting in 2011, Firelight will use this blog and other media channels to share lessons learned about the role that CBOs play and how they are best supported to expand resources and awareness of grassroots efforts. We look forward to sharing these lessons with you and your feedback as we support communities to change children’s lives.