The Key To Learning: Peer Networks
Peer-to-peer learning is one of the most sustainable ways to support the capacity building of grassroots organizations because the shared learning and connection often continues on much longer than the period of Firelight support. It’s also one of the most exciting aspects of our work because our partners’ support of one another extends our collective impact beyond the grant dollars.
Here’s a great example…Two years ago, Firelight supported grantee-partner Youth for a Child in Christ (YOCIC) in the Bulawayo area of Zimbabwe, to strengthen their record keeping and accounting systems. They developed sound financial policies and procedures that gave them confidence in tracking and reporting on funds. Firelight’s country consultant, Tomaida Banda, paid regular visits to YOCIC throughout 2011 and 2012 to check-in on their progress. She gave them rave reviews for their strong financial systems in the end.
When two other Firelight grantee-partners requested support to improve their financial management systems, we asked YOCIC to serve as their mentor to usher them through the process. I asked YOCIC to share with me their experience of mentoring others and they had this to say:
“Being nominated was in itself a great inspiration to me. I felt I had been given the opportunity to shine as it were…Mentoring other organizations ensures that we strengthen our financial management system as an organization, it increases organizational capacity, provides us with opportunities to share our resource mobilization strategies, experiences, successes and challenges we encounter as we go about implementing [psychosocial support] PSS program activities as Community Based Organizations...Mentoring the two organizations has been a humbling experience for me. I would like to extend my gratitude to Firelight Foundation and Tomaida for nurturing the potential in us (YOCIC team). Had it not been Tomaida’s tireless efforts we would not have had the opportunity to establish a transparent financial management system not to mention the opportunity to mentor other organizations.”
Loving Hand, one of the organizations mentored by YOCIC, shared with me what they have learned through the process:
“Two staff members from Loving Hand Finance department attached to YOCIC for a week, learning how to run and maintain their books of accounts. The skills that we got from YOCIC will go a long way in molding our image once again and gain the trust of those who want to fund Loving Hand…As we speak, a member from YOCIC will be paying a monitoring visit next week and Loving Hand is quite grateful for this support. Our networking relationship in growing from strength to strength and it would be good practice for other strong organizations to support those that are finding the going tough especially smaller organizations with inexperienced staff…It is good that we made our weakness public and got support from fellow grantees who wouldn’t laugh at us for our failures. Many thanks goes to the country Firelight rep (Tomaida Banda) who made possible for YOCIC to provide this important service.”
Sikhethimpilo Centre, also mentored by YOCIC, shared with me what they have learned from YOCIC:
“The skills in financial management have improved financial monthly reports and they are compiled without any stress, because all data will be accurate and cleared laid out…[Since the training] We have also invited them to be members of the youth forum, together with Sikhethimpilo and Kensington youths, funded by Uluntu Foundation. Two workshops have taken place and the youth forum committee is in place. YOCIC and Sikhethimpilo are now close siblings in the Firelight Foundation family. We phone one another and visit their offices when we are in town.”
Firelight is often the first funder to an organization and we look for ways to help organizations strengthen their programs and systems throughout our partnership. Organizations are then able to source funds beyond Firelight, in many cases because they are able to show they have received external funding and have strong organizational systems.
Peer mentoring serves many purposes – it builds our partner’s networks within Africa and offers some of the best assistance available. Learning from someone who has already faced the task in front of you and has reached the other side with success is one of the best ways to learn.