Want Real Change? Go To Communities

Mia Schmid Recently a colleague shared a news article about Ben Affleck’s grantmaking and advocacy organization Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI). At first I was skeptical, then pleasantly surprised to find that ECI mirrored many of the values and principles we practice here at Firelight. We're always excited to see our peers openly promote community leadership  as the means to real change. 

In one interview Affleck stated, “the people doing the best work, with the real expertise, who understood what was needed intuitively, just like they would in my neighborhood, who knew who the guy was to talk to, were community-based organizations.”

ECI provides direct grants to CBOs in eastern Congo, with a focus on capacity building. Much like Firelight, ECI acknowledges that in order to have effective programs, organizations need effective internal systems. A recent Landscape Analysis they conducted revealed that there are many CBOs in eastern Congo implementing projects, but many could use assistance in building up internal controls and systems.

Typically, donors don’t want to fund organizational capacity building; it’s much less sexy than funding programs. But in many cases what’s really needed are those unsexy systems and training in how to use them.

I am impressed to find that ECI prioritizes organizational capacity building in this way.

I encourage a read of the Landscape Analysis. For me, it’s an example of the type of transparency that all non-profits should provide. There are interviews from each CBO, including strengths and needs, and stats on the organization’s size and budget. On the ECI website you can also find a database of all CBOs operating in eastern Congo and an interactive map.

Here are a few takeaways from the Landscape Analysis:

  • The research team learned that in the interview process the ordering of questions mattered. By starting with more general questions, about the organization’s history and programs, then moving on to needs and internal management, and finally accounting and finance, the organizational representatives were much more at ease and open to the probing questions that came later.
  • The team found that using a traditional SWOT analysis of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, was ineffective. Instead, they used an alternative- SNOR, an analysis of Strengths, Needs, Opportunities and Risks. Whereas when asking about weaknesses, groups focused on funding problems, when asked about needs they identified a broader range of personnel, logistical, technical, management, and financial issues. In addition, asking about threats tended to put people on the defense, rather when asking about risks posed to their work, groups provided general issues such as loss of staff to higher paying organizations, loss of financing, and general insecurity.

It’s exciting to see an organization with such a high profile decide to support local leaders on the ground. I hope to see future reports from ECI, particularly on how they’re measuring the impact, successes, and challenges of the CBOs. That’s something we’ve been working on recently at Firelight and it’s going to create very practical resources for communities to continue to strengthen and grow.