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why do we assess, document, and disseminate learnings?

Learning and evaluation means that we regularly measure program and organizational effectiveness as well as document what we and our grantee-partners learn.  We employ transparent, open, and participatory learning and evaluation practices across all of our grantee clusters and support them to be transparent with their communities as well. We assess, document and disseminate key learnings and best practices on how community-driven solutions can be most effective for children and youth.  This informs our own methodologies and those of our grantee-partners so that we can adapt accordingly based on what is working and what is not.  As importantly, we are building and sharing this body of evidence and knowledge base so that it can be used, adapted, or replicated by others.  

The story of Malawian Firelight CBO grantee-partner Community Partnership for Relief and Development (COPRED) illustrates the power of assessing, documenting, and disseminating learnings from our initiatives:

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Community Partnership for Relief and Development (COPRED) was founded in 2000 in southern Malawi out of a need to implement sustainable, community-born development programs that responded to the root causes of poverty, which were responsible for declining livelihoods and the rise in HIV infections, domestic violence, child labor, child marriage, and school dropout. COPRED’s approach has always been to tackle these issues by focusing on those who are most vulnerable to its effects – women and young children.

As such, though taking a multi-pronged approach to community development that involves HIV prevention, food security initiatives, and small-scale enterprise development, COPRED focuses on strengthening early childhood development systems. In Malawi, local communities have already established a network of community-based childcare centers (CBCCs), but the challenge lies in ensuring the quality of these CBCCs, which often serve primarily as daycare centers rather than as productive, active learning environments for young children.

In 2014, Firelight began funding COPRED under our early childhood development initiative. We engaged the technical expertise of the Madrasa Early Childhood Program - Uganda to help CBOs in the Malawian cohort improve the quality of care and education at the CBCCs they support. With this funding and capacity building, COPRED has been able to make significant improvements in their CBCCs – training center caregivers in child-centered pedagogy, encouraging parent involvement in their children’s education, and increasing community contributions to locally-made teaching and learning materials for the centers.

Systemic change takes time, and Firelight is committed to using in-depth assessments and documentation to ensure that we are gradually seeing improvements and addressing key challenges as they arise.  In both 2016 and 2017, Firelight engaged independent academic evaluator—Dr. Amina Abubakar—and her team to conduct a baseline and midline assessment, respectively, of CBCCs with which our grantee-partners work.  Learn more about our baseline assessment of CBCC quality in Malawi by reading Firelight’s publication in the Global Education Review.

At Firelight, data is collected for the purpose of helping CBOs to better understand where they are performing well and where their gaps and challenges are.  This information is used as the starting point for discussion and learning, and new ideas are directly fed back into their programs, as well as back to Firelight so we can understand where to offer more support. 

As part of Firelight’s process of “closing the loop” and sharing data back with partners, COPRED learned that many of their CBCC caregivers did not meet the minimum standards of qualification, as many only had a primary school education. In response, COPRED now systematically evaluates their caregivers’ educational backgrounds and has even supported them to re-enroll in secondary education – understanding that strengthening their basic skills in literacy and numeracy will also allow them to be more effective teachers to young children in the community.

“These assessments provide us with the evidence of what we are doing well and open our eyes to what we are not doing well. It also helps us to put effort in the right areas and to plan better. We are then able to share these lessons learned with our communities, with local government authorities, as well as with donors, showing how resources have been used effectively and where more resources are needed.” - Reuben Biliati, COPRED

At Firelight, learning from assessments and documentation is used for action – sharing data back with CBO grantee-partners so they can improve their programs and disseminating these lessons to the wider philanthropic and civil society communities in ways they can actively use, adapt, or replicate.