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why do we build CBO-to-CBO networks?

Firelight actively brings its grantee-partners together within districts, within countries, and across countries so they can learn from each other and collaborate on shared goals. Our Lead Partner in turn provides lived experience and guidance to our CBO clusters to extend knowledge sharing further.

The story of Tanzanian Firelight CBO grantee-partner Tanzania Home Economics Association (TAHEA) illustrates the power of creating CBO-to-CBO networks:

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With its coastline spread along Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, Lake Victoria is stunning in its natural beauty. But for decades, Tanzania’s lakeside Mwanza District has also faced a stunning lack of opportunity for its community members. Communities have suffered through decades of poverty, illiteracy, and increasing rates of HIV. Pollution and overfishing have ravaged the local economy, and without intervention, it may only get worse for the next generation.  Reversing this cycle of despair starts with investing in childhood education at the local level. Too many of Mwanza’s children finish primary school without basic skills in reading, writing and math.

TAHEA was founded in 1980 to promote home economics as a profession, and change the mindset that domestic science is for women.  Over time, TAHEA recognized the needs of children in their communities and started its primary learning program with a simple question: What do communities need? And more often than not, parents responded that they wanted more for their children – primary school was not enough if it was not leading to necessary foundational skills in literacy and numeracy.

TAHEA was originally selected as a grantee-partner under Firelight’s early learning initiative in support of their groundbreaking Vutamdogo program. However, in 2013, TAHEA was also chosen as a Lead Partner for Firelight’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) initiative. Its strong community-based model and organizational capacity made it the perfect vehicle to expand early childhood education to the most vulnerable of Mwanza’s population.

“When we face a problem, we work together with Firelight to come up with a solution.” – Mary Kabati, TAHEA Program Coordinator

When TAHEA and Firelight first joined forces, TAHEA had never mentored another organization. But working closely with Firelight, TAHEA quickly learned how to identify viable organizations, distribute grants, and collaborate effectively to create and coordinate a powerful peer network of CBOs working to improve the outcomes of vulnerable children and families in Mwanza. It looked for organizations that had roots in the community, ability to expand, desire to lead and learn, and willingness to strengthen weaknesses. Learning from Firelight’s best practices and listening to the needs of community-based organizations in the cohort, TAHEA has been able craft tailored capacity building to six other organizations that work with young children and coordinate them in achieving shared goals.

Lead Partners like TAHEA create a multiplier effect of impact that arises when they identify, train, mentor, collaborate with, and convene peer organizations. After only a few years of partnership, TAHEA and Firelight are already making big gains with the organizations in this peer network, helping them to expand and deepen their programs sustainably at the community level. And while these organizations expand and deepen their impact, they have the support of their peer network to discuss challenges they face and to learn from each other’s experiences.  

“Because of Firelight, we have been able to cascade the knowledge and skills to many parents, caregivers, children and CBO communities. We have been able to transform empty rooms to stimulating learning environments.” – Mary Kabati, TAHEA Program Coordinator

Firelight believes in the power of creating communities of practice like peer networks, often coordinated by a Lead Partner like TAHEA, that can be sustained even beyond Firelight funding. These peer networks allow CBOs to work closely with each other – emphasizing the importance of local knowledge and expertise – and to collaborate on a shared vision for their communities.