why do we strengthen CBO programmatic and technical capacity?

Each organization will have its own definition of program success and thus have different needs in order to achieve that success.  Regardless of size, they all want to be effective organizations whose work positively impacts their communities. Drawing on the expertise of our own Program Officers and Lead Partners, as well as best-in-class technical consultants and experts from across the continent and the globe, we build the programmatic and technical capacity needed by CBOs addressing the complex challenges faced by children.

The story of Rwandan Firelight CBO grantee-partner Association pour le Développement du Peuple illustrates the power of this technical and programmatic capacity building:


After the genocide that claimed the lives of millions of Rwandan people in 1994, Association pour le Développement du Peuple (ADEPE) was founded in 2002 out of a desire to support the high number of orphans and widows – many of whom were affected by HIV – in the northwestern region of Gisenyi, located on the shores of Lake Kivu and on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. At the time, there were no local organizations to support these vulnerable young women and children, so ADEPE members came together to create pathways for children to return to school and for young women to earn livelihood to support their families.

 For many years, ADEPE focused on empowering girls financially through savings and loans groups, vocational training, and providing economic inputs such as livestock and start-up capital for their small businesses. However, ADEPE soon realized that providing only economic support was not enough to truly address the multifaceted challenges girls were facing – challenges such as isolation, teenage pregnancy, a lack of information about sexual and reproductive health, school dropout, and malnutrition.

When Firelight began funding ADEPE under its girls’ empowerment initiative, we worked with them to build upon their existing programmatic strength in girls’ financial empowerment – by strengthening their capacity to implement more holistic, assets-based, and girls-centered programs. In 2013, Firelight funded ADEPE to attend an intensive training in Nairobi – conducted by the Population Council – in girl-centered program development. This training introduced an assets-based framework that emphasized the need to simultaneously build girls’ physical, social, human, personal, and financial assets within the same program. With this new framework, ADEPE was able to work with government and community stakeholders to diversify and to expand their programs beyond financial empowerment, to address problems of isolation, malnutrition, teenage pregnancy, and school dropout for girls in the community. 

“At first, the community did not fully understand why investing in girls was important.  With the assets-based framework, we were able to have them see the value in their girls – how girls could not only contribute to the family income and wellbeing but also be role models for others in the community. This tool has also helped us increase the involvement of local authorities and community in terms of addressing girls’ issues and involving girls in decision making – today, girls even participate in youth councils at the village and cell levels.” - Gregoire Rucamuhigo, ADEPE Executive Director

Acknowledging ADEPE’s strong capacity both organizationally and programmatically, Firelight soon transitioned them to a Community Grantmaker role. In this role, ADEPE has been able to both make grants and build the capacity of nine smaller community-based organizations – in two phases – to use the assets-based tool for their girls’ empowerment programs. These organizations work with vulnerable girls who are experiencing a variety of challenges – from sex work, to homelessness, to physical and mental disability, to child marriage. With their strengthened girls’ empowerment programs, they have already seen reductions in sexually-transmitted infections, reductions in teenage pregnancy, and shifts in community mindsets about the value of investing in and educating adolescent girls. 

With stronger technical and programmatic capacity on girls-centered, assets-based programming, ADEPE has both been able to make lasting impact on vulnerable girls in their community and spread this knowledge to other community-based organizations who have been able to do the same.

 “The training helped us all design programs that built girls’ relationships with their peers and with community mentors, which has reduced their feelings of isolation. Girls now have friends that come with them to the market and to social events where they need support. They also have more self-esteem now and can express themselves freely. This was not the case before.” - Gregoire Rucamuhigo, ADEPE Executive Director