Owning Change: Through Local Ownership, Development Organizations Evolve

Sylvia Vriesendorp

Principal Technical Advisor for Leadership

This originally appeared on the LeaderNet blog.

“How can we get better support from our diocese for our development initiatives,” the executive director of a Catholic charity in Madagascar wondered. She and her Board Chairman participated with 8 other NGOs in a strategic management and leadership workshop that was organized by the USAID|MIKOLO (pronounced Mikoul) project that MSH is implementing. The project is just finishing its first project year. USAID|MIKOLO’s charge is to improve community health through community health volunteers and behavior change communication. In Madagascar this is no easy task as communities are spread out over enormous distances – there are political undercurrents that make working in some of these communities risky and there are so many communities and community health volunteers.

Working through the NGOs has been a way to spread the load. They have been offered assistance, to get better at what they are doing, to manage better, to lead better, to serve better and to govern themselves better. The NGOs have completed an organizational self-assessment that was modeled after one used in Kenya by MSH’s Fanikisha’s project. In French it is called PACO. It has an affectionate ring to it and maybe one day it may become a new verb in the French language (we have paco-ed ourselves). The process of looking at and assessing themselves, rather than being assessed by an external expert has been motivating and empowering. They are eager to learn more, get better and be important actors in improving the health of the people of Madagascar. During the workshop they were digging deeper to find out what has kept them from moving forward, towards their vision. Realizing their visions, of healthy communities where people adopt healthy behaviors and know when and where to get first line help when they need it, is what the USAID|MIKOLO project, USAID, the government of Madagascar and the NGOs have in common – united in a common goal, working shoulder to shoulder.

Using MSH’s well-tested Challenge Model to get at the root causes of things that don’t work or aren’t getting them to move towards their vision led to some insights about what they can do, not having to wait for others to make the desired changes. “Can you influence who is on the leadership council of the diocese?” we asked. “Yes, we can!” And from there other things become possible. One step at a time, one small victory at a time that leads to others; each new victory building confidence, skills, self-reliance and optimism. It is a far cry from the expert recommendations that are put in a drawer as soon as the expert leaves. When there is ownership you don’t need to sell anything.