Friday, 21 September 2018

Strengthen Local Capacity in Sustainable Development

By Titima Wanwilaiwan, 1st year MDP Student

Time flies, and I have finished my field placement with the Blossom Project with ADRA Vanuatu. I learned a lot about the livelihoods and the situation of Indigenous peoples in the South Pacific.It has been a great experience for me to work in field of development in a diverse cultural setting. 
Community Elder carving a traditional boat
One of the lessons I learned is that relationship building is the most important element. Relationships built on mutual respect must be at the foundation of development goals; in fact, I would consider it as the golden goal. Regardless of the politics and where the money comes from for the development projects, mutual respect and sincere collaboration is at the core for sustainable development. I am grateful for the insights I gained in my MDP Indigenous Evaluation course, because I was able to see the value of humility as an essential part of intercultural communication and learning.

As I mentioned in the first blog, I spent a lot of time out of working hours weaving myself into the Ni-Vanuatu culture so I could learn more about their values, and understand how they look at and find solutions to different problems. For example, tackling complex issues like domestic violence, it is hard to use the ‘Gender Equality’ framework applied in a Western context, since the cultural context of Vanuatu is quite different. Therefore, imposing foreign values onto the local people could result in more conflict within the community. That is not to say that the serious problem of domestic violence should not be addressed; however, careful consideration of the community values regarding gender roles and expectations must be acknowledged, and included in any plan or strategy. In my observations, I noted that the local staff of the Blossom Project does an excellent job utilizing and building on the capacity of local people and communities. It is important to support and enhance local capacity and move away from reliance on outside sources and expertise.

One excellent example of local cultural values is in their marriage ceremonies, where both men and women play important roles. I attended a wedding ceremony in Vanuatu and observed that a wedding is regarded as two families bonding, and not only the two people. This bond is a valuable social structure that provides a protective system and support network for the two families. During the ceremony, women were honored for their importance to family and community life, and given a place of honor and respect.
Preparing handwoven wedding mats for Bride's family as show of unity and respect between the two families
Another way to build on local capacity is to support the community care model for children rather than the orphanage model. In Vanuatu, there are no orphanages, and no tradition of legal adoption. Instead, members of the child’s extended family take on the parenting role, and provide the care and love. Imposing a formalized legal adoption and child welfare system would not work because it would be resisted by the population. In contrast, the community care model could be promoted and supported. 
Therefore, I would like to end my field placement with the idea of ‘Accentuating Positive Practices’ in the upcoming project activities. I have seen many inspiring examples of resilience and strength in the Ni-Vanuatu community, and I believe that they deserve the right and the opportunity to practice self-determined development.
I have learned so much, but there is still more to learn. Again, thank you ADRA Vanuatu, ADRA South Pacific Office and the MDP program of the University of Winnipeg. It has been a tremendously meaningful experience.

ADRA Vanuatu staff & ADRA South Pacific trainer at Emergency Response Training Workshop, Titima (far right)

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Building the Social Entrepreneur Ecosystem

By Silvina Antunes, 1st year MDP student

I was lucky enough to spend three months (that flew by way too quickly) working in Colombo, Sri Lanka with Lanka Impact Investing Network (LIIN), a small organization working to help social entrepreneurs realize their fullest potential.

Throughout my time here, I have heard the word ‘ecosystem’ used more often than in my 10th grade Biology class. At first, I didn’t understand the use of this term but as I heard it explained more and more, I began to understand. How can we promote change if the wider systems stay the same? In situations like this, only the exceptional will survive, and it would be extremely difficult for new social entrepreneurs to break into the market. This is where building the ecosystem comes in.

Conference attendees outside the venue
If a supportive environment is created where social entrepreneurs can access the services they need to begin, build and eventually, scale up, it will increase the opportunities and therefore, the popularity of social entrepreneurship in the country. This is truly a holistic approach to looking at business. Building the ecosystem comprises of the creation of tools at all levels from accessing capital to begin creating a product to market access to financial measurement tools.

The greatest task I took on this summer in terms of helping to build the ecosystem was assisting in the creation and facilitation of a conference, attended by high level business people, large financial institutions and impact investors who are already working in Sri Lanka. The purpose of this conference was to raise awareness about impact investing, investing into social enterprises, for those who are already making investments in conventional ways or people involved in investing on a daily basis. The conference was attended by approximately 50 people and was a great success! 

I was also able to work with entrepreneurs to assist them in aspects of their business where they felt they needed such as in building business plans, doing social media marketing, etc. and to refer them to some partner organizations who specialized in some of these areas. Additionally, we worked to build more partnerships so that LIIN-affiliated social entrepreneurs could access services beyond what LIIN is able to offer such as financial management.  
LIIN entrepreneurs selling their products at a Saturday market in Colombo

All in all, it was a wonderful three months. I was able to work in the most supportive environment, I learned more than I ever thought possible in such a short time and I made friends that I am sure will last a lifetime. I truly could not have asked for a better experience and although I am sad it’s over, I am happy to be returning home with new relationships, new skills and a new, more positive outlook on economic development.