Working with Women of Kireka (WoK), Project Diaspora (PD) is collectively learning how to combine business and development through trial and error. For example, this year PD decided to help the WoK with their children's school fees. The understanding was that we would assist the women to pay their children's school fees while they completed skills training for a more lucrative and sustainable line of work. It was agreed that the children should not suffer in the process. Drawing on international donations, we launched two campaigns that allowed us to cover their school fees.
On the surface, this seemed like an easy enough idea until we got down to the details of actually paying the fees. There was a sudden change in the women's attitude that PD had an unlimited budget to splurge on the children's education. Immediately, the women started shifting their children from affordable schools to more expensive schools and some were even making plans to shift their children immediately to boarding schools. There was also the added discrepancy that not all the parents were paying the same rate. The difference in fees from the cheapest to the most expensive school was quite staggering. We foresaw conflict within the women as they realized that no everyone was being provided for equally.
Undoubtedly, the saturation of non-governmental organizations in this country has affected the mindset of those who interact with them. Many of these Western-based organizations work on a hand-out model. Judging by our experience with the WoK, this causes a sense of entitlement applicable to all organizations. After a thorough review of the situation, we decided to make alterations to our strategy. By agreeing to pay the school fees, we were directly engaging and perpetuating this hand-out mentality, instead of empowering the women to be able to pay for their own fees.
PD decided to strike a compromise with the women where we provide financial assistance in the form of a set financial sum per child. The mothers would pay the difference. This way, the mothers maintain a sense of responsibility for their children's education. Starting in 2011, this model is set to shift to where 100% of the school fees are paid by revenue from their entrepreneurial activities. Our new approach caused great consternation within the group. In fact, an entire meeting was consumed by complaints and fears that we were abandoning them and failing to fulfill our promise.
With the spread of microfinance, it is only recently that organizations have started working on a shared burden model, i.e. the women would contribute to half their children's school fees, or, would take a loan from the organization repaying – interest free or not – as their capacity to produce sellable material increased. In the case of the WoK business, we realized that all PD needed to do was to open new markets where the women could sell more of their products.
In the long-run, we are aiming for the women to have sufficient salaries to cover essentials like school fees individually. We also hope to work towards a savings group that the the women can draw upon to expand their business, whether it be into tailoring or otherwise.
We believe this model is something that should be replicated by other non-governmental agencies. Empowering communities to solve their own problems should be the backdrop upon which all development programs are designed. In essence, the agencies should act as advisors to help communities ideate solutions on their own. Not simply coming in with prepackaged solutions.