Published on Let's Talk Development

Inspiring change, one drop at a time!

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The following post is a part of a series that discusses 'mind and culture,' the theme of the World Bank’s upcoming World Development Report 2015.

For one night, the Cirque du Soleil closes all its shows in Las Vegas. Instead, more than 100 artists come together to create one magnificent show in support of One Drop to give out a simple, yet very powerful message: water, for today and forever. For One Drop, awareness is as essential as economic development to drive change to make water accessible to all. The non-profit organization uses social arts to connect, communicate, and convince communities to adopt sound water management practices that ensure sustainability in the long run. The Let’s Talk team caught up with Jacques Rajotte, Chief Operating and Innovation Officer, and Danielle Valiquette, Chief International Programs Officer, One Drop, on their visit to the World Bank last week to know more about operationalizing social arts as an impactful tool for social transformation.

Why do water or other development projects often not meet desired outcomes?

Danielle Valiquette: In terms of water projects, statistics say that about 50% of the projects fail, either at the end of the project or one year after. That’s because most of these projects focus on building infrastructure –wells, pumps, etc- which are likely to break or fail. Also, most of these projects are in rural areas, where majority of the population lives below the poverty line and thus might not have the economic means to repair these pumps and so on.  So, adding an economic development component to the project, where people have access to water to cultivate their lands and do other activities and generate income, will allow them to maintain such infrastructure. But if people don’t have an understanding of water issues and awareness about contamination, then it’s very difficult to maintain/sustain these infrastructures. So, adding the components that include economic development, complete access to water as well as awareness can really advance the success rate of projects, as people will have a systemic understanding and means of accessing water in the long run.

Why Social Arts?

Jacques Rajotte: Our belief is that change comes from within one’s self, and if you want to initiate that change than you have to touch people at an emotional level.  We think that social arts have the power to touch people emotionally. And if you add a purpose and message to the artistic performance, then you touch them emotionally, initiating their thinking or reflection process, which essentially is based on their own experiences, then they will come to the conclusion that if they change, it will make their community a better place to live.  If you are touched there – at the emotional level – it stays with you forever, compared to reaching out to people’s intellect where they might not be very receptive. It’s done in a very holistic way, which is subtle, yet permanent.

Danielle Valiquette: Also, the regions where we work tend to have lower literacy rates, so people won’t have access to books or other traditional forms of documentation. So, by using arts we are able to present something that can be understood by everyone. It really transcends across ages.
Any success story that you can share?

Jacques Rajotte: Our project in India - we have been intervening in the state of Odisha, in a district called Ganjam along with a local NGO, Gram Vikas. The approach of Gram Vikas is to mobilize 100% members of a community to contribute towards a water and sanitation fund. The challenge, of course, is that they focus on 100% mobilization which tends to be very time consuming. So, because of our expertise in using social arts, they asked us if we could do some experiments with them in terms of bringing social arts products to accelerate the process. They gave us 100 villages to work with, where they had failed previously. We launched our process and after a year and half we had mobilized 11% of those villages, 38% of them in process of mobilization, and in 17 % there was a hope for mobilization but need for additional work. It’s an example where we were able to measure from the existing past experiences. So, that additional component of social arts had helped mobilize more than 50% of those villages.

How do you ensure continuity and sustainability during and after the projects?

Danielle Valiquette: Whenever we develop any project, we involve the community. So, as the project unfolds, in each and every step the communities are involved, identifying their problems and solutions. These projects are of long duration and we also go back after the end of the project to do our evaluations. Also, we have projects in different parts of the world, so we put communities and partners of one country in touch with those elsewhere; so there is an ongoing exchange of knowledge and ideas. It develops solidarity and ensures sustainability.

What role can the 2015 WDR on Mind and Culture play in shaping such interventions?

Jacques Rajotte: I think it can play a role in enforcing that there is a need to stress behavioral change, in terms of getting that last mile to give value to the initial investment. It’s not like, nice to have that, but a must have component in all programs. Now, there could be many actors in play to achieve that – edutainment, social marketing, arts, etc., but addressing behavioral change is essential. So, if there is such a message from the World Bank then it will be a great advancement for the field.

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