You can be pretty sure you’re talking to a social entrepreneur when they start their story by saying:
“I used to be one of the kids that I was going to serve.” – Surya Karki
In Surya Karki’s case, that meant poor and without enough resources for a quality education.
In addition, the farm offers both students and parents and opportunity to learn. “We use the farm as a classroom”, says Karki. The children learn valuable agricultural skills and when the farm work is done, parents are invited to sit at the back of the classroom to listen in. There are sessions on diversifying crops, microfinance and sustainability.
We don’t believe money is power, but we are convinced that knowledge is power. This way, we empower the whole community.
Joy Saunders notes that officials in Afghanistan cannot account for one third of official development aid money between 2002 and 2009. And as Saunders has witnessed through her work with Integrity Action, this corruption can deprive citizens from basic needs like health care, clean water, and education.
Take, for example, the story of the Noqra Road in the Injil District of Herat Province. Development money was allocated to the construction of the road, which was intended to serve 35,000 people. The contractor began construction on the road, but five months afterward, community monitors with Integrity Action’s partner organization, Integrity Watch Afghanistan, discovered serious discrepancies between what had been promised and what the contractor was providing; the road was only five meters wide, rather than the eight that were stipulated in the contract, and the quality of the road was poor.
Integrity Action is a network of over 468 partner institutions that enable citizen participation in measuring transparency, accountability, and outcome for development project governance in 26 different countries. They use technology to improve online data collection and reporting by citizens, such as with their latest tool, DevelopmentCheck.org, which collects findings and then disseminates the messages via community forums, social media, and radio. The organization is one of two Early Entry Prize winners of the Ashoka Changemaker’s “Closing the Loop” competition, which seeks to identify innovative solutions that are helping feedback loops to empower people, drive better decisions, and put resources where they’ll make a difference. The competition’s goal is to help citizens achieve better results in social services, philanthropy, and governance.
“We work with local communities and NGOs like Integrity Watch Afghanistan on the issues that matter the most to them—lack of access to health care, poor quality water pipes, insufficient waste removal, dangerous school buildings,” Saunders said. “We make sure that people are given a voice and that they are listened to. We train local people to monitor and gather evidence of service and infrastructure failings so they can talk with credibility as they present facts and figures to government staff and contractors. They then provide feedback on the availability of information, citizen engagement, and whether the service is being delivered effectively.”
In the case of the Noqra Road, the monitors compiled evidence and mobilized community protests and direct campaigning with the contractor, provincial council, and the governor’s office. In the end, the contractor rebuilt the road according to the terms of the contract.
Similarly, Surya Karki—the other Early Entry winner for the “Close the Loop” competition—is working directly with communities to pioneer a whole new system for community development in Nepal. With his Maya Universe Academy project, community members themselves design the three-pronged development approach, which includes an educational curriculum, community farming programs and agricultural microfinance, and investment in clean energy technologies. The most innovative part of the model? The communities themselves are co-owners of the business, with a 50/50 share model split between Maya Universe Academy and the community. So the community is as invested in the program’s success as the business is.
“We are a social business, reinventing the wheel for how businesses are run and how charity should be implemented,” Karki says. “In everything we have done and we will be doing, feedback loops are the most important aspect of our model. We started by providing free education to kids in poor villages, but our model—which includes the community and the parents in the education system—has an inbuilt feedback loop.”
Maya Universe Academy is called an “academy” because there’s also a skill share component built right in. Farmers trade volunteer hours at the school for agricultural, environmental, and marketing classes that enrich their professional knowledge.
The Maya Universe Academy has discovered that it is crucial for small rural communities to be co-creators and co-owners of development solutions, rather than allowing externally created solutions to be imposed on them. The communities experience economic and societal improvement that is much more profound when the communities themselves decide which crops to grow, what to teach the children, and which energy source the village should run on.
This is the fourth in a series of essays on the power and potential of feedback loops to dramatically increase the social benefits of development assistance (read the first one here, the second here, and the third here). It accompanies a call for projects related to feedback loops in an Ashoka Changemakers competition. This work is being catalyzed by Feedback Labs with support from the Rita Allen Foundation.
Come join us here.