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Support for Communities Displaced from Central Mali: Holistic Support through Education, Income Generation, and Mentoring

We provide support for displaced persons from Central Mali through educational opportunities, interest free loans, and mentoring.

Photo of Jaimie Bleck
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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Mali has been plagued by a governance crisis since a rebellion in 2012. To date, extremist groups and broader insecurity have closed 800 schools.  Recent intercommunal fighting, between members of the Peul and Dogon ethnic groups, has generated historically unprecedented violence. Thousands of people have fled their homes as the security situation has deteriorated.  While many yearn to return home, there is not a clear end to the violence in Mali.  Displaced persons who we interviewed yearn to be active and to start to forge a future for themselves.  The humanitarian programs that are in place offer emergency material support, but there are no programs that offer medium term programming. We will offer support that generates hope for the future.  Displaced persons serving as community liaisons will identify the needs of existing communities as well as newly displaced persons.  They will then match them with one or more of three programs, which are tied to flexible funds that can be allocated to meet individual or specific community needs. Education: Recognizing different levels and preferences for education, liaisons will match children with existing educational opportunities in the regional capitals (formal school, Quranic schools, vocational schools, "catch-up" programs) and connect learners with individualized support to help them to succeed (tutoring, uniforms).   Income Generating Activities: Families can access interest free loans for income generating activities (animal husbandry, product transformation) as well as assistance in selling/connecting with local and regional markets. Mentoring: This program offers psycho-social support through the arts and sports, which offer opportunities for positive inter-ethnic interaction. We will employ displaced teachers, drawing on advice from local stakeholders and NGOs, in order to staff these intervention areas. A program supervisor will coordinate with partner groups in order to respond to needs.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

The program targets communities fleeing intercommunal violence in central Mali: members of the Peul and Dogon communities. This cycle of violence breaks with Mali's reputation as a bastion of inter-ethnic peace and tolerance. The program will be administered in sites near three regional cities: Mopti, Bougoni, and Sikasso. These areas have welcomed large numbers of recently displaced persons, but also offer enough security for stable educational opportunities and vibrant market places.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Learners will be integrated into existing schools and receive personalized support they need to succeed. The program will also support the host schools, so that the broader student body can benefit (creation of tutoring programs). The loans for income generating activities offer displaced persons a way to contribute to the broader economic community. Finally, mentoring activities will provide opportunities for positive inter-group interaction that will contribute to broader peace-building.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Existing emergency programming offers food, supplies, and other charitable donations to displaced persons. This helps fix short term gaps, but fails to provide communities with a sense of hope. Schools exist, but often struggle to integrate displaced students. Our programs offers participants a way to be active in forging their own future. By helping to improve economic productivity (through loans and training for income generating activities) and by providing additional inputs for schooling success, and mentoring, the program enables displaced persons to assert their own agency with dignity. The program staff can build custom-tailored programs using flexible funds, which simultaneously reinforce existing schools' capacity and engage displaced teachers. Community members can start to envisage a medium-term future - even in the context of extreme insecurity. Ideally, positive cross-cultural interactions will help to foster a broader inter-ethnic peace in the longer term.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Conflict disrupts schooling cycles: The program aims to increase children's educational attainment through placement to attend secular, religious, "catch-up" or vocational school. Program staff will discuss with existing schools and programs to determine what additional inputs are needed at the school or individual level for displaced children to succeed (eg. tutoring). Conflict destroys people's livelihoods: Many of the displaced persons that we spoke with abandoned their animals or farms and find themselves without ways to generate income. They stressed that rather than receiving handouts, they were eager to earn their livelihoods in this new context. They said that access to interest-free loans would enable them to utilize their existing skills in this new marketplace (eg animal husbandry, selling food in markets). Conflict damages sense of normalcy: the mentoring program is aimed at providing psycho-social support to children through extracurricular activities.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

We are alarmed by the sudden increase of displaced persons leaving villages in central Mali and the state and humanitarian infrastructure's ability to respond to their needs. Since we have longstanding relationships in these communities, we had been closely observing the intercommunal violence. Our previous research highlighted the difficulty of absorbing new students into existing schools, problems with student retention, as well as the need for holistic support. To prepare for the proposal, our colleague, Souleymane, conducted focus groups and interviews in and around Mopti. Conversations with displaced teachers revealed that they were available and hungry to help support learners in anyway that they could. Education officials stressed the need for tutoring for displaced learners that had been integrated into their schools. Elders from displaced communities in camps identified the need for interest-free loans for income generation activities. The proposal combines these ideas.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

Mali is currently experiencing unprecedented ethnic tension in the center of the country. The incursion of insurgent groups and self-defense militias has generated a dangerous cycle of violence. We conducted separate focus groups with Dogon and Peul communities in Mopti who have fled interethnic violence. Our team, made up of Dogon and Peul members, seeks to provide common services to both communities. We recognize the need to provide separate interface with liaisons from their own communities as trust is low, but we also recognize the potential for cross-cultural exchange and peace building over time. Even in conducting the focus groups, the Peul community expressed that they were very touched that a Dogon researcher had reached out to them for a needs assessment. We know these groups have varied preferences and that some are wary of Western, secular education, so the program provides them with the flexibility to pursue economic and educational opportunities on their own terms.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

First, these community members are dynamic and resilient. Already battling climate instability, they have had to reinvent their livelihoods over time. Many members of these communities are nomadic and bring with them animal husbandry and farming skills that could be profitable at local and regional markets. Second, these communities are extremely generous to fellow members and are already organizing to provide support to recently arrived members. We will work directly with community elders to map existing networks and new members in order to track and support the community as it evolves. By employing displaced persons as community liaisons we can leverage this organization to adapt to changes and respond to needs as they arise. Lastly, these two groups (Peul and Dogon) have lived peacefully together for hundreds of years. Malian culture has embedded cross-cutting cleavages and peace building mechanisms that can be activated to help regenerate trust and tolerance.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

We have already spoken with the Ministry of Education's representatives in Mopti who have expressed a willingness to engage with the program and to help coordinate educational opportunities for displaced persons. They will also help us to locate and contact displaced teachers who are living in the regional capital. We aim to contact UNICEF as well as other NGOs sponsoring emergency "catch up" programs as well as Qur'anic schools in the regional capitals. We will start in Mopti and aim to develop similar programs in the two other regional cities (Bougouni and Sikasso) for implementation in Year 2 and 3. For the loan program, we hope to reach out to NGOs (such as CARE and KIVA) who have experience in loans and financial literacy - who could help with program administration and trainings. Finally, we aim to develop the mentoring program to address citizenship through sports and cultural activities (similar to "Sports and Citizenship" by the International Sports Alliance) .

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Being on the move, crossing borders, and/or temporarily settled

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Platform: Creating a community or market that facilitates interaction between users and resources

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Blueprint: We are exploring the idea and gathering the inspiration and information we need to test it with real users.

Group or Organization Name

Researchers and Educators in Support of Communities Displaced from Central Mali

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

We are researchers and educators who have worked extensively with communities in this region. Being an academic in the context of crisis is unfulfilling; we often hear what these communities want, but we are not in a position to address their needs - beyond telling their stories. The Bridgebuilder Challenge gives us a unique opportunity to respond to the problems that communities have identified. We will use the University of Notre Dame's Ford Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity, where Bleck is a senior research advisor, as the backstopping base of the program. Our Mali-based team will work with a local, licensed NGO, l'Association pour le Développement et la Paix au Sahel, to coordinate program implementation. We are not looking to build a brand for our own project, but to connect displaced persons with resources that already exist in order to create opportunities. We will engage with partners to identify ways to reinforce and improve their work.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a formal part of a University or Research Institution

Organization Headquarters: Country

US and Mali

Organization Headquarters: City / State

South Bend, IN, USA; Bamako, Mali; and Mopti, Mali

Attachments (1)


This chart explains the ways that the community liaisons will connect displaced persons with three buckets of programming: educational opportunities, interest free loans, and mentoring activities for children. The programs will be supported by a staff of displaced teachers with additional inputs from Ministries, NGOs, and civil society groups with expertise in each domain. A Program supervisor (not depicted) will be charged with program monitoring and coordination with partners groups.


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