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Building Bridges to Resiliency: One Million Unique Ideas from Sierra Leone

Our model empowers communities to design and implement customized solutions to their most pressing, self-defined challenges.

Photo of Jill LaLonde
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This idea, implemented by OneVillage Partners (  is a program that empowers communities to design and implement their own unique development projects, which creates communities that thrive without NGO involvement.

This program tackles the problem of unsustainable development due to lack of community involvement in project design and implementation.  It addresses the problem by training local leaders to inclusively define problems, design and rollout solutions – and perhaps most importantly to monitor and sustain the results of their projects.  This project intersects peace, prosperity and planet as described below.

We expect to achieve the following:

Year 1: Roll out this program to a new group of people, testing receptiveness and effectiveness in a new hub where OneVillage Partners does not have a history.  In this test, we expect to reach three communities and improve the quality of life of 4,500 individuals.

Year 2: Complete the first project cycles, learn and adapt the model for maximum effectiveness.  Begin second project cycle in each of our new communities, assessing engagement, momentum and receptiveness to communities designing and implementing projects, rather than external design and implementation.  We expect six projects will benefit 4,500 people to improve health, education, agricultural productivity, or another area a community chooses to address, while building local leadership capacity.

Year 3: Complete the second project cycle in each of our new communities.  Answer the critical questions, can our model lead to long-term, sustainable development, and have we proven our model to scale? 


Since the idea of developing poor countries through aid blossomed in the 1960s, trillions of dollars have flowed from the Global North to the Global South.  According to OECD, development aid totaled USD $131.6 billion in 2015 alone[1].  Over past decades, there have been resounding successes; for example, ODI estimates that since just 2000, 59 million deaths have been averted due to malaria, measles and tuberculosis, and since just 1990, 137 million additional children are enrolled in school[2].  However, with the massive scale of aid flows, why do one in ten people still live on less than US$1.90 a day[3]?  

The traditional aid model we often see deployed in developing countries, while well intentioned, values external intervention and a top-down approach to implementation.  These sorts of interventions often demand broad reach and quick results, placing emphasis on short term and surface-level gains over long term sustainability.  This approach tends to neglect local communities’ involvement in the planning, implementation and decision making that significantly effects their lives and livelihoods. 

Moreover, if communities must be at the forefront of their own development, the profound legacy of conflict throughout so much of the developing world creates another layer to this challenge.  Communities must not only be prioritized, but they themselves must be capable of working together. 


At OneVillage Partners, we believe that local communities are the solution to propelling long-term, sustainable development, and have developed a model, grounded in Human Centered Design, that puts communities and their self-defined needs front and center.  Post-conflict areas are perhaps most in need of community-building approaches to rebuild trust, cohesion and cooperation; if we can expedite mobilization, we might also expedite development.  Working in rural Sierra Leone, we train local leaders to inclusively define problems, design and rollout solutions, and – perhaps most importantly – monitor and sustain the results of these projects.  Knowing that investment in women propels holistic development, we place particular emphasis on women and women leaders.  We suspect, and we see strong evidence for this in our 95% sustainability rate, that local ownership leads to sustainability.  

Through our Theory of Change, we propose that outcomes of active leadership, social cohesion and gender equity lead to resilient and thriving communities.  Our model is intentionally designed to meet these outcomes.  

We have seen incredible success in piloting this model in 13 adjacent rural communities with 20,376 individuals in the post-conflict area of Eastern Sierra Leone.  We believe our model holds promise for other post-conflict communities around the world.  Additionally, we seek to demonstrate through rigorous data the positive return on investment from community-led approaches, which we hope will shift traditional development discourse and inspire other NGOs to put community decisions at the forefront of their projects.  That said, we have not yet tested our model beyond our initial communities of focus.  Our idea is to take this model to another ethnic group with its own unique history and leadership style, and to rapidly test, adapt, refine and demonstrate success (or lack thereof) of our model.  Our ultimate question is, can scaling the OneVillage Partners community-led model lead to long-term, sustainable development? 


Our model bridges the challenges of peace, prosperity and planet, which must be addressed at the community level for long term effectiveness.    

Peace: Implemented in a post-conflict and post-Ebola setting, our model brings together divided communities, even the marginalized, resulting in social cohesion.  We build unity by creating a forum for everyone to work together. 

Prosperity: Communities that work together can address shared challenges together.  As communities become healthier, well-educated and better connected to opportunity, they also become more productive and in turn, generate wealth.  Learning hard skills in budgeting and saving, targeted through women but including their families, contributes to thriving households. 

Planet: We help communities realize and utilize their local assets in a sustainable way.  The focus on active leadership drives villages to define their long term vision for sustainable growth of their community.  With the trend of communities choosing to address sanitation and hygiene, villages create clean environments through latrines, clean kitchens and other projects, reducing the prevalence of open defecation, malaria and water contamination. 

[1] OECD. (April 2016). Development aid rises again in 2015, spending on refugees doubles, Accessed on March 22, 2017

 [2] ODI. (2016). 10 things to know about progress in international development. Accessed on March 22, 2017. According to OECD, development aid totaled USD $131.6 billion in 2015 alone[2].  

[3] World Bank. (2016). Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2016. Accessed on March 22, 2017


Who Benefits?

Our current beneficiaries are 20,376 individuals in 13 villages in rural Sierra Leone. While our model leads to the outcomes of gender equity, strong leadership and social cohesion as discussed above, in each project cycle, communities make gains in health, education, agricultural productivity, or other areas they choose to address through their projects. For example, in 2016, four of our partner communities designed projects that increased latrine coverage from 40% to 100%. Across six villages, 85% of women in our financial literacy and empowerment program met their first financial goal, which was most frequently for children’s education. Our idea, if successfully tested with a new group of people, has the potential to improve the quality of life for millions of people living in rural villages in developing countries.

How is your idea unique?

Other organizations engage in community-led development; however, the extent to and frequency in which organizations involve communities in their work fall onto a spectrum. Rather than involving communities at particular discrete points throughout a project, under the OneVillage Partners model, communities direct the entirety of activities. Additionally, we believe that the strongest indicator of our success as an organization is to exit a community and see results sustained long after our departure. As such, we are actively designing and plan to carefully pilot our exit strategy. Our aim is to outline metrics that tell us when a village is on an upward trajectory after our involvement, but that we haven’t stuck around too long to create dependence.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about you

OneVillage Partners is 501c3 nonprofit organization operating out of Minneapolis, Minnesota and Bunumbu, Sierra Leone; we have implemented community-led development projects in Sierra Leone since 2005. Combining our passion for community-led development, data-driven design, and what we learned in partnership with communities in our early years, we began implementing the model described above 2015. Our mission is to inspire and equip rural villagers to transform their lives and communities. We deploy a team of three in the US and 30 in Sierra Leone, along with a passionate Board of Directors and dozens of volunteers, to work toward our mission.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.


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Photo of Bodo Hoenen

This is soo great Jill and team! What wonderful work, I'd love to connect with you and the team, specifically about this work and how it relates to the work I'm busy on. I'll reach out directly.

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