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A Platform to Amplify Community-led Leadership and Development

A platform for rural leaders to enhance leadership skills, connect with one another, and execute collaborative development projects.

Photo of Jill LaLonde
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*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional insights gathered from Beneficiary Feedback in this field

We modified several aspects of our original map based on feedback, which you will see in this revised version. Specifically, users recommended explicitly engaging the entire community throughout, not just the leadership cohort. They told us partnership and role clarity must be planned and intentional between communities, the leadership cohort and government entities, which we expanded upon. Users also requested specific skills and technical support to be included in training.

Why does the target community define this problem as urgent and/or a priority? How is the idea leveraging and empowering community assets to help create an environment for success? (1000 characters)

Community members describe the plethora of NGO activity after the civil war and how the results of these activities are no longer apparent. There are many basic needs that remain unmet, and there are few opportunities to make strides toward meeting them. They speak of the urgency and importance in making decisions as a community and the need to effectively work together to achieve their goals.

This idea focuses on empowerment of both women and marginalized communities as a means to achieving development goals. Once communities define a problem and thoughtfully and positively work together, it is easier for them to do this again.

Communities speak of their peace and productivity in religious diversity and about their ability to mobilize existing youth, women or other groups to implement a project. They recognize that social capital exists and can be strengthened and leveraged to achieve big goals.

How does the idea fit within the larger ecosystem that surrounds it? Urgent needs are usually a symptom of a larger issue that rests within multiple interrelated symptoms - share what you know about the context surrounding the problem you are aiming to solve. (500 characters)

Our partner communities tell us that NGOs operating in Sierra Leone post-civil war and post-Ebola frequently neglected local communities’ involvement in the decision making that significantly affected their lives. While well intentioned, many of these projects demanded broad reach and quick results, emphasizing surface-level gains over sustainability. Further, there have been few opportunities for rural people to engage productively with local government, perpetuating mistrust and disconnect.

How does the idea affect or change the fundamental nature of the larger ecosystem that surrounds it (as described above) in a new and/or far-reaching way? (500 characters)

1) Local leaders can define problems and roll out solutions, and – perhaps most importantly – monitor and sustain the results. By activating leadership, social cohesion, gender equity, and resilience, communities can thrive with less external support, and produce evidence supporting a community-led approach to poverty-reduction.
2) Village leadership and local government can interact more effectively, leading to more responsive, action-oriented, and inclusive leadership.

What will be different within the target community as a result of implementing the idea? What is the scope and scale of that difference? How long will it take to see that difference and how will it be sustained beyond BridgeBuilder support? (500 characters)

In the short-term, a cohort of proven leaders will build off of one another’s expertise while identifying root problems and executing bold, inclusive development projects that meet basic needs. These leaders will be strengthened by their connections to one another and targeted leadership development.
In the longer-term, a new model for interaction between rural community members and their elected local representatives will emerge, resulting in more responsive and inclusive development plans.

How has the idea evolved or responded to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase and any further insights provided if you participated in the Expert Feedback Phase? (1000 characters)

Many users expressed a desire to work closely with other communities, citing the natural partnership, close proximity and shared needs, but also a need to be intentional. For example, they indicated that partnership would need to occur between villages in the same Chiefdom, to avoid governance issues. They brought up role clarity, fair and transparent resource allocation, and conflicts of interests as areas for focus. We know we must further flesh this out both now and with participants in the pilot year.
While the users highlighted skills from OneVillage Partners projects and their engagement to date, they made it clear that they would require specific technical support to be successful in this next phase. We will respond to this – and will incorporate additional skills into the leadership cohort training, such as report template making, linkages to suppliers for project supplies, linkages to government entit

What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (You can attach a timeline or GANTT chart in place of a written plan, if desired.) (1000 characters)

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (Feel free to share an organizational chart or visual description of your team). (500 characters)

Our Programs Team has five years of experience working alongside community leaders as they create and execute projects that meet needs and address underlying structures that limit opportunity. In this capacity, they exercise flexibility, creativity, patience and understanding. Our team is adept at communicating using accessible language and participatory methods. Our staff are in the field on a daily basis, listening and making inclusive decisions with the community.

What aspects of the idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (500 characters)

BridgeBuilder funds could support the build out of this program: development of leadership training; materials and expertise for convening; regular meeting and networking opportunities for the leadership cohort; grant funding for communities to access as they develop village projects; iterating this idea with a pilot group and scaling to a larger rollout.

In preparation for our Expert Feedback Phase: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in your project? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea and needs.

1) Communities have identified a need to be very intentional in partnering with one another. In addition to defining roles, resource allocation, and treatment of conflicts of interest upfront, what other aspects of partnership should we explore to best set the cohort up for success?

2) What are the key considerations we should explore in OneVillage Partners managing the grant fund vs. connecting communities directly to potential funders? Is a hybrid approach realistic?

3) How do we create a leadership cohort that can sustain itself long after OneVillage Partners involvement? What key skills or systems need to be emphasized?

Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

This idea, implemented by OneVillage Partners (, is a leadership cohort of high-impact local leaders to enhance their leadership skills, connect with one another, and execute collaborative development projects.
In Sierra Leone, a plethora of aid activity has neglected communities’ involvement in the planning and decision making that significantly affects their lives and livelihoods. This program tackles several problems:
1. Lack of community and cross-community involvement in development project design and implementation.
2. Limited opportunities for communities to learn from and leverage the ingenuity of their neighbors.
3. Dearth of external and government resources available for community-designed projects.
This platform will address these problems by creating an opportunity for village-level leaders to convene, identify needs, design projects, and execute development projects.
OneVillage Partners has a network of 17 adjacent rural community partners and 23,270 individuals in Kailahun District, Sierra Leone, who have already succeeded in developing and executing inclusive development projects in their villages. However, a village-level approach is limiting in reach. We believe we can build on the capacity that already exists to engage communities in bigger and bolder projects to impact more lives, all while building leadership capacity and equity.
Our idea is to naturally grow this capacity to address problems that persist beyond the village level. We aspire to serve as a platform and connector for communities and proven leaders within these communities to collaborate and continue their own development. Our idea includes three activities:
1. Leadership development training cohort for proven, village-level leaders;
2. Platform for cross-village engagement and resource sharing among neighboring communities; and
3. Connections to technical expertise and funding resources to access directly through the platform.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

We currently work with 23,270 individuals in 17 villages in rural Sierra Leone, many of whom are survivors of the civil war and were impacted by the Ebola outbreak in 2013. Each community nominates 12 volunteer leaders (6 women, 6 men) to represent them in project design and implementation.
We plan to invite 36 of these volunteer leaders to participate in the leadership cohort in pilot year one, and 72 will participate in year two, representing a total population of 8,490. We expect the benefits we have seen in our village-level work will be reinforced and deepened through cross-community engagement. Some of our village-level outcomes that we currently see and expect to amplify for this new phase are:
Strong leadership: 94% of volunteer leaders identify as a leader in their community
Social cohesion: 95% of volunteers continue meeting after project concludes.
Gender equity: 98% of women in our empowerment program increased public participation.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

First, we have demonstrated success in implementing this process on a village-level, so implementing regionally continues to build on the capabilities of our partner communities and is a natural progression of our organizational work. Secondly, within Sierra Leone, as in many developing countries, a non-governmental platform for community engagement – specifically one that is linked to international resources and support - does not exist, but the creation of such a platform has the opportunity to engage proactive communities in achieving impact and development beyond their village boundaries. Lastly, we believe that we can serve a key role as a connector. As an international partner, we can have a louder voice in getting the attention of potential partners and funders who could establish direct relationships with the communities we are working with. Through building a strong network, we can help to set up our partner communities for success.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Prototype: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

At OneVillage Partners, we catalyze community-led transformation in rural Africa by engaging villagers in building thriving, connected and resilient communities.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

We had been exploring our “exit” – how we best assist our partner communities to continue development but also minimize donor dependence. After working with our partner communities, staff and Board of Directors through a strategic planning process through May, 2018, we realized that “exit” was a misnomer. We knew we couldn’t implement our current model in perpetuity, but also that as partners valuing sustainability, we needed to evolve our relationship with communities in new and exciting ways

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Peace: Implemented in a post-conflict and post-Ebola setting, our model brings together communities that were once divided – including marginalized individuals – which bolsters 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.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

Our partner communities will be essential collaborators in refining this project idea and the specifics of how activities can be most impactful. Specifically, we will engage 12 volunteer leaders from each community who have already demonstrated success in mobilizing their communities to design and implement projects. Additionally, we expect to work closely with communities to define the details of the activities we have outlined. Through focus groups, user experience mapping and using motivational inquiry techniques with volunteer leaders and community members, a common vision can be set for what engagement will look like, directly shaping the activities that are implemented. Regular opportunities for feedback from partner communities throughout implementation will be critical for success.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

The communities we work with have demonstrated incredible resiliency, ingenuity and hard work. There is also a history of traditional philanthropy. Prior to the civil war, communities had groups of individuals who together worked on various village development projects. Today, communities have this strength to build upon; opening up a platform for discussion can also include the younger generation eager for engagement and leadership roles to help improve their own communities.

Geographic Focus

17 rural villages in Kailahun District, Sierra Leone

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

36 months
Year 1: Idea refinement and piloting with three communities. Define project success with community partners. Provide in-person cross-village leadership development training and open first funding opportunity.
Years 2-3: Refinement and scale. Seek feedback, learn and adapt the training, tools and process with participants. Expand the cohort to reach an additional six communities (representing 8,490 people). Open second funding opportunity. Determine viability and future scaling.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • Yes

If Yes, how has project idea changed, grown, or evolved since last year? (2,000 characters)

Last year, we wanted to explore model expansion, but our ideas on this were premature. From November 2017 – May 2018, we engaged in an inclusive strategic planning process to define our organization value and direction. This process brought together staff, our Board of Directors and communities to develop a shared vision, which is grounded in our organizational values.

Last year, we proposed taking our model to a new geography to see if we could replicate the success we have seen in Sierra Leone. This year, we know that the value in what we do is in the strength of our relationships, local networks, and the skills and capacity we have seen develop in the communities we partner with. We would not have that social capital in a new location, and think there is a more effective way for us to add value as a development partner.

To be effective, we believe we need to invest in what is working and continue to strengthen existing capacity. We work with an incredible network of local leaders who are hungry for new opportunities to develop, learn, network and grow. The strength of our organization is in our ability to provide these opportunities, by serving as a platform and connector, and amplifying the voices of our community partners.

This sentiment is reflected in our refined organizational mission of catalyzing community-led transformation in rural Africa. We envision the people of rural Africa engaged in building thriving, connected and resilient communities. We have also articulated our organizational values, which drive all that we do:

• Community-led. We believe thriving communities determine and lead their own future.
• Disciplined. We measure our impact and adapt our approach accordingly.
• Sustainability. We focus on lasting solutions.
• Equity. We seek the full participation of all people in our communities and programs.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Donna Dalton

I've always been a fan of the OneVillage Partners' work. This new concept only builds on that fantastic work! You had asked about key considerations in OneVillage Partners managing the grant fund vs. connecting communities directly to potential funders? Is a hybrid approach realistic? One consideration is the amount of time that would be required of these communities to produce the accounting needed to meet expenditure responsibility or equivalency determination (the two methods that foundations utilize to give to non 501c3 entities). With small grants, the time required to produce reporting may make the net grant smaller than intended. If you decide that OneVillage manages the grant fund, it will be important for OneVillage to be the conduit of the relationship (meaning strengthening community to funder relationship) rather than the only keeper of the funder relationship. I know the concept of working in authentic partnership fits your values so well that you may have already created strategies to share the relationship.

Wishing you the best in this journey,
Donna Dalton

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