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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 participant feedback to arrive at this iteration. Specifically, users recommended explicitly engaging the entire community throughout the program, 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 real progress or for individuals to engage in finding solutions. They convey the urgency and importance in making decisions as a community and the need to effectively work together with local governing bodies to achieve their goals. 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. Once communities define a problem and thoughtfully and positively work together, it is easier for them to do this again.

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)

Many post-civil war and post-Ebola projects had defined goals before entering communities, often emphasizing outputs over sustainability. Compounding this, there have been few opportunities for rural people to define their own success and share their ingenuity and solutions with one another. There are limited opportunities to engage productively with local government, and few, if any, opportunities to connect with technical expertise and funding opportunities to achieve a vision for the future.

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, while producing evidence supporting a community-led approach to poverty-reduction. 2) Village leadership and local government can interact, 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)

See attached table for select project indicators and targets. Current village-level results to date include: Basic needs: A 71% reduction in diarrheal occurrence and 185% increase in latrine access when communities implemented WASH projects. Inclusive leadership: 94% of cohort identify as leaders Social cohesion: 95% of cohort continue meeting post-project Gender equity: 98% of women in our empowerment cohort increased public participation 95% past-project sustainability

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 partnerships would need to occur between villages in the same Chiefdom to avoid governance issues. They indicated role clarity, fair and transparent resource allocation, and conflicts of interests as areas for focus both in our program adaptations – which we have responded to - and in our continued conversations. Additionally, 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. As such, we have incorporated additional skills into the leadership cohort training, such as report template making, linkages to suppliers for project supplies and linkages to government entities.

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 would 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?

Final Updates (*Please do not complete until we reach the Improve Phase*): 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)

We modified several aspects of our original concept based on feedback. One of the key changes we made to the program in response to this feedback was to very intentionally involve the entire community throughout the program, not just the leadership cohort. Additionally, we defined when and how local government will be involved and what the purpose of this engagement will be. We iterated on the objectives of the leadership training curriculum to incorporate specific skills and technical support that participants indicated would be the most useful to them. Other feedback has given us direction on continued refinements. For example, we have defined and will continue to refine the ways in which we will monitor and evaluate success to ensure focus on short- and long-term outcomes, measuring both systems change and also progress toward meeting basic needs. We have also gathered invaluable information how we can effectively manage a grant fund and connect to funding partners.

During this Improve Phase, please use the space below to add any additional information to your proposal.

There have been several comments about monitoring and evaluation, and we can provide some additional context and information here. This idea builds off of what we have learned and heard from communities in our current village-level partnerships, which address both structural and quality of life issues. As described above, we have measured success in catalyzing structural change; for example, 98% of women in our empowerment cohort increased public participation. We also see evidence to support the idea that by addressing the larger system, communities will better be able to meet basic needs. For example, we have seen a 71% reduction in diarrheal occurrence where communities have implemented WASH projects. In addition to what we measure at an organizational level, for each project that communities design, they define and monitor their own measures of success. Through this new program, we will convene proven village-level leaders on a larger scale to implement bigger and bolder projects. We hypothesize that this program will build the strength and sustainability of our current village-level results as we work toward thriving rural communities, and we intend to continue measuring outcomes as defined in our Theory of Change. 95% of past projects we have implemented are sustainable - they are currently functioning and being maintained by communities today. If communities can continue progressing toward inclusive leadership, gender equity, social cohesion and resilience, they will be equipped to continue addressing their own challenges with less reliance on external assistance. Additionally, we will build out specific metrics for monitoring success and outcomes from this new program (some examples are attached). This includes evaluating additional structural and behavioral changes that we specifically target, as well as progress toward meeting basic needs and reducing poverty overall (such as through additional health, education, and income specific indicators). While we recognize the incredible value in a disciplined, metric-driven approach, we also understand there are limits to what the numbers can tell us and more traditional monitoring and evaluation can leave out the voices of those impacted. As one way to address this, we adapted the Most Significant Change (MSC) methodology as an inclusive and participatory qualitative tool for participants to share personal stories of change (both positive or negative) they experienced from our work. We put together an MSC implementation guide for others who may be interested in this approach, which can be found here -

Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

This idea, implemented by OneVillage Partners (, is a leadership cohort of high-impact local volunteers to enhance skills, connect with one another, and execute collaborative development projects. 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, while connecting with local elected officials to bolster collaboration. 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 and accomplishments at the village-level to engage communities in bigger and bolder projects to impact more lives, all while building leadership capacity and equity. Our idea is to grow this capacity to address problems that persist beyond the village level, such as poor public health, limited educational opportunities, and few outlets to diversify income. 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 local government; and 3. Connections to technical expertise and funding resources

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 cohort identify as a leader in their community Social cohesion: 95% of cohort volunteers continue meeting after project concludes. Gender equity: 98% of women in our empowerment cohort 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. However, 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, 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 dedicated, 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 Céline Steer

Empowerment! Leadership, facilitation, and inclusion are hugely important, and training to ensure stakeholders are involved on more than a name only basis is key to successful community driven effort. So happy to see that the focus of this project has shifted in this direction!
Good luck!
Wonderful! Keep going!

Photo of Jill LaLonde

Thank you very much for your encouragement and kind words, Celine!

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