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Global Grassroots' Women's Water Leadership Initiative

We help women develop into mindful leaders who design and implement their own sustainable water & social change programs in their community.

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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Global Grassroots' Women's Water Leadership Initiative is an 18-24 month social venture incubator and leadership program that trains women-led teams to design, construct, and operate a water access point and lead social change programs serving up to 3,000 people in the community – at a per-person cost of just $8.

With more than a decade of working on a range of women’s issues, we have learned that when women manage their local water access, the lives of women and girls are forever changed on multiple levels: gender relations shift; women have more time for economic pursuits; water-related sexual violence and exploitation are dramatically reduced and often eradicated; girls are able to attend school regularly and on time; and water-borne illnesses are reduced or eliminated. Further, a water enterprise provides a sustainable source of income for women to advance other urgent social needs in the village.

We work collaboratively with grassroots networks and local partners in Rwanda and Uganda to identify self-organized teams of women who want to work towards women’s equality and well-being in their communities through water access, improving safety, health, education, and economic opportunities for women and girls. Teams join our intensive initial training (2-weeks) where they learn techniques for trauma healing, develop social-emotional intelligence, and acquire non-profit management skills and mindfulness-based leadership training. They then design an effective "micro-NGO" that will address the issue systemically, be financially sustainable, and have measurable impact. We guide the venture development phase, provide 100% of start-up costs (grants up to $15,000), mentor them as they implement their venture then monitor their work for one year as they reach self-sufficiency. Through the sale of water to those who can afford to pay, ventures generate income to advance other urgent or ongoing social needs in the village.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Global Grassroots' participants include women who are war widows, single mothers, subsistence farmers, survivors of genocide and other violence, living with HIV/AIDS, living on $2 or less a day, and/or with only a primary school education. Most teams begin with 8-25 members; approx. 10% of each team consists of men). Through our program, they learn trauma healing techniques, establish a mindfulness practice to help them develop as compassionate, ethical leaders, and design their unique solution to provide clean water access and social transformation programming to at least 3,000 people. Teams tend to grow (often up to 48 members) as the community witnesses the work and recognizes the personal and community impact of the venture.

Since 2006, 700+ Global Grassroots change agents have designed nearly 175 non-profit ventures benefiting women and girls, including 19 WASH enterprises (Water Access, Sanitation, and Hygiene), 100% of which are still operating, serving 104,000 people.

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

Global Grassroots’ innovative training helps women reclaim their power, develop their leadership capacity, and demonstrate that their ideas have value - that they have value. Our proven design methodology, Conscious Social Change, integrates the inner work that social entrepreneurs need to be effective, inspirational, and compassionate leaders with a process for designing innovative, sustainable, and impactful solutions to social issues. We believe it is essential to invest as much in inner transformation as in outer solutions so that future change agents may avoid the pitfalls of burn-out, abuse of power, or pursuits that detract from advancing social justice. Our teams use mindfulness to diagnose issues, connect with communities, cultivate consensus around interventions, build organizations, and implement ideas.

We do not impose our solutions or "hand-over" control; every step of the way, teams design, build, and lead their own nonprofit water and social change ventures.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Full Scale Roll Out: I have already tested and scaled this idea significantly with the intended user base.

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

Global Grassroots catalyzes under-served women and girls as leaders of Conscious Social Change - the intersection of trauma healing, mindful leadership, and social entrepreneurship - in their communities. http://globalgrassroots.org

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.

In 2004, Global Grassroots’ Founder & President Gretchen Steidle traveled to South Africa to understand the HIV/AIDS crisis. Gretchen saw how one woman named Zolecka had the solution for dealing with the crisis in her township but, because she was uneducated, unemployed, and was not computer literate, she had no access to funding to implement her ideas and had very limited resources to create change. Gretchen started her work to support the ideas of the most under-served, grassroots women.

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

Women, by nature of their role as primary caretakers of families and communities, especially post-conflict, have the greatest insight into the critical issues facing society at the grassroots level as well as a unique understanding of the underlying causes. Yet vulnerable women seldom have access to financial resources, education, skills, and support needed to create change.

Building a democratic society in the wake of conflict involves a complex process and needs, among them: opportunities for the marginalized to have a voice in the rebuilding process, individual trauma-healing, emotional support, and prevention of the re-creation of inequitable power systems. During these times of transition, women’s active participation in peace-building, governance, justice, reconciliation, trauma-healing, and establishment of social and economic systems is vital to ensure that the failures of society that allowed for violence against women will be considered in the process of reconstruction.

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

Global Grassroots has developed strong partnerships and collaborative relationships in areas where we work. In Rwanda, we partnered with the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, Global Water Challenge, and the Global Environment & Technology Foundation in the initiation of our Women’s Water Leadership Initiative in 2015 to bring clean water to more than 30,000 people. The Rwandan government water authority, WASAC, works with our Rwanda teams to set conditions for pipeline extensions, water tap construction, and water usage rates into the local community. They are a critical partner in the design and costing of each venture plan. We also maintain solid relationships with local officials who often support our teams, such as occasionally waiving registration fees or supporting construction through community service days, because the ventures benefit the entire community.

In Uganda, our main partner is Gulu Women Economic Group (GWED-G), founded by survivors of the Lord's Resistance Army.

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

Where Global Grassroots works in Rwanda and Uganda there is no shortage of women who wish to initiate social change in their communities through clean, safe water access. As those most often responsible for water collection, they know the toll that this task takes: hours spent and miles walked, girls missing school, risk of sexual violence in remote areas, lack of time to generate income for families. We routinely receive far more applications for our program than we can accommodate.

Geographic Focus

To date, Global Grassroots has worked primarily in Kigali District, Rwanda and in northern Uganda.

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

We work with each team over an 18-24 month period, depending on their speed of development, through a four-phase training program.
Phase 1: Intensive, Experiential Training (40 hours over two weeks)
Phase 2: Venture Development (3-6 months)
Phase 3: Seed Funding and Construction for Water Access (3-6 months)
Phase 4: Non-profit Management Operations High-Engagement Support (12 months)

Upon reaching self-sustainability, teams must submit a final impact assessment and full financial report.

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

  • No

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