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Plant With Purpose - Restoring land and lives in rural communities in South Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

We equip farming families to reverse the interconnected cycles of deforestation and poverty leading to prosperity and a restored planet.

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

Please see attached User Experience Map. During the Beneficiary Feedback Phase we sought feedback from our Africa Program Officer and local DRC team. Image 1 shows our working group discussion. In this discussion we realized that our User Experience Map could better highlight the fact that farmers are empowered to make economic choices (Image 2). Our local team also gave useful feedback on how to make our User Experience Map better reflect our program model. (See Images 3-5).

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)

Our baseline study shows that the average family in the area where we work eats 1.3 meals per day, and 95% reported that they went at least one entire day in the past month without eating. Environmental degradation is one of the primary culprits of such extreme poverty. Ultimately, farmers’ own desperation and desire to provide for their family motivates them to treat poverty and environmental degradation as an urgent priority. Through Plant With Purpose’s holistic model, farmers are empowered to use local resources and talent to create change within their own community. VSLA groups leverage farmers’ own savings to make loans, generate interest, and create a financial safety net. Farmers are in turn equipped to start small businesses, invest in their farms, and send their children to school. Moreover, farmers learn to implement sustainable agriculture techniques on their own farms and community land, and often utilize local seeds and other materials for their tree nurseries.

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)

The area of South Kivu where we work is currently degraded by erosion, deforestation, and loss of water resources. 86% of partnering families have no source of income beyond agriculture and fishing. There are also no roads in the watershed area. Families have to be self-sufficient because they have little access to fertilizers or imported goods. Finally, the recent history of this area is rife with violent conflict, further exacerbating poverty and environmental degradation.

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)

Because Plant With Purpose focuses on improving mindsets and behaviors rather than merely short-term program success, we expect sustainable transformation to take root within the larger ecosystem. As farmers care for the environment and gain economic tools, vegetation cover will increase according to NDVI data, and the overall economy of South Kivu will improve. Restored land and an improved economy can in turn decrease conflict and improve governance and investment in the next generation.

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)

With our idea, land will be replenished and farmers will rise out of poverty. Drastic improvements will occur in South Kivu, as evidenced by our 2017 impact evaluation. Within seven to 10 years we expect farmers to thrive on their own. To ensure financial sustainability, Plant With Purpose diversifies funding through individual, foundation, and corporate partnerships. Our Board of Directors, executive director, and development team secure ongoing funding through grants, donations, and events.

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)

Plant With Purpose values ongoing user research and seeks feedback from local teams about ways we can improve our programs. We prototype various monitoring and evaluation and agriculture techniques. In the attachment section you will find a packet describing the process we took to prototype an agriculture technique called the 2-4-2 system, including local team feedback and focus group questions. We have also attached photos of partnering farmers implementing the 2-4-2 trial. In the attachment section you will also find quarterly highlights from our DRC team, as well as economic and environmental impact evaluation questions, and activity descriptions. Prototypes, highlights from our local team, and impact evaluation data allow users to participate, and allow us to better understand and refine our program in order to meet local needs. Throughout both phases we received feedback and encouragement from other nonprofits and experts, allowing us to learn about new tools and practices.

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)

Because we have already successfully completed the first three years of our pilot project in the Kakumba watershed, we plan to spend the next three years growing and deepening our partnership (Development Phase 2). See attached image to better understand our implementation phases. In FY2019 we will partner with more than 1,300 farming families, mobilize farmers to plant 160,000 trees, host agroecology workshops with a combined attendance of 3,780 and start 12 new VSLAs while strengthening 50 existing groups. We anticipate these goals to increase in subsequent years. This year we will also expand our program to the neighboring watershed of Kambekulu. This was our baseline comparison group three years ago, and we are now returning to work in it. In years 1 through 3, we will focus on building trust and credibility within this watershed (Development Phase 1). Please see the attached GANTT chart, which outlines our intended work plan for the Kambekulu watershed in years 1 through 3.

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 talented DRC staff team of 16 is comprised solely of locals. The team is led by Chef de Programme Birori Dieudonne Gaparani and is responsible for on-the-ground implementation of our program. John Mitchell, Director of International Programs, leads a U.S.-based team that includes Africa Program Officer Jared White. They support in-country staff with technical expertise, collect data, and refine field practices. Bob Morikawa, Technical Director, leads our monitoring and evaluation efforts.

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

BridgeBuilder funds would support equipment and personnel costs associated with all program activities including Farmer Field Schools, agroecology training, tree planting efforts, and VSLAs, among others. Ultimately, the funds would be a catalyst for bringing our program in Kakumba to the next phase of development, and for launching our program in the Kambekulu watershed, empowering 1,035 new families to care for the planet and experience prosperity.

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. What type of proxy indicators can we use to measure user income? 2. At times Plant With Purpose collects baseline data in areas where we don’t currently work. How can we mitigate unintended expectations from baseline participants in these areas? 3. We find that in rural areas there tend to be fewer sources of data and we primarily rely on self-reported information. Often this information is based on participants’ feelings or what they choose to share. Is this type of data sufficient? Is there another way to collect objective data and/or verify the participant data that we collect?

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)

In response to our Beneficiary Feedback Phase research, we modified our User Experience Map and engaged the local DRC team to increase participation. The expert feedback we received reminded us of the importance of continually improving our data collection method, tools, type, and frequency. We are excited to research new tools like the gross margin analysis, recommended by Matt Lineal. This tool could help us monitor and collect data on participants with small businesses and ask ourselves reflective questions like, “Are they making progress?” and, “What is their margin?” We also realized that we could improve our GPS-tagged georeferencing and other tracking technologies, and are excited to do further research.

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

We are encouraged by and appreciate the expert feedback, as we are in the process of implementing several of the recommendations and have been discussing the cost benefits of each. For example, we are kick-starting a participatory process of standardizing indicators for improved comparison over time and increased alignment with outputs, outcomes, and impact levels. We are engaging the local team in this process, which will have multiple iterations and opportunities for feedback and group participation. We also appreciated the Field Guide to Human-Centered Design resource that the OpenIDEO staff emailed to us. Upon reading through it, we realized how much the spiritual renewal component of our program model aligns with human-centered design principles. Before starting the DRC program, we spent time learning from and listening to local farmers in order to understand their spiritual beliefs and practices. We wholeheartedly support the Field Guide’s sentence that reads: “Empathizing with the people you’re designing for is the best route to truly grasping the context and complexities of their lives.” By partnering with the local churches and providing them with resources and opportunities to engage congregation members at a deeper level, we're not setting out to change beliefs, but rather amplifying those that families already have. We have found that this is a really good way to bring about sustainable positive behavioral change from within, ultimately helping to bridge prosperity and planet.

Note that you may also edit any of your previous answers within the proposal. Here is a great place to note any big final changes or iterations you have made to your proposal below:

In the section of our proposal where we discussed our expansion to the Kambekulu watershed, we went back and made the point that “This [watershed] was our baseline comparison group three years ago, and we are now returning to work in it.” We appreciated Matt Lineal’s insight regarding the expectations that may be set up in comparison group communities when conducting a baseline study. In response to the idea of paying survey participants for their time, Matt explained, “This should be done with great caution, as it can promote dependency and be counteractive to sustainability.” Plant With Purpose has made the decision to not pay impact evaluation participants for their time, because of its potential to undermine sustainability efforts. Although community members in Kambekulu had to wait three years, they will now have an opportunity to participate in the program as the members of the Kakumba watershed did, and they will not start the community development process with the expectation of receiving direct handouts. Additionally, in the first section that asks about how our idea has evolved or responded to our user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase and to insights from the Expert Feedback Phase, we went back and highlighted the fact that the feedback we received from other nonprofits and experts allowed us to learn new tools and practices. The ability to communicate with others in the BridgeBuilder community has truly been an asset - one that has helped us learn and continue to refine our ideas. More specifically, the “comments” function of the BridgeBuilder platform allowed us to gain insights and exchange ideas with many wonderful, like-minded nonprofits and individuals. We received both encouragement and resources throughout this process. For instance, just yesterday a fellow BridgeBuilder participant told us about the Poverty Probability Index tool, which we will further research and share within our team. We desire to continually improve our program by researching and implementing tools such as the ones we have learned about from BridgeBuilder experts and program participants. Ultimately, we want to ensure that our program is centered in results-based improvement.

Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Plant With Purpose partners with 1,318 farming families in South Kivu, DRC, equipping them to restore their land and prosper. We do so through a holistic model of community development focused on economic empowerment, environmental restoration, and spiritual renewal. Next fiscal year, we will train and equip 12 new Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs), where farmers save money and take out loans that allow them to invest in small business, their children’s education, and their farms. We will host sustainable agriculture workshops with a combined total attendance of 3,780, teaching participants techniques such as composting, watershed restoration, and agroforestry, which they can test through Farmer Field Schools. These techniques allow farmers to replenish their land and grow more crops. We will also mobilize partnering farmers to plant 160,000 trees on their farms and common areas as well as promote Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) initiatives. Finally, through partnering with local churches, community members will grow spiritually and address pressing community needs. Our pilot program in South Kivu, launched in 2015, is the first time we have used and tested our full model from the very beginning of a program. Impact results from 2017 show that all families in the Kakumba watershed where we work: -Are growing a diversity of crops, including 82% more varieties than in 2015. -Have 2.5 months of emergency cash savings set aside. Families in the comparison watershed have enough savings set aside to cover only two days’ expenses. -Send eligible secondary school girls to school 2.6 times more frequently than in 2015. Also in Kakumba: -95% of families were able to sell some of their crops, compared with only 66% in the comparison group. -15% of women hold leadership positions compared with only 4% in the comparison group. We are now ready to replicate and scale our model to new watersheds and the country of Ethiopia this year.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Rural farming families facing extreme poverty and environmental degradation in South Kivu (like Monika and Kamuno) benefit from our idea. Monika and Kamuno have eight kids. They live in a simple mud brick house with a thatched roof, and rely on their land for their livelihood. Due to poverty and land degradation, they struggle to eat. Monika says that her kids have gone full days only eating cassava leaves. Thanks to Plant With Purpose, Monika and Kamuno are planting trees and learning about soil conservation techniques. They also participate in a VSLA group called Umoja Wetu (Our Unity), where they have access to entrepreneurship and basic business skills workshops. Kamuno shares, “Before…we often just felt hopeless. After joining, we thought maybe if we just really work hard and work together, we can live a better life.” He adds, “Today my kids are eating well. With the new techniques, we get more than we did before. I am easily paying the school fees for my children."

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

Plant With Purpose is unique in that we understand the vicious cycle of environmental degradation and rural poverty, and we address these problems together. We’ve also seen that it works best when the local church and local leaders take an integral role in development. We have been fine-tuning our solution to rural poverty and environmental degradation over the past 30+ years, and now, for the first time ever, we have been able to implement this newly-refined, holistic model starting on Day 1 of a new country program. In doing so, we are successfully bridging “planet and prosperity” in South Kivu, DRC. Plant With Purpose is also unique in that we rely on local leadership and have many strategic partners in South Kivu, including our partner organization Eben-Ezer Ministries. Pilot Project Manager Birori Dieudonne Gaparani and his local team of 13, including Pastor Sibomana, are all native to the DRC. Local leadership garners trust and promotes long-term sustainability and success.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Majority Adoption: I have expanded the pilot significantly and the program product or service has been adopted by the majority of our intended user base.

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

Plant With Purpose ( reverses poverty and deforestation by partnering with farming families and empowering them through sustainable agriculture training, tree planting initiatives, Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs), and church and school partnerships.

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.

Prior to working in South Kivu, DRC, we had been working in neighboring areas and saw a pressing need for expansion to this region. We held relationships with local leaders in South Kivu who were eager for us to come and work. We also saw that the critical Itombwe rainforest was at risk, and that we needed to act quickly. Finally, we were excited that this would be the first region in which we could implement all parts of our holistic model from the very beginning of the program.

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

“Prosperity” in South Kivu is impacted by a lack of economic opportunity. 86% of the families in our partnering communities in the DRC have no source of income beyond agriculture and fishing. Furthermore, roads in the area where we work are scarce. Families walk long distances on difficult terrain to reach markets or other resources. They have little access to fertilizers or imported goods. Our baseline study shows that the average family in this area eats 1.3 meals per day. Finally, a decades-long civil conflict has impeded food security, market access, and poverty reduction. “Planet” is influenced by local land degradation including erosion, deforestation, and loss of water resources. Many family farms have steep hillsides with very little topsoil. Deforestation in the DRC is a serious problem and only 3% of the land is arable (Source: World Bank). With each rainfall, there is further erosion that leads to a decline in farm productivity.

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

Our DRC project is a joint project of Plant With Purpose and Eben-Ezer Ministries International. Pilot Project Manager Birori Dieudonne Gaparani, who directs our project and is our immediate contact, legally works for Eben-Ezer. Our program thrives largely because of our locally-led staff and the beneficial partnerships that we have established in South Kivu. In addition to Eben-Ezer Ministries, we maintain strategic partnerships with churches, schools, and government authorities in the area, which allow our programs to be more effective and sustainable. In the DRC, Plant With Purpose currently partners with 20 local churches. These churches provide a platform through which we can better serve the community and show farmers that they have a purpose in tending to their land. In Tanzania, we partner with CARE to implement a Go Green project focused on making clean energy technologies available to women. We are open to engaging in similar strategic partnerships in South Kivu.

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

-Farmers in South Kivu are eager. Farmers in this region have a tremendous amount of capacity, but historically few economic opportunities. -The faith community is willing to take action and speak up about vocation and the care of the planet. -South Kivu has been overlooked by other NGOs. Many tend to work in North Kivu and Katanga to the south because of their mineral wealth. There is therefore both space and need for Plant With Purpose in South Kivu.

Geographic Focus

This idea targets South Kivu, DRC. We work in rural communities facing land degradation and poverty.

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

12 months

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 submitted an idea to BridgeBuilder Challenge, but it was slightly different than this year’s idea. Last year we focused on “peace, prosperity, and planet” in both Burundi and the DRC. This year, we have narrowed our idea to just “prosperity and planet” in South Kivu, DRC. We have done so because the DRC is where we have been able to implement our newly-refined program model from the very beginning of the pilot program. It is also where we are seeing rapid yet sustainable economic growth and environmental restoration, leading to improved livelihoods, restored ecosystems, and climate resilience. At this time last year we were partnering with 775 families in South Kivu, DRC, whereas now we are partnering with 1,318. Last year we had trained and equipped 21 VSLAs with a total combined member equity of $6,824 USD and a 4% return on savings. Now, we have trained and equipped 50 VSLAs with a combined member equity of more than $20,190 and a 9% return on savings. The number of VSLAs has more than doubled and member equity has nearly tripled in just one year. Additionally, last year farmers had planted a total of 165,000 trees since the beginning of the DRC program, whereas now they have planted more than 459,300. Focusing our entire holistic model on just one region has allowed us to test very clearly the impact of our model and ensure that our idea is both scalable and replicable. We are now poised to scale this model to new countries and regions (such as Ethiopia and an adjacent watershed in the DRC) starting July 1, 2018.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ashley Tillman

Hi Ellen Davis I enjoyed reading that your spiritual renewal component of your program model aligns with human-centered design principles, we are always working to refine how we use and talk about human-centered design, based on how organizations around the world iterate and adapt the methodology. Would love to learn more about the spiritual renewal components of this program!

Photo of Corbyn Small

Ashley Tillman  Hi! Thanks for your question and for your (and OpenIdeo's) continual desire to ask great questions and to learn! I'll include a short snippet from our submission for context and then additional response below.
By partnering with the local churches and providing them with resources and opportunities to engage congregation members at a deeper level, we're not setting out to change beliefs, but rather amplifying those that families already have. We have found that this is a really good way to bring about sustainable positive behavioral change from within, ultimately helping to bridge prosperity and planet.

Service, work, peace, love of the marginalized, and care for Creation (the Earth) are all integral teachings in the Bible. Often times though, around the globe and here in the US, churches can become disconnected from practical applications taught in the Bible. Framing training of environmental stewardship and management of household wealth in a Biblical context helps amplify existing community beliefs into tangible and sustainable action for those families and for the planet.

For example, here is a teaching that gives a really strong foundation for Plant With Purpose to stand upon as we start work in a community that often has many churches already present (it is important to note that participation in Plant With Purpose's programs is not dependent on particular religious belief and thereby not required of any participant. We gratefully work with everyone who is willing to work with us). On of the very first verses in the Bible, Genesis 2:15 says, " The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." By partnering with local churches and church leaders, we are able to engage congregations to participate in the stewardship and renewal of the land through a lens that is already familiar, thereby helping them increase crop yields and restoring land for future generations. Furthermore, in communities often neglected or looked down upon for being agrarian, through the Biblical lens we're able to speak to the nobility of agriculture and being a caretaker of the land.

Another example of Plant With Purpose seeking spiritual renewal via human centered design has to do with 'marred self-image'. The Bible teaches that mankind was made "in God's Image" and we see disempowerment as a form of spiritual poverty when someone feels like they do not have the ability to change their or their families' circumstances. Last week when I was in Haiti, I spoke to a Haitian pastor who said that because of the massive amount of short-term aid and missions projects, many Haitian churches are stuck in a cycle of waiting for someone from outside of the community to help address challenges (I'll note that this is not a blaming statement, rather a statement that bad aid has been perpetually "done to" Haitian churches rather than in "partnership with.") The pastor explained how incredible it has been to empower members of the church in Plant With Purpose's training sessions, which talk about the talents, skills, and resources that each of us have. Access to workshops and financial tools, he said, has resulted in families who are no longer waiting for outside support, but instead taking initiative to improve their community on their own. Some other examples of church partnership and empowerment that I have personally heard are churches who, as a result of the training they receive, decide to repair water sources for the community, engage in support of local schools, repair physical structures on their own church, and improve infrastructure of roads, bridges, or community centers. For Plant With Purpose this represents dignity and a community of individuals who have agency to improve circumstances and actively live out their faith.

I'd love to talk more with you about this if you have further thoughts or questions! Please reach out.

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