OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign up, Login or Learn more

If Holistic Community Development is the 'what', Social Learning Circles are the 'how'.

Piloting practical scalable approaches for community and ecological regeneration, for global mainstreaming

Photo of Richard Hatfield
7 4

Written by

Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

We cannot have peace without prosperity, or prosperity without peace; similarly, we cannot end poverty without healing ecosystems, and we cannot heal ecosystems without ending poverty. Management must be holistic.

To date piloting a holistic approach to development has taught us that change can only be achieved through a process of social transformation; which cannot be done for somebody by somebody else.

Within this approach, social learning has emerged as the key process for solving complex issues - as opposed to expert knowledge. Social learning brings together all the relevant players to share their knowledge and perspectives on problems for which no-one has the full answer. The beauty is that no-one's knowledge displaces another's; there is only addition. Out of which the best actions to test will be agreed, how they should be tested, and by whom.

This is only the start of finding the right answers; social learning involves regular review of actions tested, conclusions, re-planning and re-implementation - as cycles of continuous group learning, based in the local context. As the cycles continue, so do the solutions to complex issues become more visible and achievable.

We would like others to benefit from our experience by mainstreaming social learning as a key process for achieving peace, prosperity and healthy environments.

The specific purpose of this project is to now - through social learning - design, test, refine and record the most effective and efficient models for how to apply social learning in practice including preparation, entry points, participation models, activity sets and organisation, universal facilitation techniques, resource mobilization, etc.

The overall aim is to provide a practical 'user manual' of best-practice approaches to solving complex, interconnected issues for the global audience. The manual will be appropriate for communities themselves, and for development organisations as well as governments.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Ultimately our idea is applicable to communities everywhere. However, the main beneficiaries at this stage will be the families in 10 pilot Maasai communities, 5 in Kenya and 5 in Tanzania, who number approximately 1000 families (100,000 people) and whose land covers approximately 600,000 hectares (1.4 million acres) supporting some 400,000 livestock and containing some of the richest wildlife populations and most iconic landscapes in Africa.

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

Different organisations in the Eastern African development and conservation sectors apply parts of an ecological or social approach to their projects. Few, if any, are using an explicit holistic approach. None are applying the structured and comprehensive approach to ecosystem health and productivity that we are; very few are applying the structured and comprehensive approach to social transformation that we are; and none are combining them as drivers of community-desired holistic outcomes.

The confidence in our approach comes from validation from all the communities (approx 15) in which we piloted our approach over the past 10 years. As such, we believe the concept and content has been proven; what is now needed is to combine our learning, principles and techniques into a generic package which can be used by others and ourselves to scale up and out.

We also believe lessons from the East African context can contribute to learning for other contexts across the globe.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Early Adoption: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the intended users of the idea. I have begun to expand the pilot for early adoption.

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

We have mainly worked within internationally-funded development and conservation projects in East Africa to design and implement pilot components to test, refine and provide proof-of-concept for a holistic approach to project contexts, driven by ecological regeneration and social transformation.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered company.

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

Growing up in East Africa, I was always interested in maintaining its rich landscapes, wildlife and cultures, all under threat. This journey began with my thesis in resource economics in a famous US university, 'Why and how do pastoralists overgraze'? Very little of the literature I found made sense. One day I read a popular article 'Rolling back the deserts' describing practical, effective but radical approaches to healing ecosystems. I brought these back to East Africa and built on them.

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

Core livelihoods in the region based on livestock directly depend on nature. Land and water health and productivity have suffered from mainly poor grazing management, exacerbated by drought and climate change resulting in huge livestock loss of productivity and loss, for example, 90% of herds decimated last year in one site.

Collapse of the resource based has hastened poverty, migration to towns especially by youth, and individual interest resulting in breakdown of community safety nets, management structures, sense of being and loss of hope.

Collapse of the resource base has also resulted in increased conflict over access to grazing and water, both between communities and between livestock and wildlife; whilst fuelling cultivation of land unsuitable for crops, further exacerbating human-wildlife conflict.

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

The project will involve both communities and organisations. The communities include Enonkishu and Siana in the famous Maasai Mara of Kenya, 3 communities in Taita Taveta region of southern Kenya, and 5 communities in the Manyara-Tarangire-Longido regions of northern Tanzania. The organisations include Mara Training Centre and Tsavo Hertitage Foundation in Kenya and the Nature Conservancy and VSF-Belgium (Veternaires Sans Frontiers) in Tanzania.

We will work with the communities directly on social transformation and ecological regeneration as they help validate effective scaling up prototype model(s). These processes will then be streamlined for further scaling up through Mara Training Centre who train communities in East Africa; Tsavo Heritage which aims to protect the world-famous Tsavo National Park by working with the communities and local governments of 12 surrounding counties (1/4 the size of Kenya); and the Nature Conservancy / VSF who implement numerous projects in Africa

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

The communities have the strengths of inclusive management through a traditional collective approach to management, cooperation and living, plus the resources needed to enact ecological healing: land, animals, owners-managers-warriors, and inate knowledge of land and livestock in their context. The youth are keen to stay if they can see that they can make a good living from the land. Communities also have the benefit of the partner organisations who seek to support without dictating.

Geographic Focus

Southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, some of most iconic landscapes and cultures on earth.

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

18 months.

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

  • No
View more

Attachments (3)

Il Ngwesi land rehabilitation using livestock.docx

This photo demonstrates land rehabilitation using communities resources-at-hand (in this case, livestock)

LCT July 2014 with HM article P6.pdf

See page 6 of this local newspaper highlighting a case study piloting the approach from Il Ngwesi, Kenya.

Arsim, Kenya results extracts_RHatfield.pdf

This brief document highlights results from one project site in Kenya.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Eric Wilburn

Hi Richard,

Thank you for your efforts in this space. I've worked in community conservation in Mozambique for 5+ years and we have struggled to engage and inspire the community other than through socioeconomic development programs. Have you found any other useful strategies that are more on the sociocultural side that have been very effective in creating intrinsic motivation in groups?

Thank you, Eric

Photo of Richard Hatfield

Hi Eric - thanks for writing. We have concentrated on a psycho-social approach to build motivation, but I agree its the number one challenge..

Photo of Angi Yoder Maina

Hi Richard Hatfield 

Could you explain more what you mean by a psycho-social approach to build motivation. This seems to be a central aspect to your idea but I am still unclear what you mean exactly by social learning. Thanks.


View all comments