Here is an update from our Community Concierge Program selected as a winning idea for the Amplify Challenge on Women Safety.
In November 2018, Ongatai Amosiah working with YES Busia, a community-based organization in Uganda contacted Design for America of NYU to access a copy of the Bindi toolkit we developed as part of our idea. This toolkit is based on the pilot we developed in partnership with WHR and women from Tripureshwar, a slum in Kathmandu as well as a project we did with Wishwas in the Queens.
The Bindi program aim to empower women by giving them access to knowledge, new skills and financial opportunities and developing their self-confidence and leadership skills. Through their participation, women will become “bindis” in their community. Bindis are women who share the knowledge and skills they acquired with other women in their community, thus becoming leaders and catalysts of change in their community. And this was what Ongatai and his team wanted to do.
This started a conversation between Ongatai, his team and myself as we thought of how we could unveil the needs of the women in the Busia district in order to adapt the Bindi journey which in essence was to be adapted and re-invented in each community. We started by changing the name: while in Nepal the Bindis were Sahayogi saathis; in Uganda, they are Banamukisa, which means ”the lucky ones”. We also adapted the logo we had created for the program in Nepal.
Banamukisa logo created by DFA NYU with the feedback from YES and the women in the program
Embracing the human-centered approach at the core of the Bindi guide, the YES team organized multiple workshops in various villages to brainstorm on women needs and skills. Since November 2018, I’ve been informally collaborating with Ongatai and his team – through emails, WhatsApp and Skype. I’ve asked Ongatai to tell us a bit more about the Banamukisa groups they created – their process and their learnings.
AL: Can you tell us how you started the first Banamukisa?
Ongatai: Our first Banamukisa was in Mugungu “B” village .Poverty had over taken us to the edge of frustration in our lives, families, relationships and social development all together had disintegrated. The women decided to form Banamukisa women groups after positive discussion with YES team about social economic development that focuses on leadership gaps, financial empowerment and self-sustenance. Our main objective was to organize women to achieve critical material needs, sources of income, ease in meeting essential expenditures and promote self-reliance. The YES team had to offer group leadership and financial literacy including entrepreneurship and business management skills.
Photos from the first meeting to discuss the Banamukisa program
After meeting a few times with the women to discuss their situation and their needs, we realized that some had specific skills. So, we decided to form “Babiri Bandu” women’s group comprising of 15 women specializing in handcrafts like weaving mats, making wrist bands, necklaces and bungles among others. The groups meet weekly on Friday at 2:00pm at the Secretary’s home who is also a member.
One issue we discussed with Anne-Laure was how to fund the program. We talked about micro-loans and the possibility of having the women organized in a collective where they will contribute some money to purchase supplies. We talked with the women and they agreed on this model. During each sitting the members contribute 2000 UGX under the Village Saving and Loan Association program.
Women working on Mats.
AL: To me it is amazing that you were able in only a couple of months to succeed in having the women creating a shared fund. Indeed, in both the pilots we did, we realized that creating a shared fund required a lot of trust and this was not always easy to implement. Can you tell me what is the main motivation of the women who joined Banamukisa?
Ongatai: The women were motivated by the fact that these groups were formed for economic strengthening especially in addressing no income source, critical material need and difficulties in meeting essential expenditures at family level.
They also needed a plat form for addressing food insecurity like lack of enough food, safe water and limited nutritional knowledge which these Banamukisa groups were offering on addition of promoting reduced school dropout, irregular school attendance and low resources for education by their children. So, the women chose to join these groups to share mutual interests, concerns and to solve their problems collectively, learn health life styles, business management and facilitate education.
AL: The community-centered aspect is crucial to the success of your project. I remember a discussion during our prototyping trip in Kathmandu where one woman claimed (followed by others) that one of the main things they gained from participating to the program was to be part of a community. “Community is key” she argued. “Before the program, we did not know each other. And now we are friends. We share our problems, our skills and we help each other.” Can you tell me more about the role of YES in this process?
Ongatai: The YES team through our community structure of Village Health Teams mobilized the women and conducted participatory needs assessment session with these women and the women then prioritized the most pressing challenges as Economic vulnerability, food insecurity at house hold level and illiteracy among the community members.
Then the women agreed to form groups with the objective of addressing the above community challenges and YES team agreed to train the group members in managerial and leadership skills, self-organization and group dynamics to assist members in becoming confident, un locking their potential through self-discovery and abilities.so currently the YES team if facilitating the Banamukisa groups with technical skills, knowledge and passion and offering them a plat form for exposure and recognition in the community.
AL: I’m also glad you continued. I am convinced that people and communities are much more resilient than they think but someone had to believe in them and give them the tools and the environment to try it out. Are there any other programs in which you use the community-centered approach we developed in the Bindi guide?
Ongatai: It is indeed impressive to realize how creative, resilient and powerful communities can be. It’s really inspiring for our team to facilitate this process. This is what we first found inspiring when we saw the website with the Bindi toolkit. We have used the bindi model in the same program, named Banamukisa women’s groups. The program was established in 2017 in Eastern Uganda’s Busia District with the primary goal of improving food security, nutrition and health at the household and community levels. Related goals were to increase sources and levels of income, and develop a sustainable commitment to the village saving and loan associations. This program is a collaborative program between Design for America of NYU and YES. It uses a woman-to-woman recruitment and training approach to demonstrate and disseminate information on key management practices, for example: leadership skills, HIV and sexual reproductive health, financial empowerment and group village saving. This Group was formed following community meetings by YES and were often based on existing self-help groups such as savings clubs. The group key result has been a significant increase in household food security, household savings, and membership base.
AL: Ongatai, this is really impressive! I have to admit that I am really moved to see that you were able to use our bindi toolkit and adapt it in the context of your community. As we wrote on our website “The Bindi Guide aims to help NGOs and grassroots groups co-create self-sustaining programs to empower low income women. It provides them with a step-by-step process on how to design and facilitate such programs using a human-centered design and train-the-trainer approach. ”This was our original goal and hope with the team and this is why we tried to do a prototype in Queens. However, our hope was that organizations like yours will be able to take the toolkit and use it to guide their work on the ground. This is exactly what you’ve done and this is truly inspiring! I’d love to know what the key learning’s for you in this process are. What would you say to another organization who would want to follow your path and use a community-centered approach to develop women-centric programs in their communities?
Ongatai: The Banamukisa Livelihood programe (BLP) actually is almost a replica of the bindi project structure. The only difference is that it was used by the village environment committees (VECs) selected through the community wide election, where the committees are composed of 6% women and 4% men in the group. They have been having different activities with group bank account and performing different tasks after the training on entrepreneurship skills awareness, and record keeping.
The Bindi toolkit has 4 overarching intuitive features that address the core social community’s needs: leadership skills, financial empowerment, self-sustainability at household and individual levels and then community integration by women and their families. There were three dimensions that we found really useful as we created the Banamukisa program using the Bindi toolkit. First of all, the adaptability of the toolkit to local context: it’s important that you have a community entry structure rooted within the area where you want to have your program implemented because then it’s easy to mobilize the cooperating community gate keepers who can facilitate mobilization of the target beneficiaries of your program.
Second, human-centered focus: needs assessment is a key process if your programme is to touch the real problem of the target beneficiaries because it helps in identifying the most pressing challenge in the community.
Lastly, co-creation and empowering the end users: allowing the target beneficiaries to take lead in all the processes of the program is important. So you just have to guide where necessary but let decision be made by the beneficiary themselves. The members are self-accountable with accepted structures established by the groups for leadership.
AL: Thank you again for sharing and all the best for the future. Looking forward to collaborate with you, your team at YES and all the Banamukisa members!