Sure, we believe in Community Ownership, but….

Working in the world of International Development I’ve seen a lot of things over the years. If you work in the space you may have as well. For those of you who don’t travel in the same way, think about NGO staff who see a lot of projects around the world. School buildings, water systems, toilets, sanitation, economic development, and on and on. So many projects everywhere in the world. All kinds of interventions.

Many of them are no longer functional. They’re broken. They failed. They were never repaired. Maybe they were never used in the first place. Wells with broken pumps. Toilets filled and overflowing never to be used again. Classrooms that fell in during the last earthquake. And on and on.

Lip service?
We (collectively) walk past — thousands and thousands (and by some estimates millions) — broken interventions. And inside the space, we talk about how we’re so glad that that “wasn’t us” who put that in. But then again. Perhaps it was us? People move from organization to organization — so maybe it was you. Organizations don’t have visibility to all past interventions — so maybe it was you. Organizations (like their infrastructure) fail — so maybe you were there.

Let me correct that. It is us. We are them. We are paying lip service to sustainability of our infrastructure.

But why? Why is it that these failures can continue? Some will point at limited funds or limited grant scope. Others will point to a system of funding that focuses too much on a one-year, one-time grant cycle. Others still, just write it off to a law of averages or acceptable rates of failure.

I blame our thinking. We are paying lip service to too many of the critical ideas out there and mistaking the emergent outcomes as necessary parts of our “secret recipe.” Have you heard of Sustainability? Local Empowerment? Community Ownership? Yah, you have. And perhaps they’re even embedded in the mission of your own organization, or baked into the buzzwords used in fundraising, marketing and your brand. We are wrong to believe that these items are added to our work. That’s backward. And that’s part of our failure in thinking.

Playing a half game…
One of the cornerstone ideas at play here is Community Ownership. Sure we’re talking a good game. We talk about how we utilize the community, build on needs assessments, focus on leadership and create community-based systems to encourage buy-in. Donors love the idea of community ownership or involvement.

But still infrastructure is failing. Maybe not in the first week of deployment, but at some point. Not 100% either, but more than should be failing. The question is, who should be paying attention to the infrastructure over time to ensure that it doesn’t fail? Who is it who maintains, repairs and replaces the water pump, toilet, classroom, dormitory, greenhouse, etc.? Is your organization making a commitment of 100 years to make it work? Probably not. Nor should it.

The critical player here is the community itself. Community Ownership. Specifically the community leadership who should “own” — in every sense of the word — the intervention. Likely, we all buy into the concept. We talk a good game. But in the end we’re only playing half the game here. We “believe” that the community should take ownership but we don’t take all the actions to make that property “emerge” from the project. It’s like we’re only playing offense and no defense. Instead of paying lip service to Community Ownership we have to look at our own thinking on the topic and play both halves of the field.

Example. Right now Edge of Seven has a project that was completed in 2010 — a school building. Because of the confusion between “community input” and “community ownership” the walls of the building were compromised from the start. The community has now asked our partner for help in maintaining the building. The partner has requested the funds of us. This is OUR FAILURE in our thinking from 2010. If the community was truly empowered, a plan would have been created to maintain the walls of the building which need some on-going maintenance because of the decision to use mud plaster on the earth bag building walls to begin with.

Our thinking only comprises part (not whole) of the dilemma. Not only does there need to be a plan, financial consideration, project expertise, human resources, there needs to be a psychological foundation for this “community ownership.” We’re absorbed by all the technical details: is there a mechanic? Do they have tools? Do they have skills? Do they have customers? Do they have a motorbike to get around to customers? Do the customers have the funds to pay the mechanic? And on and on. This thinking is not holistic or systemic.

We can therefore easily miss the foundational element of psychology, the human brain, culture and social norms. We must be systems thinkers around Community Ownership to fully understand where we’re screwing it up.

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Playing a good game?
To play a good game the space overall has to start thinking systemically about not only that “community ownership is a good thing,” but to actually act in ways that create it as an outcome to belief, intention, and program. Our thinking drives our actions.

Based on organizations walking passed failed infrastructure and mentally saying, ‘glad that wasn’t me’ we are all culpable. We are all part of the space that has an empty belief and is not acting to create the environment where “ownership” emerges as a byproduct of the system at work. In other words, we don’t understand that ownership is an outcome of our projects just as health is an outcome of a sanitation project.

When organizations begin to see the complex, systemic, values-based, training heavy, local-partner-centric systems AND act on making a better system (see another blog for this one), we will see fewer failures and more Community Ownership will emerge from the projects themselves.

Playing a good game on Community Ownership means playing both offense (co-creating projects with community leadership, input and work, support for execution, planning for the future, building systems to fund, maintain, repair and eventually replace) and defense (explicitly working with local partners, CBO’s, NGO’s, community leaders, government players, and other stakeholders to build the psychology of ownership).

Playing a good game that is both technical and human, also means understanding the entire system and for that we have to look at our own systems for understanding thinking. How is that we are understanding the system at work? Not just the system of a toilet? Not just understanding education in a rural part of Nepal and therefore how to build a new two-classroom building. Not just understanding how to input money into a situation to build something. We have to play a good game by being good systems thinkers. We have to use the tools of thinking to diagnose, plan, cooperate, fund, and ultimately exit the situation, having left it stronger than we found it.

DSCN3283Systems Thinking (in all its various forms) is a powerful tool. (Look for another blog that explains its use in International Development.) But understanding that our failures in the space — and we can see the evidence all around us — should make us stop and take stock of not only what we’re doing well (collectively) but what it will take for us all to succeed so that we are the generation that stops just turning the wheel and begins to get traction to end poverty.

There is the temptation at this point to get defensive. Don’t. This isn’t an indictment that we’re failing, but rather to indicate that we are at a crucial moment where we can take our game to the next level. Like a star player (think Jordan) who has an awesome skillset, but who discovers that making everyone else around him better is the way to a championship, we have to do the same.

Jordan, early in his career, scored prolifically. But it wasn’t until he made this transition to a player who made all those around him better, that he became a superstar capable of leading a dynasty. That’s where we are today. We (all of us) can make the world a better place by thinking of Community Ownership, not as a bullet point, but rather as an outcome that emerges from a system where all the players have been made better. That star player is thinking.

Edge of Seven
At Edge of Seven we’re not perfect. But that’s the point. None of us are. As NGO leaders we can all improve. The first step is to embrace that simple fact. Far too many failed projects exist in the space. What will we do to reduce the number of failed projects in the years to come?

First off, we must embrace Systems Thinking. Determining a common methodology for understanding the world through creating distinctions, understanding relationships, defining systems and using perspectives (https://www.crlab.us/) will assist those of us in the nonprofit space who are focused on Community Ownership.

Once we understand that our work YIELDS community ownership and not the other way around, we can begin crafting success stories and fewer failed projects. Our program work is strong, but our thinking is weak. Collectively we can achieve more and we must focus on building systems rather than projects.

At Edge of Seven we’ve begun this process by focusing ourselves on not only believing in our principles but living them in the day-to-day work (http://edgeofseven.org/7principles) and in our thinking. This is the first step to building true, genuine knowledge about success in the developing world and the alleviation of poverty. Become a systems thinker. That is the pathway to not only understanding community ownership but creating the conditions under which it will emerge.

From that spot, and from understanding that those key things we want (sustainability, community ownership, empowerment, etc.) will emerge FROM our work rather than our work emerging from those things, we can make headway. The canaries are dying all around us — those failed projects all over the world. We can see them every time we travel to Africa or Asia or any location where development has been for 20 years or more. Are we willing to see them for what they are? They are ours. Not theirs. And they’re telling us to wake up, think and get better.

(Peter Mason is the Executive Director at Edge of Seven and has worked in 14 countries around the world in water, sanitation and education.)mason-2015_np_ec_100715_4965-1000

Two years after the earthquake

Two Years Ago…

Two years ago, a significant earthquake hit Nepal. In the Solukhumbu region homes, schools, outbuildings, and more were damaged or destroyed. And when the second quake hit in May even more damaged buildings became unusable. Even more significant, the human tragedy reverberates today. While we can’t bring back the over 9000 people who were lost, we can support rebuilding in the area.

Today we have a special opportunity to create more support through Global Giving Today only donations are matched 50%. Please help us continue the rebuilding efforts in Nepal.

In the last two years Edge of Seven has accomplished so much. After initial responses and aid, Edge of Seven set out with our partner on the ground with dedication, perseverance, and focus on on our mission — girls’ education. Together with your support we built seven temporary buildings and last year alone, three more school buildings. We are building more schools, developing programs for girls to learn about business, and fundraising for communities to replace more classrooms, more toilets, water supplies, and infrastructure that supports poverty alleviation and earthquake resistant buildings.

None of this would have been possible without the support of people like you. Edge of Seven continues to rely on donations to help fund our sustainable building projects, education programs, and earthquake recovery efforts. Thank you so much.

If you would like to help us to continue supporting people to rebuild their lives in the most isolated regions of Nepal the best way to do it is through a monthly gift. At the time of the earthquake regular gifts allowed us to react immediately and begin our planning for the future. If you are in a position to give on a monthly, yearly or weekly basis please click HERE – it really is the most effective way to support Edge of Seven.

Thank you for your ongoing generosity and friendship — you have helped girls and women in Nepal so much in the last two years.

Best,

Peter Mason, Executive Director
Edge of Seven

International Women’s Day 2017

Today we celebrate the enduring strength of women all around the world … and recommit ourselves to fighting even harder for girls’ education and women’s empowerment. On this International Women’s Day, we recognize the incredible value that women of all backgrounds add to every socio-economic system around the world — while receiving lower wages, experiencing greater inequities, discrimination, harassment, and economic insecurity.
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D365-w52-m12 — Thank you for a wonderful year

Thank you for a wonderful year at Edge of Seven. We have been consistently blessed by all our supporters, donors, volunteers, interns, friends, family and staff. All of you — Thank you so much. We’ve done great work this year and celebrating it with you all through email, social media, meetings, events, videos, blog posts, and phone calls is an incredible experience.

This year saw us evolve as we built classrooms AND communities. We supported new families and communities in Rwanda where we built a Training Center for a coop that needed space to train, to office and to store their crops. This vital space allows them to continue on their path of economic empowerment for the families and their community. This effort is exactly what we want to be doing — putting effort into building spaces AND communities themselves to succeed.

Our work in Nepal demonstrated this as well. We worked to support our on-the-ground partners in building classrooms while also building up “School Building Committees” to be vibrant agents of change in their villages and districts. This double-benefit effort creates systems that yield community ownership and empowerment by decreasing dependency. We continued our work in Naro Moru, Kenya on the Women’s Resource Center.

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All of you helped us to make that happen. Thank you. We will keep moving forward in 2017, with your incredible support in all the ways that you give it. To all of you who have already given gifts of time, support, encouragement and money — THANK YOU. For all of you who wait until hour 20-24 of day 365 to make your donation — THANK YOU TOO — and don’t wait too long 😉  http://bit.ly/2iAE0u5

If you have it in your plans for one last gift (or your first) this year, we are only $2796 from our goal on Global Giving. This special project helps us build new classrooms and communities in Nepal and you can also get a bonus by setting up a recurring donation here where your first donation will be matched 200% http://bit.ly/2iAE0u5  — should you wish to give generally to the organization please give through our Colorado Gives site: http://bit.ly/2ij40g0

On behalf of the staff, Board of Directors, Advisory Board, volunteers, interns and supporters have a great final few hours of 2016 and ‘here’s to the start of a wonderful New Year.’

— Peter Mason, Executive Director

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3 Days left in year-end efforts

As we roll into the final 3 days of 2016 and we celebrate our successes and reflect on our challenges for the year, we’re hoping that you will continue to support girls’ education. The year was filled with great successes and great disappointments around the world. We proved that we can make incredible progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals. Still, around the world we saw mass exodus, war, strife, drought and shortages. While progress was made for women’s rights and empowerment, education and economic development setbacks abound.

And now a new wave of political pressures and potential conflicts along with the challenges of global warming are pressing in on our gains for women and girls.

If you have yet to support us this year, or you can make one final gift we implore you — NOW is the time. In our final 3 days of the year we can make a statement for progress and hope as we move forward. Make a statement of Yes, to women and girls. Yes, to Education. Yes, to making change. Yes, to Action. Yes, to building classrooms and communities. Yes to Edge of Seven.

This past year you helped Eo7 do the following:

  • Built a computer classroom in Salleri, Nepal for girls getting their 11th and 12th grade education
  • Built 6 classrooms in 3 villages in the Solukhumbu in Nepal
  • Supported 3 villages in developing their own skills at development
  • Built a Women’s Training Center in Rwanda to support a women’s coop
  • Continued support of the Women’s Resource Center in Kenya
  • Developed a new women’s business training program set to unveil in 2017


What will you help us do in 2017?
In the last three days you can help women and girls in the developing world by reposting, liking, or retweeting this information to all your friends and neighbors. Will you make a final donation for the year? Or perhaps you can email your friends and co-workers to join us in our efforts in Southeast Asia and East Africa. Anything you can do is a big help.

For those of you who have already donated, already supported, already joined us at events, and donated your time — THANK YOU! You are the reason that we can help so many women and girls around the world.

Interested in a Special Offer?
We are offering up a special  effort called 14for7=42set up a recurring monthly donation for $14 dollars and Eo7 gets a 200% bonus ($28) from Global Giving. That’s $42 for Eo7! SET UP YOUR 14for7=42 DONATION TODAY.

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Great crowd for “Educate a Girl” – Thanks!

Thank you to all the folks who came to our event on Tuesday — the film screening “Educate a Girl” (see a 1-minute teaser here) — https://vimeo.com/193628923

We’re so thankful for all our supporters and all of the Edge of Seven family of friends. Thank you! you guys are wonderful. We had a great holiday happy hour, screening of the film, and Q&A with the director of the film Harry Lynch from Arcos Films.

If you weren’t able to make it to our event or still have a place in your heart to help us meet our mission this year, we have a special offer for you for the remainder of the year. We are offering up a special  effort called 14for7=42set up a recurring donation for $14 dollars and Eo7 gets a 200% bonus ($28) from Global Giving. That’s $42 for Eo7! SET UP YOUR 14for7=42 DONATION TODAY.

To all of our current donors who contributed to our #GivingTuesday effort, our #ColoradoGivesDay effort, our event and all who support us — THANK YOU! You are truly supporting our daily mission to break down barriers for girls and women in the developing world. We can’t thank you enough.

We also wanted to thank our supporters who helped us with our film screening: Biscuits and Berries, Sherpa House, Mu Beer, and Conscious Real Estate.

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Educate a Girl Film Screening in Denver on Tuesday 12/13

Special Pre-Screening of “Educate a Girl” is coming to Denver

Join Edge of Seven at the Posner Center in Denver on Tuesday 12/13 for a special pre-screening of “Educate a Girl” a documentary shot in 2013 about girls education in Nepal. We’ll have a special holiday party from 6pm – 7pm. The movie shows at 7pm, followed by a Q&A with the director Harry Lynch from Arcos Films. Tickets are only $10 and include drinks and snacks and childcare if you need it. Please join us for this fun little event in Denver. Can’t make it but want to support Eo7? Visit this page for a link to donate or more info on the event — https://eagscreening.eventbrite.com

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Here are the details…

WHO: You PLUS a Friend!
WHAT: “Educate a Girl” Film Screening (More Info @ https://eagscreening.eventbrite.com)
WHEN: 6:00-9:00 PM, Tuesday, December 13th, 2016
WHERE: Posner Center, 1031 33rd St, Denver, CO 80205
HOW: https://eagscreening.eventbrite.com – Put it on your calendar – Skip the babysitter because we’ll provide free child care
FOR BONUS POINTS, BRING A GROUP! LIKE… – Your roommates – Your coworkers – Your recreational sports team
NEED HELP? USE THE TEXT BELOW… “Hey friend! I support this cool charity that helps educate girls in Nepal. Want to come with me to their film screening in Denver on Tuesday, 12/13? I’ll buy your ticket and dinner beforehand so we can catch up. What do you think?” That’s it! See you and your crew on December 13th!