Dear members, friends, followers, and Civil Connections network, thank you so much for 2021.
True, the world has struggled and continues to struggle with COVID19, variant after variant, two years down the road of the pandemic’s outbreak. And as I write this short message, students across primary and secondary schools in Uganda (save for candidate classes), will only be concentratedly rejoining schools on the 10th of January 2022 after a complete 2-year stay at home – a real-life impact we have seen if you need one. I am sure you also know that school dropout rates have more than tripled, teenage pregnancies have followed the same trend, low-resource communities have been hit hard, and development as a sector has seen many of its gains over the years rolled back – especially in relation to gender, poverty, and inequality aspects (UN, 2021).
But as I reflect over 2021 on this morning of 19th December 2021, from rural Mayuge district in Eastern Uganda where I am on a mission to monitor some of the projects and activities, we laid foundation for in this year, I am filled with optimism. I explain why in the following paragraphs.
Let’s go back 15 years:
To paint a clearer picture, yesterday I had an unexpected meeting and consequently a 30-minute conversation with two young men that never thought I would remember who they were – Sulayi and Abed. To be honest, I felt a little offended with their thought that I could not remember them given the period I have been away – 16 years. but how could I when they are among the people that laid foundation to the philosophy of Civil Connections?
You see, when I first came to Mayuge in 2004, Sulayi was only about 12 years old and starting secondary school; Abed was slightly older. Both the sons of peasants, Sulayi was offered a place for education at a local school – Delta High School, that we (RISE Uganda, the NGO I was working with) cooperated with. Sulayi was orderly, captivated by anything called to do with knowledge, and aspiring to be a respected professional. Hearing about my arrival to Mayuge from Kampala, Sulayi automatically started working closely with me. He went on to set up a club at his school (replicating the model we were using in other communities) through which RISE carried out different activities – from simple information events to actions in the local town, and before long Sulayi earned his place as one of the 9 volunteers RISE worked with across the 6 years I worked in Mayuge. As we spoke yesterday – me and Sulayi, I could not hold back my tears of joy as he told me he was a headteacher of a local school and would like me to visit his school and local village to see how many initiatives they were running – based on the RISE model we built years ago.
Abed is the lesser resourced of the two, coming from a peasant family of 17 children, never gained the chance for school, but he was probably one of the most hardworking boys I had ever met. As we set up office and needed a handy helper Abed stopped at nothing to do his job. Cleaning, shopping, receiving, and settling in guests, connecting us to the local community, and eventually supporting in information activities in the local communities were all a piece of cake for this young man. We at some point decided that his capacity would not be fully reached without education. So, in working with a local junior school – Montessori Primary School, Abed started in the 5th grade at about 16 years (others were about 9 – 10 years), and after 3 years went on to join Sulayi at Delta High School.
And although motivation to stay in school quickly dwindled, this was because of a mix of his struggling family and the consequent need for income — as I talked with Abed yesterday, like with Sulayi, I was warmed in my heart. Abed now works with a local Solar Energy supply company as a field agent, has built a little three-room house just outside of Mayuge Town, he has a wife and three children. Like Sulayi, Abed could neither hold back his wish for me to visit his house so he could show me what my association with him years ago, and the work of RISE had given him. He is still a proud hard-working young man.
Over 30 minutes, we reminisced about the different groups we facilitated to start name after name popping up – Gili Gili, Budhebera, Delta, Wakalama, Wairama, St. Mulumba, Kyabando, Nsango, Mpungwe, etc. It was like music from an golden oldie, but the most impactful aspect from this trip down memory lane was that these groups are still active and call themselves RISE groups to date. In Sulayi’s words “RISE was not just an organization, it was a way of doing things, and that methodology continues to guide all of us”. Abed added “I was little known, but I get surprised when I go deep in Mayuge, and people start asking ‘are you not Abed from RISE’ and wondering when we are coming back to continue building on what we started”. Moses, another young man standing by joined in with a saying “when you plant you have to come back and harvest your fruit and Mr. Andrew (as I was called then), if you just dare take a trip into these groups you will be surprised by what you and RISE achieved”. This is what I really call hope – this to me is real hope.
Civil Connections in 2021:
We at Civil Connections have gained so much hope in 2021 – see our achievements below:
The story of Sulayi and Abed is not foreign to Civil Connections. When we started our work in September 2018, the idea was and remains to bring a fresh reflection on the way we work with rural, low-resourced, marginalized contexts/communities. Having grown up in a similar context, I was troubled by doing development without the rural grassroots at the centre. In Uganda where I come from, over 70% of the country is rural, and rural areas contain over 80% of the country’s population. It is also here that we often find inadequate infrastructure – roads, unequipped medical facilities, schools, etc. as well as contradictory cultural traits e.g., high levels of gender inequality and heavy women and girls’ domestic burdens etc.
And when development initiatives concentrate or program without these contexts at the centre, it simply means that we are not adequately reaching 70% or more of precisely the people we want to get into the betterment loop. So, we at Civil Connections set out to give a more concentrated look and programming for the rural and marginalized contexts, and we have a positive story to tell. Here below is a quick snapshot of the achievements we have made in 2021 – our hope.
- Three approaches/models ready to guide our work:
We have across 2021 piloted, tested, and systematized three models on which our programming and work will be based for a clearer navigation towards the results we want to achieve. The three models, have both been a result of specific piloted projects to give as a fair ground of assurance, as well as long-term engagements with our partners from local contexts for their guidance on how we can best build robust communities. The three are listed below:
- Our Community Impact Project Model – CIPM
This introduces our Community Impact Projects Model (CIPM) and Community Impact Projects (CIPs) as a concept. It provides a step-by-step process to understanding why CIPs and the CIPM are important, as well as giving practical suggestions on how to design CIPs. The model is suitable for anyone who works with projects, or initiatives where aspects of quick impact are considered as the focus. We developed the guide to purposely support development of CIPs in communities with low resources or low funding, to give us a backbone for building impact fast and at low cost. Get your copy here: https://civilconnections.org/subscribe-to-our-newsletter/
- ICT4Education – Mobile Telephony & Community clustering learning for low resourced communities
Through a small-scale intervention over the fall of 2020, we have been able to document a process/framework through which one can organize students and communities to learn remotely through the use of a combination of: telephones, bluetooth speakers, and community radios. We have called the project “Information Tech for Education – ICT4Education”, and we piloted in the Yumbe district in the West Nile region of Uganda, for the critical reason that millions of learners were out of school due to COVID19, and the most affected being rural low-resourced populations due to a lack of access. The model offers an interesting, easy to work with, community and learner mobilization and support model. We will release the complete guide in March 2022.
- Podcast storying for engaging
Over the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021, we intervened in the migration discussion in Denmark and the Nordics at large by starting a podcast — “Coming to the Nordics”— where we have given the floor to migrants and professionals within the integration system to define words like inclusion, integration, and belonging to the Nordics through their personal stories. The results have been amazing. But this journey led us to understanding the power of podcasting, as well as the technical intricacies of how ‘everyday people’ can utilize podcasts to tell their stories into major policy discussions, for the potential of giving more varied and wide-based input into these. To this end, we have called the model “PODCAST STORYING” and created a backup course to guide one to start their own podcast. The documented model will be out in March 2022, but find the online course here: https://courses.civilconnections.org/courses/an-introduction-to-the-basics-of-podcasting
- We have set a record number of projects in process, and each comes with new partnerships
Although starting in 2022, as I write two different funders – the European Union (EU) and Civil Society in Development (CISU) have just approved four of our projects here in Mid-December. These join the list of other several we have gotten funded in 2021, and through which we aspire to create real impact at the grassroots level for the most marginalized communities across the world. Below is the list of projects developed and funded in 2021, starting with the newest:
- Strengthening structures for a deepened grassroots-based entrepreneurial movement for young females in the Bono region of Ghana, funded by CISU Denmark with 66,500 Euros.
- “THE JOURNEY – In the shoes of refugees” – Creating opportu-nities for young Europeans to learn about forced migration through online simulation of refugee journeys and routes, funded by the EU with 189,300 Euros.
- Decrypting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for everyday European youths – facilitating knowledge, network, tools, actions, & familiarization funded by the EU with 60,000 Euros.
- Girls Choose – Building a grassroots and gender sensitive Sexual and Reproductive health Rights and HIV and services strategy for periphery and marginalized communities in Masvingo, Zimbabwe, funded by CISU Denmark with 67,300 Euros.
- Facilitating inclusive and responsive youth policy development in Samegrelo Region of Georgia funded by CISU Denmark with 64,200 Euros.
- Protecting Our Planet funded by the EU with 39,430
- Climate Ambassadors funded by the EU with 41,350
- Hvordan lykkes man med små impact indsatser i marginaliseret samfund / kontekster? En model, funded by CISU with 3,750 Euros.
- Creating structures for rural youth leader’s mobilization, capacitating, and mentoring for more effective execution of their policy making and development roles within the Uganda Local Government system – a pilot in Yumbe and Mayuge districts funded by CISU with 67,500 Euros.
These projects will run across several partnerships and countries including – Denmark, Uganda, Norway, Latvia, Lithuania, Zimbabwe, Georgia, Ghana, Sweden, Greece, Turkey, Hungary.
Read more about the different projects on our website here: https://civilconnections.org/projects/
- We have been humbled by member support and followers:
The year 2021 has also given us hope in a more personal, concrete way — many people have become Civil Connections members and follow our work across our different platforms. Our content visibility and click rates tell us that an average, 800 people are following what we post on Facebook every 48 hours, while we have this at about 500 on LinkedIn. Well, this is not much compared to bigger organizations, but for us this engagement is much more that moral support, it says to us that what we are doing is relevant. If you have not come into our network, take the chance to join the conversations and engagements below:
On Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/civilconnections
On Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/civilconnectionscf/
What we will concentrate on in 2022:
On top of the projects that will run into 2022 and of course new ones we will fundraise, we have several programs/activities we will start in 2022 and on. These are below:
- A Community House in Mayuge – Uganda:
Andrew (Daily Leader) and his wife Stine own a house in Mayuge in Uganda and they want to turn this into a community house for civil society groups and actors to have a place to call their workspace. It will both be a shared workspace as well as an incubator where ideas are supported to grow. This will also have services that are commonly not accessed by young people – especially schools. These first ideas are:
- A community library with the national school’s syllabus & other context aware materials in it.
- A computer center where youngsters can access computers, internet, and ICT training.
- Grassroots Community Grant program (GCGP):
To support our ambition to create robust communities at the grassroots and to remain true to this, we in Civil Connections are starting a Small Grants program where we will award small grants of between 1.000 DKK and 10.000 DKK (150 and 1,500 USD) to causes, projects, actors, organizations, ideas that our grants committee will deem impactful at the grassroots. To build this grant program we are saving up 30% of all our administration portions across the different projects and incomes we gain, to distribute these further down the value chain. Our ambition is to increase this gradually up to 50% of all our administration budgets over the years. The first wave of grants will start in the spring of 2022 and will be mainly identified side by side with our current projects. The pioneer grants committee will be our current Executive Board until the need arises to establish a new one.
- Podcasts as a way of telling the grassroots story & engaging our followers in what we do:
Over the most of 2021 we have gained great experience from running the Coming to the Nordics Podcast, which has brought good listenership from varied audiences in our network. We have now decided to continue recording stories of willing migrants and building a stronger – more grounded narrative around integration – with the people we debate about having a voice in this debate.
We will also soon start another podcast – “Development from the Grassroots” – where we will take talks with different grassroots civil society actors globally on how to make development more responsive to the needs of the people, we go out to develop.
- Borrow our staff/experts, program:
It is as straight forward as it sounds, get expert support from our staff for free.
Part of our community/sector give back and social sustainability is that our staff must by contract volunteer 20% of their salaried time to support another entity we have found needing such support. For this to count, such an entity needs to apply to Civil Connections or recommended by one of our staff, and then a decision taken by our Board on how and who of our team supports them. The entity can also suggest who they see fitting such a role by matching themselves with the profiles of our experts.
- Civil Connections Apparels – new income sources towards building robust communities:
We have between October and November 2021 designed and tested a line of apparels – mainly T-shirts, sweaters, and hoodies, and we have gotten really good feedback from several members about both the quality and values behind these. They are high-quality organic garments, that come with free membership to Civil Connections, and the membership fees will be directly linked to the Grassroots Community Grant program (GCGP) above as a commitment to building robust communities.
Our future aspiration – to stabilize Civil Connections as a model, not just an NGO:
What we want to achieve in not just results but a way of building others and local grassroots communities to be in charge of their own development, on their own terms, in a robust way. And yes, we have been asked what ‘Robust’ means several times, for us it simply means that someone no matter the resource they have is in charge of their decisions and aspirations at all times. That they know that even when they do not have resources and have to depend on support from other people, then it is a sacrifice/compromise they do with clear awareness. And that they do not lose their agency to aspire – their aspirations need to be kept alive.
So, as we say, we are striving to reveal to all other actors that when you meet people where they are – for us especially rural marginalized contexts and look them in the eyes and ask them for what works for them, and honest believe in them, you have a higher chance of not only paving way for their aspirations and agency, but also for co-creating change together with them than bringing the change to them. The earlier (co-creating with them) is for us the more sustainable one – and it is the foundation of creating not just developing communities but equal communities both locally, but also across boundaries, especially in closing the power gaps between funders and local marginalized communities.
We hope that you join us on our journey in 2022 – as we aspire to build robust communities.
Andrew Julius Bende