Introducing the World Connect Context and Perspectives Blog
Welcome to the new World Connect blog! Here, we intend to keep you updated on our efforts to advance health, education, ecology, and economic potential in partnership with communities in the Global South. World Connect projects feature locally developed responses and solutions to local priority problems, an important feature that distinguishes our work from many others. We believe in communities’ capacity to improve on their own terms. What we endeavor to do in this blog is to paint in a bit greater depth the social and cultural context in which our projects unfold, to offer another platform for our supporters to hear voices from the field, and to offer our perspectives on the workings and potential of the World Connect model for supporting locally-led development.
The World Connect approach
We pride ourselves on our expansive portfolio of grassroots projects that place communities in the driver’s seat of their own development. We do much of our work in collaboration with Peace Corps Volunteers or other established intermediary partners who live and work at length in communities around the world, learning about the real day-to-day challenges that people face and building rapport with local families, leaders, and grassroots organizations. Their level of embeddedness is uncommon in the portfolio of most international development organizations, and we take pride in the way these unique, intermediary partnerships have led us to grassroots organizations and associations, local champions and leaders, and authentically local projects around the world.
Rather than designing projects and solutions in our home office and exporting them around the world, we provide our local partners a platform to discuss and prioritize their own challenges, and help them to identify, cultivate, and tap the full potential of already existing knowledge, networks and capacities. When communities mobilize their knowledge and resources on their own terms, they are better in position to advance their own collective interests, and create change they themselves want to see.
One of the core tenets of World Connect’s approach is to think, talk, and plan for sustainability from the outset. No matter how immediate the needs and priorities are, and they are often quite urgent, every project is developed and managed with sustainability in mind. Our eyes are constantly scanning the horizon as we consider future obstacles, but more importantly future potential, of the local partners with whom we work.
Grassroots projects have greater impact
It needs to be said out loud: there is failure in aid and development. There’s failure in business and the private sector too, and in politics and the public sector. And failure isn’t always a bad thing! It can be learned from, built upon, and inform future success. Unfortunately, much of the failure in international development is institutional.
The manner in which the aid industry operates, where power and resources are concentrated and only those who know how to “play the game” can access it, is entrenched and, simply put, cost-ineffective. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, less than 1% of the $150B or so in foreign aid spent annually goes directly into the hands of local leaders. Instead, money is spent via foreign contractors and subcontractors, not anywhere near enough is accomplished for the amount spent, important local voices are ignored, local skills and capacities left idle, and citizens are not given a fair opportunity to deploy their talent and knowledge in service of the development of their own communities.
World Connect envisions development differently. We channel our own aid spending, however modest, directly to local communities and local actors in service of their own ideas, strategies, and priorities. We have a strong track record of accountability and fiscal responsibility, we offer responsive project management and guidance, and we trust local leaders to lead. It works, and it’s significantly more cost-effective. We’re not naive to challenges and some World Connect projects do fail. We’ll write about those here, too. But the great thing about doing development from the bottom up is that the lessons learned, even from failure, are ultimately owned by communities and our local partners, and those lessons inform their future efforts and projects. We learn from them, too, how to be better partners, how to truly empower and activate grassroots leadership, how to network our partners for knowledge sharing, good practice, and to identify greater resources. More than 90% of projects we support accomplish most or all of their goals. 89% of our partners felt they had the necessary programmatic support to realize their projects, and 94% of our partners said they would work with us again on future projects! This is a record of which we are quite proud!
To close, we want to leave you with an example, so that you can understand practically how World Connect works. The following is the story of some of our key partners in Ecuador, with whom we have cultivated a strong partnership over the last several years.
Empowering Indigenous Women in Southern Ecuador
Kallpa Warmi (meaning “power of women” in the local Quechuan language) is an indigenous women’s cooperative in southern Ecuador that formed in 2014 to bring local female artisans together to advance their social and economic interests. The women of Kallpa Warmi traditionally fashioned purses, clothing, keepsakes, and dolls from recycled materials discovered in their village, but also catered local events and dabbled in other income-generating activities. With the support of a Peace Corps Volunteer serving nearby, the original team of two dozen indigenous women applied for and received a small grant of $500 from World Connect to expand their numbers and their work. After one year, their efforts began to pay off. Kallpa Warmi received regional publicity and interest as far away as the Ecuadorian capital, Quito. Sales increased. As part of their World Connect project, Kallpa Warmi forged a collaboration with an Ecuadorian agency seeking to develop and showcase the country’s native talent, with the goal of bringing their operation to the Internet. At this stage, World Connect also stepped in with additional growth capital of $2,800 to allow the group to expand its culinary business. Within three months, the women of Kallpa Warmi earned back the value of financial support World Connect provided, demonstrating their self-sustaining, autonomous, and viable operation. In about two years, Kallpa Warmi has grown to be a locally respected female cooperative business whose ranks include 45 motivated entrepreneurs, and they are in the process of opening two locations to sell traditional Ecuadorian food as well as their trademark crafts.