Film 4: Core Philosophy:
THP is keen to ensure that the core philosophy of how it implements the Epicenter Strategy is clearly communicated and transferred to its implementing partners. The best way to achieve this is through face-to-face interaction with THP staff who embody the culture daily and by spending time at THP Epicenters in person to see them in action. To complement this however, this toolkit aims to capture, by video and in text, some of the core elements of the culture and philosophy behind how the Epicenter Strategy should be implemented. THP’s Vice President for Africa summarized the essential elements of the Epicenter approach in three ways:
- Start with Women: Empowering women as key change agents
- Mobilize Everyone: Mobilizing clusters of rural communities for self-reliant action
- Engage Government: Forging effective partnerships with local Government
2.1 Start with Women
The Epicenter Strategy is summarized in the program brochure as Gender-Focused, Community-Led Development in Rural Africa and has women’s empowerment at the core of its philosophy. The majority of animators are women, as they are better able to reach other women with the key messages of the strategy. As well as the Women’s Empowerment Program itself, the Microfinance, HIV and Food Security programs have a strong focus on women participants and the particular issues faced by rural women.
When women are empowered, agricultural production increases; birth rates, childhood malnutrition and child mortality are reduced; more children go to school, including girls; and all of society benefits.
Mainstreaming of Other Disadvantaged Groups
The Epicenter Strategy also seeks to address the challenges faced by other disadvantaged groups in society. This might include the disabled, people living with HIV/AIDS or the youth. These groups should be mainstreamed into Epicenter Strategy activities where appropriated. This could, for example, mean setting a target that a certain percentage of those trained in good agricultural practices are disabled.
2.2 Mobilize Everyone
Vision, Commitment and Action Workshops
A Vision, Commitment and Action workshop emphasizes the critical importance of leadership, creates a clear vision of the future, and generates commitment and action at the individual and community level to achieve the eradication of hunger and poverty on a sustainable basis.
Change of mindset, stimulated by the Vision, Commitment and Action (VCA) workshops, is the first and most important step to successfully mobilizing the community to take charge of their own development.
The Epicenter Strategy has five principles for ending hunger and poverty:
- Change of mindset – means taking the community from the belief that hunger and poverty will always be part of their lives, to the belief that hunger and poverty can be ended and that the community themselves are the ones who have the power to achieve this.
- Good Leadership – Emphasizes the need for good leadership, including from Traditional Local Leaders in achieving and end to hunger and poverty.
- Vision – The community must be able to visualize what an end to hunger and poverty would look like for them.
- Commitment – The community must be committed to achieving this vision and are encouraged to make a public declaration as such.
- Action – The community must work hard with their own effort to achieve this vision and take tangible actions.
The Epicenter approach targets mindset change in all areas of life that are perpetuating cycles of hunger and poverty or holding back development.
“In this area, people used to use their spare money to buy beer. The VCA workshops
changed people’s mindsets, so now people use spare money to buy farm inputs.”
Abridged Partner View, shared at Champiti Epicenter, Malawi
The first round of VCA workshops are conducted by SSs and EPOs directly. Workshop are conducted intensively in the early stages of implementation, with each village in the Epicenter community covered. VCA workshops continue throughout the life of the Epicenter.
“Change of mindset is a long process, it doesn’t happen overnight.”
Head of Programs
After the initial stages, EPOs continue to conduct the workshops. Then, once VCA animators have been trained, they conduct the workshops themselves in their communities until the Epicenter reaches self-reliance.
In many communities where Epicenter’s are established, there has been a history of NGO interventions. The majority of these NGOs provide some form of direct hand-out or economic incentives for community members to participate in their development activities. The Epicenter Strategy is different in the sense that it does not give handouts or incentives, it relies purely on the commitment of volunteers to their own community development. This has frequently been found to be a major challenge in implementation as community members are, initially at least, reluctant to participate without instant economic incentives.
It is crucial to set out clearly in the early phases of implementation that handouts will not be given, to ensure communities have the right expectations and participants have the right incentives. Careful selection of animators is also very important in this context.
“In the first few months there is a high turnover of volunteers (animators) when they realize they won’t receive handouts for doing their work”
Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation
The Epicenter Strategy takes a participatory approach to monitoring and evaluation (M&E). The core of this approach is to make the members of the community responsible for monitoring and evaluating their own development activities. This is done to build ownership of these activities and allow the community to judge for themselves the efficacy of the Epicenter strategy. Regular data is collected by trained M&E animators and is presented back to the community via the thematic area committees. The emphasis is on collecting and analyzing data that allows the community to be continuously learning how to better implement their development activities.
Participatory M&E is designed to recognize and include communities as important stakeholders in data collection and evaluation. It expands the notion of accountability to answer not only whether organizations are fulfilling the terms of the funding they receive, but also whether they are fulfilling the needs and goals of the communities they serve. Participatory M&E requires including community voices in monitoring and evaluation and building the capacity of community members to become active partners in this process.
2.3 Engage Government
Working with Local Government
Long-term sustainability is central to the Epicenter Strategy’s approach. Local Government officers are actively consulted and involved in the full range Epicenter activities, so that after the implementation period the Epicenter can continue conduct training courses and other development activities with support from the Government. A key aspect of the strategy is supporting the community in establishing effective partnerships with local Government and other organizations to ensure that services are available locally.
“One day, The Hunger Project will leave (the community), but the Government will always be there”
Head of Programs
(THP) partner with local Government and build the capacity of epicenter communities to negotiate effectively to ensure Government programs are effective and people are able to access resources that are rightfully theirs. Whereas before these communities were largely isolated from public services, now they are managing effective links with district resources to build skills, develop additional infrastructure and increase access to services. The epicenter communities are active members of civil society and remain committed to the fulfillment of ongoing and future needs.