Shifting the power: Forging a new path for community-owned change

By Global Fund for Children | June 6, 2024 | Asia | Freedom from Violence & Exploitation

Editor’s note: This blog post has been written by Kulsoom Khan, Senior Regional Co-Director for Asia and Rituu B Nanda, Participatory Program Advisor, South Asia.

To address the root causes of problems facing children and youth, GFC grassroots partners in the ARC initiative are learning how to listen to each other, themselves, and their communities.

Global Fund for Children’s Addressing Root Causes (ARC) initiative emerged from a 2019 – 2023 GFC initiative addressing trafficking and child labor in India. Over the course of the initiative, it had become increasingly clear that focusing on the issues that are visible (such as children being out of school) does not solve the root causes (why the children are out of school) or lead to lasting change. Communities, with intimate knowledge of the root causes, are best placed to address them.

Supported by WE Trust and Seamont Foundation, ARC is currently centered on enabling stronger community- and youth-led action in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal. In the past, the ARC partners have worked on a variety of child-focused issues, often in line with the priorities of funders or their own organizational goals. Now the community, including children and youth, will decide what direction these partners take. This is community-owned action in practice.

ARC uses SALT (Stimulate, Appreciate, Listen, Learn, Team, and Transfer) and CLCP (Community Life Competence Process) as frameworks to bring together GFC partners and the communities in which they work. SALT develops facilitation skills through an appreciative and listening mindset. CLCP builds collective leadership in organizations and communities. The CLCP approach encourages organizations and communities to take ownership of the challenges they face and to design, implement, and assess a response to these challenges. As organizations experience this mindset shift themselves, they are increasingly prepared to guide communities to experience the same shift.

ARC partners participating in a group activity. © Global Fund for Children

In November 2023, the GFC Asia team came together with 12 individuals from six ARC partner organizations to begin applying CLCP as a way to create opportunities for community participation in program design and evaluation. Participants representing diverse age groups, genders, regions, and ethnicities convened to develop a common dream, assess the dream, and craft an action plan for adapting their programs and engaging in self-assessment and reflection.

During the two-day meeting, the ARC group went through the first four steps of CLCP, with GFC as the facilitator.

Step one: Who are we?

SALT conversations created space for meaningful exchanges as the group members unlocked each other’s strengths.

Step two: What is our cohort dream?

Through navigating and negotiating, the partners wove a group dream of empowered, entrepreneurial, and empathetic communities that have basic rights and equity, with a focus on children. By doing this together, they were able to identify common ground to shape a future for the cohort, while understanding different perspectives. Creativity flourished as they manifested their dreams in drawings, songs, poems, and even a board game.

“When we come together for the knowledge we share,
Appreciating others with love and care,
Learning and listening, for we are not alone,
Together we march towards one shared goal!
– Mariam, Grow Your Reader, Bangladesh

Step three: Identifying practices and self-assessment

Identifying practices to reach the cohort dream proved challenging because the partners had previously approached model practices from individual organizational perspectives rather than as a cohort. Self-assessment sparked extensive dialogue, with younger colleagues asserting their agency and experienced members stepping back. At the same time, younger colleagues were eager to learn from the experience of those who had walked before them. This exchange of wisdom between multiple generations emphasized the importance of valuing everyone’s contribution, and the GFC partners and community members persevered through these discussions to articulate the practices for the ARC team.

Step four: Action plan

The ARC team exhibited a strong desire to collaborate. After careful deliberation on action plans, they concluded that their success hinged on the strength of their relationships – on building a close-knit group where members look out for each other. This care for each other continues to sustain the energy within the group, and engaging in SALT conversations and adopting an appreciative mindset are instrumental in fostering and strengthening these connections.

“Perhaps the most awe-inspiring part of the journey was witnessing the shift in mindset at the cohort level. Initially, our focus was on individual goals and aspirations. However, as the SALT approach unfolded its magic, a subtle transformation occurred. The once disparate group began to coalesce into a united community. The power of collective thinking emerged, breaking down barriers and fostering a sense of shared responsibility. The training didn’t just equip us with a set of skills; it cultivated a mindset that prioritizes collective well-being over individual success.” – Sadia Jafrin, Grow Your Reader, Bangladesh

Putting plans into action

In line with the action plan developed in November, cohort members have initiated several activities in 2024. Two members organized online listening and learning circles for the ARC group, fostering an environment of shared knowledge and understanding. Additionally, members have been engaging in SALT conversations, enhancing their connections within the cohort.

ARC partners participating in an activity.

Collective dream building activity at the ARC introductory convening in Dhaka, Bangladesh. © Global Fund for Children

These conversations and the shift in mindset they enable are having an impact on the internal structures of the partners and their ways of working. ARC partners are starting to redistribute power within their organizations, in recognition that everyone in the organization has the ability – and the responsibility – to be a leader.

ARC partners have also started to use the methods they have learned to engage with the communities in which they work. GFC began this journey by asking the cohort to express their dreams, and the partners are now comfortable passing the baton and asking communities about theirs. Not only that, but they are able to truly listen to community members, including youth and children, and begin to identify how grassroots organizations can best support the communities’ aspirations going forward.

There is a lot of discussion in philanthropic and development circles about community-led change and shifting the power to locally led organizations and to communities. The ARC initiative is taking this from theory to action in an effort to truly address the root causes of challenges facing children and youth.

Header Photo: GFC’s Visit to Bangladesh Rural Economic Development (BRED) Conducting the Baseline Assessment on their Community-led Change Approach. © GFC

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Global Fund for Children (GFC) UK Trust, created in 2006, is a UK registered charity (UK charity number 1119544). We work to generate vital income, create new fundraising opportunities, and raise awareness of the invaluable work of GFC’s grassroots grantees. Our aim is to extend the reach of GFC in the United Kingdom, Europe, and beyond.

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