The ansa dem dae wit we Strategic Planning and Organizational Development the Federation-Way, Sierra Leone

As SDI entered its new Strategic Planning period (2018-2022) it made a commitment to institutional strengthening of the network. This was a demand of the SDI Council of Federations who noted the need to strengthen the federation and support-NGO partnership/alliance in each country in order to take on new opportunities and meet the challenge of achieving scale and sustainability.

SDI is convinced that peer-to-peer exchange remains the strongest vehicle for effective learning and knowledge production among the urban poor. To strengthen our network and our institutional capacity, we anchored a program of action to this treasured SDI ritual. With critical support from long-term donor partners Sida and Ford Foundation, SDI commenced this work at the beginning of the year. During the course of 2018, peer-to-peer exchanges to each of SDI's mature affiliates will be undertaken by teams of federation leaders, affiliate support professionals, and the SDI secretariat. The purpose of the exchanges is to understand the present institutional capacity of the local alliance and determine priorities for support from the SDI network over the next 5 years. These collaborative and conversational assessments will be reviewed each year to ensure they are adapted as necessary. We began the process in Zambia and continued to Malawi, Ghana and Uganda. Last week a team from South Africa kick-started the process in Sierra Leone.

The visiting team included two community leaders from the South African SDI Alliance in Cape Town. Thozama Nomnga from the Federation of the Urban Poor (FEDUP) and Nkokheli Ncambele from the Informal Settlements Network (ISN). They were accompanied by the Director of their support-NGO CORC, Charlton Ziervogel and Projects Director, Moegsien Hendricks. From the Secretariat, Director of LME Skye Dobson accompanied the delegation.

Both Sida and Ford Foundation's BUILD prorgramme recognize the critical importance of long-term core support to programs of action driven by community networks. In an era of increasingly projectized donor support, SDI sincerely appreciates this enlightened support for meaningful organizational development of poor people's networks driving a long-term struggle for transformative development.

During the course of the exchange the team visited the federation's office in Dwarzark settlement and proceeded to communities in Colbot, Susan's Bay, and Cockle Bay settlements - chosen to represent Freetown's eastern, western, and central slums. From the federation's city-wide slum profiling, we know the rich history of these settlements as told by residents:

Colbot [or culvert] "was found by a farmer who inherited the land from his grandparents who used the land for rice farming 1950- 1977. After the Hitler war he decided to bank the water and stay close o his farm because of theft to his farm tools. The community had it named when the Germans came to prepare a dumping site (Burmeh) for the city but they later realized that there was a heavy flow of water from the hill side to the sea which disturbed their work therefore they decided to construct a drainage system in a form of a Colbot which will have to control the water to the sea and hence the name of the community."

Susan's Bay "was named after a white man's wife who was called Susan. During the repatriation of free slaves from Europe, the white man who accompanied the slaves had his own wife called Susan. They settled along the coastal and named the settlement Susan's bay. Later other people began to settle in the community as coastal traders."

Cockle Bay "came to being as a result of the 11 years civil war. People were displaced, they could not afford expensive rents and hence decided to find elsewhere along the creek to reclaim the land and settle. They began to catch cockle from the creek and eventually the community became renowned for such produce. Because of that activity the community was named Cockle Bay in 1998."

In each community, the tireless federation chairman Yirah Contay introduced the visitors and where necessary secured sachets of cold water for them to place on the back of their necks so as not to expire in the sweltering heat! In each community the Sierra Leone and South African federation members shared stories about how and why they save, profile, and organize to make improvements in their settlements. The South Africans were impressed by the Sierra Leone federation's ability to stop forced evictions, to complete city-wide profiling, to tackle Disaster Risk Reduction - including playing a central role in implementation of a disaster mitigation plan for this year’s rainy season across highly disaster prone slums - a plan that includes micro-upgrading projects.

The SA community leaders encouraged the Sierra Leone federation to build strong women leadership and to ensure the savings groups come together to discuss all issues of importance to slum dwellers (not limit themselves to discussing savings only) and come up with ideas for making improvements in their community and city that are accompanied by action plans and budgets. While the Freetown leaders imagined Cape Town to be highly advanced in terms of development, the South African team explained that it was captivated by the charm of Freetown, noting how commercial and residential structures were integrated in highly functional and appealing ways - designed from below rather than above. They marveled at the varied design of structures and the entrepreneurship all around them in the settlements.

The next day FEDURP leadership, CODOHSAPA staff and the SDI visitors got to work plotting out a "Theory of Change" in order to anchor the Sierra Leone alliance to develop a new Strategic Plan since their last has expired. This offered the perfect opportunity to reflect on matters of institutional strengthening with the Sierra Leone alliance. It was agreed that a process of reflection and brainstorming by the federation should serve as the foundation for the plan and that a Theory of Change and Strategic Plan are just fancy NGO words for explaining "what we do" and "why we do it". It was noted that if we can explain that clearly, we can mobilize more communities, more partners, and more resources. The process began with the team trying to list all the things the federation does. The brainstorming produced a host of items which were later grouped together to summarize the key day-to-day work of the federation.

The picture below may not be a great advertisement for the efficacy of post-it notes in humid climates, but it certainly is a testament to the hard work of the full Sierra Leone team in describing what they do.

Next the difficult part. Why do we do what we do? What is the change we seek to make? This question always provokes fascinating personal and organizational discussions and stories among federation members. In NGO language these are the outcomes our work produces. For community leaders its is a matter of reflecting on the fact that their day-to-day work aims to produce change and trying to articulate that change clearly.

Here the South Africans learned the Sierra Leone members save in order to "keep their secrets". If you don't have savings, "you have to run around telling everyone your problems so they give you money." FEDURP says that savings is therefore a strategy for protecting and enhancing the dignity of the urban poor.

Nkokheli explained how savings groups build trust in poor communities and how he made the shift from believing in politics, to believing in unions, to believing in federations. In his experience federations look out for the community, but the politicians and union leaders look out for themselves. He concluded that savings are a strategy for building a poor people's movement that is concerned with improving conditions in slum communities.

Yirah had everyone captivated by a story of the federation's effort to fight eviction. When the city, under a previous administration announced it would evict a selection of slum communities Yirah secured airtime on a local radio station and shared all of the information on the slums they had gathered. He cited the number of households, women, children and how long the people had stayed there. He spoke of the community characteristics and livelihoods. He said that this was the evidence from the community about why they shouldn't be evicted and government should offer their counter evidence if they wished to proceed with the eviction. The public was outraged and mocked the government for having no such information. The evictions did not take place and it was clear from this example that federation data is power when communities use it to make a case for securing the tenure of communities.

On day three, basic scales of 1-10 were shown and the community and NGO were asked to rate their achievements to date in terms of the changes articulated (ie. outcome level changes). We were clear the scores themselves don't matter, but the discussions do. Each member gave a score and then explained their choice. The explanations and debates over scores reveal the areas of focus required to move up the scale.

For example, as noted by Andrew with relation to savings change, “I give us a 4 right now because I think we can grow the federation much more if we explain why people should save and then they can understand it’s not just about short term benefits.” Given the scale of profiling and the influence it has had on city and community practice, the team gave themselves a high score on Know Your City. To get a higher score, as Francis noted, the alliance needs to ensure this translates to concrete policy influence and more upgrading that improves the lives of people. In the next period, the team agreed, they will concentrate on supporting communities to generate consensus on upgrading priorities based on the data and to begin community planning. They agreed that holding these discussions in the savings groups networks will support KYC and saving changes/outcomes.

On day three, the team split in two. The federation leadership continued to plot out the “why” for upgrading, disaster risk reduction, and livelihoods. The NGO staff and Secretariat met to undertake an NGO assessment of internal controls, governance, and support required. In the afternoon the teams came back together and shared their conclusions. The Sierra Leone Federation leadership said they will repeat the process of brainstorming the "what" and "why" with all the saving group networks to ensure maximum participation and buy-in from the entire FEDURP network and then the leaders and the NGO will compile into final TOC and Strategic Plan.

Day three also saw the federation chairperson take the visitors and Sierra Leone alliance leadership to meet with Freetown's new mayor, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr. The Mayor and federation have agreed to work together to implement the Mayor's ambitious 4-year plan. The Mayor has informed the Freetown City Council (FCC) that she "has committed to working neighborhood by neighborhood to develop locally driven transformation plans." The federation is represented in a number of working groups chaired by the Mayor to develop sectoral plans for this work. This humble and feisty Mayor has hit the ground running and the federation is clearly keeping pace. Moving forward, the team encouraged FEDURP to draw on the experience of peer federations in the SDI network to maximize the opportunities for inclusive upgrading and transformation of Freetown. Top of the list at present are experiences with re-blocking to guide Kroo Bay upgrade (which we suggest take place after enumeration to be conducted by federation) and relocation projects (to guide the city's efforts to clear areas vulnerable to mudslides and support flood management.) South African, Indian and Kenyan federations will be useful in this respect.

To conclude the exchange, all participants had dinner with the CODOHSAPA Board of Directors to share reflections from the previous days. During the dinner, all parties expressed a commitment to continue the process of institutional strengthening of the alliance as well as development and implementation of the alliance's new strategic plan.

SDI's peer-to-peer exchange-led organizational strengthening and strategic planning approach build upon long-standing community development educational philosophy. The visits by teams of federation leaders, NGOs and secretariat staff to each affiliate seek not simply to transfer knowledge, but to create the possibility for the production of knowledge. On each visit it is very clear that teaching and learning are reciprocal and the end result is the strengthening of collective capacity of the wider SDI network. As Francis reflected at the conclusion of Day One, "we are always given expensive consultants to help us with planning, but it is clear from this exercise that we have the answers within us." As one would say in krio, "the ansa dem dae wit we"!

The slogans, songs and rituals of SDI federations immediately connect communities from across the globe who have never met each other and enable them to move rapidly from introductions to collaborative strategy refection and development by peers. This is the remarkable beauty of strategic planning and organizational development done the federation-way.

Prepared by Skye Dobson


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