Sunday, March 27, 2011

Guest Feature: Ensuring Sustainable Social Change in the Global Community

By Sharie A. Blanton
Guest Contributor, Gulf Coast Philanthropy

Sharie Blanton working with an entrepreneur collecting
honey for export in Manica Province, Mozambique
During my seven years working in eight countries across southern Africa with Africare, I know my efforts resulted in a new and empowered class of African development professionals working with international credentials today. Projects I managed produced the intended results: refugees were eventually repatriated with new income generating skills and a solid basic primary education. Farmers are still growing improved varieties of maize and orange fleshy sweet potatoes, and mothers have passed on new recipes to their daughters on how to make nutritiously enriched porridge using locally sourced products. So now what?

When I officially began my professional career working in international development in 1997, the common philosophy guiding me and my freshly hatched college graduate colleagues was how we were working with the goal of building local capacity as a way to “work ourselves out of a job”. Well that is exactly what I did and now thirteen years after making this pledge I have transitioned to embrace a new mission statement. 

Building on the past five years of working with dozens of local nonprofits in Miami, I was interested in building on my lessons learned in Africa to develop new solutions based on the following:

1) technology that did not exist a short ten years ago; 
2) technological contributions to the quickly evolving field of collaboration; and
3) impressive opportunities to develop new social enterprises as a way to ultimately provide viable, funded local solutions to local problems. 

The sweet face of one of the many children
who benefitted from enriched porridge in
the Model Families Program in
Manica Province, Mozambique

This is the next wave of global philanthropy: self-inspired solutions to local problems which require culturally competent, appropriate technology. While hopefully the giants of global philanthropy like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will remain active for a long time to come, this movement will further democratize global philanthropy by supporting hyper-local efforts.  As donors and technical assistance consultants in the field, we must provide and fund that middle step between the project and the international donor to help ensure local solutions to project success, sustainability and onward marketing. 

Transitioning the skills, knowledge and successes that I developed during community meetings under trees, in refugee camps and with Ambassadors and Heads of States to an equally exciting and rewarding career back in the United States has become an insightful journey in itself. I now work in Miami with community-based organizations, and each day I find far more similarities to my work in Africa than I expected - but in a surprisingly different way. In an opposite way, actually. While we worked hard to ensure accountability, sustainability and results were at the foundation of all of our development programs with Africare, these concepts are largely absent from the nonprofit and donor sectors in my new hometown. Funding tends to follow historic relationships and largely ignores deep community impact and social change. These sorts of projects would not have the luxury of continuing in Africa. Without demonstrated impact-based results, ongoing project funding would not be renewed. 

Bringing this international development and global philanthropy perspective to U.S.-based community development has been exciting. Just this week I discussed a related concept with the University of Miami, specifically the implementation of the community health worker model based on Project Medishare’s success in Haiti. This model would allow for more effective outreach in Miami around school health initiatives. Best practices are abundant in global philanthropy, which can equally be applied as domestic solutions. Global after all does not mean just “them”. It means “us”. All of us. 

Sharie A. Blanton is Managing Director of Conscious Connections LLC in Miami, Florida.  She provides strategic advisory consulting to local and international nonprofits and emerging social enterprises.  Ms. Blanton holds degrees in Sociology and African Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  You can follow her and Conscious Connections on twitter @consciousmiami.  

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