Let Communities Decide Themselves

Dalia Association recently implemented an innovative community-led resource distribution model called “The Village Decides” that we hope will develop into a permanent grantmaking program. We piloted the methodology in Saffa, an agricultural village 18 kilometers west of Ramallah in the West Bank. Saffa, about 9,700 dunums is size, is home to about 4,500 people. Over the course of several visits, we met with village officials and local groups to gather information about the community’s priorities, capabilities, and aspirations. Villagers realized that Dalia Association isn’t rich and doesn’t have an agenda to impose upon them, but rather that we are sincerely interested in finding ways to support their development as they define it. Saffa Image 2 The idea of the pilot was to empower village residents to decide themselves how to allocate $12,000 among their local community organizations. Our objectives were to: • Empower village residents to decide how resources are used on their behalf, by piloting an innovative, transparent, replicable process for community-based resource distribution; • Enhance critical thinking among village residents by helping them to evaluate organizations and activities according to their own criteria (and not blindly following family or political loyalty); • Pressure community organizations to be accountable and responsive to their own constituents rather than to “outside” donors; • Demonstrate responsibility and professionalism of local activism in order to encourage local philanthropy, Diaspora philanthropy, and volunteerism; • Test and evaluate the methodology so it can be refined and institutionalized, and expanded to other target groups/sectors; • Fund highly valued village organizations through small, unrestricted grants; • Raise awareness about Dalia Association and the many ways that Palestinians can get involved in supporting Palestinian-led social change and sustainable development. For this pilot, we did not explain the methodology in advance, out of concern that it would create too much lobbying and internal conflict. Instead, using local networks like elected officials, activists, and local groups, we issued invitations for all residents to attend an open meeting to discuss community priorities. Only July 5, 2008, thirty-eight people attended the meeting and were told that they would be deciding which four local Saffa community organizations would be funded. Subsequently, they would be allocating $12,000 among those four organizations. Several attendees expressed discomfort with the process. Some preferred we give a block grant to the village council to be distributed later, others suspected the audience ability to decide for the village as a whole, four people withdrawn opposing the process. We explained several times what Dalia Association means by “letting the people decide” and most residents said it was an excellent idea, though it was new and not easy for them to get used to quickly. One member of the village council took initiative to point out to attendees that they should transcend their family and political loyalties and vote based on what they really thought was best for the village as a whole. All Saffa community groups were given 10 minutes to present their past work and future goals and to answer questions from their neighbors. One of the eight existing community groups chose not to take part. Some observers were disappointed with the lack of inspiration in the groups’ plans, but this may have partly been a function of the small amount of money being distributed, the lack of planning time, or the result of years of following donors’ priorities. Every resident in attendance voted for the four community groups they wanted to be funded. Not surprisingly, organizations that were deemed eligible for funding were more supportive of the process than those who did not earn enough of their neighbors’ votes. The organizations chosen included the Saffa Sports Club, the Farmers’ Committee, Morooj Cultural Center, and the Saffa Women’s Committee. Then, the $12,000 was divided by the number of attendees who wanted to participate – 34 people . Each one controlled an equal sum of $353. By written ballot, each attendee allocated their $353 among the four eligible organizations. They could allocate to one, some or all organizations in any amount. The ballots were opened transparently in front of the audience later on and the grant amounts ranged from $1,768 USD to $3,600 USD. In the first post-funding meeting with grantees, the atmosphere was extremely positive. Observers said the participants were much more comfortable with and excited about the methodology and showed energy to use funds granted by their neighbors in new and meaningful ways. For the next several months, we are meeting as much as possible with grantees to help them think through their budgets, procurement, planning, community engagement, and evaluation. Dalia Association sees the grant as an entry point into a long-term relationship with these organizations and with Saffa village. Even though we are unlikely to make grants in this village again soon, our intimate knowledge of the village’s interests and capacities will help us to reach out to them when we hear about funding opportunities, capacity building, networks, or other local or international resources that can help them further their work. In about 6 months, we’ll hold a “report-back” so that recipient groups can tell their neighbors how they spent the funds and with what results. This makes the grantees accountable back to the local community, rather than to external donors. Further, it brings the entire process into the public where it can be scrutinized. We have also prepare a documentary using footage we took at all phases of the project to inform and inspire others around the world who are interested empowering grassroots communities to make their own funding allocation decisions. (Let us know if you’d like information about how to see the documentary.) Concurrently, we are in the process of piloting two other community-based resource distribution models: 1) “Women Supporting Women” is a peer-review and peer monitored grantmaking program for small women’s organizations, and 2) “Crafting Our Own Solutions” is an online competition that encourages innovation and support for youth’s social change ideas.
SaffaWomensReport1.pdf1.09 MB
SaffaWomensReport2.pdf225.68 KB