Community-Driven Impact: Fueling A Localization Movement

Collage of people of all ages in Sub-Saharan Africa. The collage has a textured background and hand-drawn abstract lines.

Dr. Janet Surum, an African educational psychologist and researcher, wants to understand why some African students succeed in the classroom despite challenging conditions that set them up to struggle in school, especially on a continent where many young people have difficulty finding work. This led Dr. Surum to dedicate her work to exploring and promoting the factors that fortify academic resilience among students in underserved areas.

But her journey to conduct her research hasn't been easy. “As the sole breadwinner, I had to juggle between funding my research and taking care of my family's needs,” Surum says.

Janet's story and challenges are not surprising. More than 80% of locally led education researchers in Africa struggle with inadequate funding and only 3% of the world's research output is produced in Africa. It's a stark reality that hampers the progress of scholars and leaders like Dr. Surum, who are working to better support people in their own communities. These funding gaps also go beyond research, impacting locally led solutions at large.

In the face of this, we're seeing and fueling a growing shift in the philanthropic space toward solutions that are designed and implemented by local organizations and leaders closest to the work happening in their communities. From the successes of our local partners to our collaborations with other funders to elevate local solutions, we're encouraged by the progress that we saw on multiple fronts:

  • Our research funding consortium tripled to 12 institutional funders. Collectively, the consortium has mobilized more than $15 million in locally led education research funding, expanded the research portfolio to 14+ local research organizations and kickstarted a collaborative visioning process with 100+ researchers. Moving forward, we are excited to continue building on these successes, bringing on additional funders and galvanizing action towards supporting local research.
Shining Hope for Communities CEO Kennedy Odede speaks to community members who are sitting and standing around him. Their ages range from children to young people and older community members.
Photo Credit: SHOFCO
Community members sitting in a circle to hold an outdoor meeting under a tree.
Photo Credit: Firelight Foundation
  • The first phase of Assessment of Life Skills and Values's (ALiVE) initiative, aimed at creating the first African-led framework and toolkit for measuring socio-emotional learning, came to a close in 2023 with the inaugural Africa Social Emotional Learning conference in Nairobi, Kenya. The conference brought together more than 250 people, including senior government officials, researchers, teachers, funders and other stakeholders to move the program from the toolkit stage to the next phase of implementation and influencing curricula across six different countries in East Africa.
  • Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), a grassroots movement based in Nairobi, is not only leading the charge in developing a blueprint to transform urban poverty for Kenya and beyond, but it is also pushing the field to take a more localized approach. SHOFCO spearheaded the Global Alliance for Communities to elevate the voices and perspectives of leaders of color who demonstrate outsized impact but are systemically locked out of policymaking and funding opportunities.
  • Firelight Foundation joined forces with us to launch an initiative aimed at fostering development and youth resiliency in Kenya. Working with seven deeply embedded community-based organizations, the project started with a focus on community research and engagement to co-create a community-led plan for youth development. As we move to implementation, the collaborative cross-sharing fostered throughout the process will be important to ensure that the interventions are effective, sustainable and ultimately owned by the community.
  • The African Visionary Fund (AVFund) is unleashing breakthrough impact by driving resources to high-impact social impact organizations. They are tackling inequities and righting the power imbalances in philanthropy by offering unrestricted, unburdensome funding to African visionaries. In 2023, AVFund welcomed 12 new partners to their portfolio. These partners join AVFund's network of 24 portfolio partners across 10 African countries; these community-driven organizations are 100% African-founded, African-based and African-led.

The bottom line is that unleashing the full power and potential of a community and achieving real sustained change is possible when local organizations and leaders drive solutions. And, this much-needed shift is just beginning.

Adopting A Gender-Responsive Lens

Three Kenyan girls sitting at a table smiling with notebooks and pencils.
Photo Credit: Africa Visionary Fund and Bless a Child Foundation

Based on our experiences and learnings pulled from conversations with our partners and local communities, we adopted a gender-responsive lens in our investment strategy to be more intentional about advancing equitable outcomes for young girls and women. This decision was a direct result of our learning and adaptation practices, which help us stay flexible and agile in adjusting our approach based on what emerges.

In parallel, we investigated gender frameworks that help drive our impact. Recognizing that we did not need to reinvent the wheel, we leveraged a framework by our peers at the Stanford Center for Gender Equity supported by Echidna Giving and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as a base. We sought feedback from our partners on the framework and made adaptations based on what we heard and what made sense for our own work.

As part of our 2023 learning process, we dove deep into understanding the challenges faced by young girls in urban and rural areas who are triply burdened by their roles as caretakers, income providers and community members. We also engaged with our portfolio organizations to learn how they incorporate a gender equity lens throughout their work, from program design to implementation. This has led us to opportunities like co-funding Shujaaz Inc. and MTV Staying Alive Foundation to actively evaluate the power of media in shifting gender-related norms and behaviors.

While we have made substantial progress, we are excited about the work ahead. At the same time, we also recognize that being responsive to gender equity is a first step of a long journey to change entrenched norms and behaviors toward girls and women.

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