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Spark's mission is to catalyze community action. We live in a world where billions of people cannot meet basic needs despite billions of dollars spent to assist them. An uncomfortably large percentage of this funding goes to foreign 'experts' to assess local needs and design solutions. We are working to shift resources to fuel community-led innovation in a systematic and scalable way. The goal is not new; many foundations aspire to give small grants effectively. We are figuring out how to, and passionately proving it can be done.
About Spark MicroGrants
Three elements distinguish our approach from other efforts such as microfinance or traditional small grants programs.
- Community need:We fund public sector projects for which a loan could not be repaid.
- Proactive engagement: Similar to many microfinance efforts, we proactively reach out to communities who lack the means and awareness to seek resources.
- Consensus and refinement: We work with local facilitators (often university students or NGO leaders) with deep connections to impoverished communities. With our guidance, the facilitator organizes a series of meetings where the community develops a project. We arrange for comments on each proposal from field advisors. When proposals are well developed we help fund them with a MicroGrant of up to $5000.
Spark offers a dynamic model for community organizing and granting. Our process taps into the knowledge and imagination of communities in need. We work with local facilitators (often university students or NGO leaders) with connections to under-resourced communities. With our guidance, the facilitator organizes a series of meetings where the community develops a project proposal. We arrange for comments on each proposal from field advisers. When proposals are well developed we help fund them with up to $5000. Rather than come up with ideas to help a specific community from the outside, we are developing a streamlined approach for stimulating innovative community-led projects and their realization.
Each project has its own metric for success, timeframe, and sustainability plan. In Mekelle, Ethiopia, for example, the community installed two water points and set up a committee to collect fees for sustaining the taps. They recorded that daily distance walked to water was reduced from 640 to 145 meters. Throughout the process we collect information on community empowerment using surveys, visits, and discussion groups.
Each MicroGrant impacts communities in two ways: it directly alleviates a pressing social problem through the funded project and empowers community members to design and implement their own solutions. Since the community controls planning and spending, the projects are locally appropriate, effective and highly efficient. We guide them through a two-month grant development process, after which the project is implemented.
The first Microgrant project began in August 2009 in Ilolangulu, Tanzania, where 70% of pregnant women deliver at home instead of a clinic. This is a dangerous status quo - without a skilled health worker, any complications will likely lead to the mother or newborn's death. Mama Jesinala and Mary, two health workers at Ilolangulu's clinic, proposed offering free diapers and soap to women who come to their clinic to deliver. With nominal assistance, these two women wrote the first proposal of their lives, refined it, and received four months worth of funding. Deliveries at their clinic increased almost immediately. With the Microgrant beginning in mid-October, Ilolangulu's clinic went from 10 deliveries in September to 35 in December. Just $615 delivered soap and diapers to about 200 pregnant women and gathered evidence to evaluate their strategy.
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