Can Exposure to Female Leaders Reduce Gender Bias?

As of 2008, women accounted for only 18.4% of parliamentarians worldwide, and only thirteen countries has a woman at the head of their government.1 While these numbers strongly differ between regions such as the Nordic countries and the Middle East, for instance, around the world countries need to participate in ways to involve more females can participate legitimately in government.In most countries women can partake in the political process by voting and supporting candidates, and they can run for office. But the stigma surrounding female leadership often deters women from doing so.  

Rwanda is a hallmark case. Two decades after a devastating genocide, nearly 70% of Rwanda’s population was women.With the country’s economic, social, and political institutions eliminated, women were accountable for effectively rebuilding the state of Rwanda. Now, the Rwandan government is 64% female, higher than anywhere else in the world. Half the Supreme Court justices are women, and women can now inherit property and pass citizenship on to their children.4

This level of progress in Rwanda can possibly be attributed to a reservation law, requiring the parliament of the country to be at least 30% female. Case studies are contentious about the effectiveness of reservation laws – some assert that the quotas make the voting population more resistant to female leaders, while others see it as a beneficial requirement.

MIT scholar Professor Esther Duflo set out to determine how effective these reservation requirements were at the local level by studying their manifestation in societies of India. Duflo is a French economist, and has researched extensively on female leadership.

Duflo studied the West Bengal state of India, an area affected by the implementation of India’s reservation laws in 1993 to address the gender disparity in female political leadership. The constitutional amendment called for gender quotas at each of the three levels of local government. Before that, approximately 10% of women in national and state governments were women.5

Each village of West Bengal consists of a village council, with a set number of elected councilors. Each village council selects a chief councilor, or pradhan. In this state of India, reservation laws require that one-third of all councilor positions and ⅓ of all pradhan positions are reserved for women.6

STUDY 1 – Women as Policymakers

In this study with her cohort Raghabendra Chattopadhyay, Duflo wished to determine the possible effects on reservation policies in a representative democracy, such as the village councils seen in the states of India. To conduct the study, Duflo and Chattopadhyay collected data from two different locations: Birbhum in West Bengal, and Udaipur in Rajasthan. Agricultural activities dominate the economy, with rice as the area’s main crop. It has a population of approximately 2.56 million, and is known to have a relatively welly functioning local government system.7

In Birbhum, the researchers conducted a survey of all members of the village council, or the Gram Panchayat (GP). First they asked questions about the representatives’ general background, their political experience, their political ambitions, and the activities of the GP since their election to the council. Next, Duflo and Chattopadhyay completed a survey of three other villages in the GP to determine what infrastructural items had been repaired since the beginning of the councilors’ terms.8

They completed the same exercise in 100 randomly chosen small areas of Udaipur. Udaipur has a different dynamic than Birbhum. The area is very poor and  very arid, with little irrigation and much lower literacy rates. The villages are larger, and are more likely to have infrastructure like middle schools, a health facility and a road connection compared to villages in West Bengal. In Rajasthan, there were no regularly elected GP systems until 1995.9

Duflo and Chattopadhyay found that gender in both West Bengal and Rajasthan has an impact on the provision of public goods by the GPs.  When positions are reserved for women, the provisions of public goods are more closely aligned to the preferences of women than of men. When women are elected as leaders due to reservation policies, they are more likely to invest in policies that are more closely linked to women’s concerns, such as drinking water. They are less likely to invest in infrastructure that is culturally seen as a priority for men, such as education (in West Bengal) and the provision of roads (in Rajasthan). These findings demonstrate that reservation policies have important effects on policy decisions made at the local level, especially when these policy priorities are made by women.10

This is significant because more and more countries are considering the implementation of reservation policies, with Morocco and East Timor recently adopting quotas. These findings also demonstrate that even at the lowest levels of local government, all mechanisms involved, especially the participation of females, affects important policy decisions for the community.11


STUDY 2 – Powerful Women: Does Exposure Reduce Bias

Duflo wished to observe the social norms in West Bengal, to see whether exposure to female leaders could alter social norms and local perceptions of a woman’s ability to lead. Duflo acknowledged that according to the culture, voters were hostile towards female leaders. They saw women as less effective leaders and policymakers, and were more inclined to evaluate identical performances of males and females as less effective with females.11

The researchers examined electoral outcomes for both 2003 and 2008, and found that approximately 9% of unreserved GPs elected female pradhans, showing that there is no real impact from the reservation quotas, which saw a result of around 10%. Again in 2008, the quotas seemingly did not assist female electoral success. However, the researchers did find that reservations used for two elections, not one, did affect success.12

Researchers surveyed 495 villages in 165 GPs in the Birbhum district, to determine voter attitudes and electoral outcomes towards women. They asked respondents how effective they saw their current pradhan, on a scale of one to ten. The study sought to determine whether the bias against female leaders reflected a taste or a statistical discrimination held by the community. It cited that lack of information about women’s competence as leaders could prevent voters from taking a risk and electing women. This spurs forward a vicious circle of caution where voters never test out whether a female leader could be successful.13

Villagers were asked to evaluate the effectiveness of hypothetical leaders through vignettes and recorded speeches. Half of the villagers received female speeches, and half received male speeches. Duflo found that previous exposure to female leaders drastically reduced male villagers’ negative perceptions towards female leader effectiveness. In some cases male villagers rated female leaders higher than hypothetical male leaders, if they were already exposed to the practice of having female leaders in government.14

When women were selected for village councils for the first time in West Bengal they received low ratings. However, when voters were exposed to a female leader for the second time, voters valued the leadership of men and women at the same level. This could indicate that voters were adjusting to the idea of having female leadership, and/or that women were becoming better versed in the Indian electoral process.15

Over 100 different countries have introduced some type of affirmative action policies for women in government. But do these quotas work? The process forces voters to place women in positions of power, but some societies may resent the restriction of their choices which could result in the resentment of the female leaders. However, these requirements allow women to exceed expectations, showing voters that they are capable leaders. Duflo proved this with her random selection experiment, demonstrating that the bias against women leaders goes away once the society is exposed to female leaders.16


  1. Beaman, Lori, Raghabendra Chattopadhyay, Esther Duflo, Rohini Pande and Petia Topalova. “Powerful Women: Does Exposure Reduce Bias?” Massachusetts Institute of Technology. July 2008. Issue Paper.
  2. Duflo, Esther, Petia Topalova, Raghab Cattopadhyay, Rohini Pande, and Lori Beaman. VoxEU CEPR Policy Portal. January 08, 2009.
  3. “How Women Rebuilt Rwanda.” The Institute to Inclusive Security.
  4. Hunt, Swanee. “The Rise of Rwanda’s Women.” Foreign Affairs. May/June 2014.
  5. Beaman, Lori, Raghabendra Chattopadhyay, Esther Duflo, Rohini Pande and Petia Topalova.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Chattopadhyay, Raghabendra and Esther Duflo. “Women As Policy Makers: Evidence From a Random Policy Experiment in India.”
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Beaman, Lori, Raghabendra Chattopadhyay, Esther Duflo, Rohini Pande and Petia Topalova.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.

Saemaul Undong – The Republic of Korea’s New Village Movement, part 2

Due to the successes the Saemaul Undong (SMU) Movement saw in the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the 1970s, the government of ROK began to expand their practices into Africa, Asia, and Latin America. ROK demonstrated unprecedented growth, introducing what the World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim described as “an economic and social revolution that made one of the world’s poorest countries an OECD member in less than 50 years”.1 The Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) was established in 1991,2 with the intention of fighting global poverty based on the strategy that had seen such success in the past.

KOICA has identified its priority areas as:

  • Global hunger and food security
  • Climate change and humanitarian assistance
  • Overseas volunteerism
  • Public-private partnership promotion
  • Health and education
  • Aid effectiveness

In 2011, the United States and ROK signed a memorandum of understanding on international development cooperation, making ROK the first country to transform from a US aid recipient to a fellow donor.3 The SMU Movement laid the foundation, allowing ROK to achieve modernization and development, thus facilitating them to assist other in-need countries.

Now an Official Development Assistance (ODA) donor, ROK’s volume of international development programs remains relatively small but it has expanded significantly at a time when other countries are scaling back their development budgets.4 ROK has shown a determination to modernize their method of providing assistance and complying with international donor standards, by offering technical training to developing countries so that they may build up their own self-help programs.

Currently, KOICA is receiving requests from more than fifty developing countries to share knowledge about the successes of SMU-style community-led development. It is supported as a strategy either directly or indirectly by Nicaragua, Paraguay, Ecuador, Colombia, Senegal, Ghana, DR Congo, South Africa, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines (see table below). It has been recognized as a legitimate alternative to development by the World Food Programme, the United Nations Development Programme, and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.5 In November 2015, ROK hosted its second annual Global Saemaul Leadership Forum (GSLF). More than 500 delegates attended from 50 countries to learn more about the SMU model. The primary objective of the conference was to spread the knowledge established by the Global Saemaul Undong Training Center in Seoul.6

Ethiopia Capacity building in agricultural irrigation in Dodota District
Ghana Vulnerable community empowerment for Saemaul Zero Hunger through Community Asset Creation
Uganda Enhancing nutrition and increasing household income in Karamoja sub-region through vegetable cultivation and marketing / Establishment of the National Farmer’s Leadership Center
Senegal The Project for capacity building of Agricultural Training Center in CIH / The Project for Improving agricultural Productivity on rice and onion
Bangladesh Korea-WFP Saemaul Zero Hunger Communities in Bangladesh

(Korean International Cooperation Agency.)

SMU as an official ODA model focuses on seven main objectives, identified by the KOICA “Smart SMU Strategy”.

  1. Multi sectoral approach
    • Integrative CLD model – livestock, fishery, social sectors such as education, health, hygiene, gender, technology such as ICT, energy, environment
    • Potential to contribute greatly to achievement of SDGs
  2. Incentive based mechanism promoting competition
    • Those who committed themselves to movement and generated good results received special incentives to do better. This generated a positive and virtuous environment which people compete to benefit their community
  3. Village level development
    • When a larger scale project is required to develop infrastructure, such as roads, rivers, water facilities, regional projects may be implemented
  4. SMU education tailored to the needs of each community
    • Village leaders provide education on SMU who have a better understanding of their communities
    • To improve capacity to deliver education, leaders are given opportunities to learn from each other via Saemaul Undong education center
    • To make education on SMU customized to characteristics and conditions of each village, local experts brought into process of developing textbooks
  5. Partnership
    • With purpose and determination, partnerships will be forged to carry out SMU projects. It is important to work with diverse partners, including international organizations, international NGOs, and businesses to innovate ways to deliver SMU to countries in need
  6. Appropriate Technology
    • SMU aims to drastically raise performance in improving the level of income within a short period of time by identifying and mobilizing helpful technologies
  7. Expanding Value Chain
    • Improving value chain, including production (land, seed, equipment, microfinancing, cultivation, technology), harvest, storage, processing, distribution, marketing and sales is important if income is to be increased on a sustained basis. Thus, it is taken into consideration in planning what activities to carry out to generate incomes (e.g. growing speciality crops)7

In 2014, the ROK government in partnership with UNDP launched the Global Saemaul towards Inclusive and Sustainable New Communities (ISNC) in order to scale up the New Village Movement as a viable development solution. In 2015, UNDP released a report on the Saemaul Initiative Towards Inclusive and Sustainable New Communities: Implementation Guide. Within it, UNDP explains the historical successes of Saemaul, and emphasizes the ISNC model as a new way forward. The hope with the project is to demonstrate “how various development operation modalities, ODA, domestic resource mobilization, and South-South and triangular cooperation can complement one another within one development initiative”.8

UNDP’s contribution will help develop an integrated local development approach, to expand beyond the scope of ROK’s capacity. The project will be defined by a 2-3-5 model of financing: 20% of ODA will be matched by 30% government cost-sharing and 50% in-kind contributions of labor and services mobilized by the communities.9

ISNC differs from the original SMU New Village Movement in its inclusion of sustainability and inclusiveness. Women, youth, and the community’s poorest strata will serve both as participants to the project and as beneficiaries. The original SMU Movement emphasized the inclusion of women, but ISNC will expand this further. The original New Village Movement ensured women played a leadership role in improving the local economies, involving them in rice saving campaigns, raising funds for other women, and running village consumer co-ops and daycare centers. Villages were strongly encouraged to elect a female Saemaul leader, and eventually every village had a woman in a leadership role. This process allowed Korean women to play an elevated role in society. Women were allowed to play different positions, such as banning gambling, creating village credit unions, increasing savings, and increasing the village’s living conditions.10

At the heart of the ISNC project are the three principles of the SMU movement: diligence, self-help, and cooperation. SMU seeks to alter the mindset of the community, so that all members of the village are invested in the improvement of their community. This method focuses on the three pillars of sustainable development:

  1. Economic growth
  2. Social development
  3. Environmental sustainability

The SMU Movement is growing with the help of international organizations such as UNDP, Millennium Promise, the World Food Programme (WFP), the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development (GDPRD). The Saemaul Undong movement in ROK also includes a strong international volunteer program, facilitating the spread of knowledge by deploying professionals to SMU partner countries. Some have even acquired a Master’s degree in Saemaul, and work to help monitoring and evaluation, local language interpretation, technical support for agriculture and livestock, and facilitation of correct technological usages.11

In these ways, SMU as an ODA model can greatly contribute to the SDGs’ ambitious objectives. SMU has been so successful because it draws off of voluntary participation, and accommodates developing countries’ government’s poor capacity to finance development projects.12 The ROK government has found that people in rural villages have achieved higher levels of happiness by volunteering to be agents of change within their own community. By overcoming obstacles to bring themselves out of poverty they are working towards a solution to make their own lives better in a sustainable way.

  1. Korean International Cooperation Agency. Saemaul Undong Rural Development. Republic of Korea, 2015. print.
  2. “Mission & Vision.” Korea International Cooperation Agency.
  3. Snyder, Scott A., and Seukhoon Paul Choi. “From Aid to Development Partnership: Strengthening U.S.-Republic of Korea Cooperation in International Development.” Council on Foreign Relations. 2012.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Korean International Cooperation Agency.
  6. Sawyers, Dennis. “South Korea’s New Village Movement.” The Borgen Project. December 20, 2015.
  7. Korean International Cooperation Agency.
  8. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 2015: “Saemaul Initiative Towards Inclusive and Sustainable New Communities: Implementation Guide.” Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, pg 22. n.d.:
  9. UNDP, 23.
  10. UNDP, 18.
  11. Korean International Cooperation Agency.
  12. Ibid.

Saemaul Undong – the Republic of Korea’s New Village Movement, part 1

Before 1960 the Republic of Korea (ROK) was a war-torn nation with a GDP per capita of $70 – equivalent to that of Ghana.1 The government was weak, and did not have the financial capabilities to invest in large-scale rural development projects.2 With this in mind, South Korean President Park Chung-Hee implemented the Saemaul Undong (SMU) program, or “New Village” Movement in the 1970s.3 The government realized that by providing some support, the people could improve their own living conditions by cooperating with each other.4 With the help of United States foreign aid, this initiative was completely centered around community-led development.5

Between the years of 1970 and 1971, the government of ROK provided 33,267 villages with 335 bags of cement. Based on the SMU process, villagers collaborated to determine what aspects of the community should be addressed with the resource provided. In this first step of SMU the community was mobilized through general meetings, government-led training exercises, and exposure visits. This nation-wide training was required for politicians, government officials, village leaders and farmers in order to appropriately build up capacity and enthusiasm for the SMU spirit.6 Village leaders played a large role, mobilizing their communities to facilitate a change in mindset.

By 1972, 16,600 villages (approximately half of those provided with the cement) were deemed successful by the South Korean government. These villages were sent another 500 bags of cement and one ton of steel rods. Again, the community was responsible for determining how these resources should be allocated. This was important, because the South Koreans are self-proclaimed as extremely competitive. The government’s policy incentivized other villages to compete well, and to even mobilize their own resources in order to improve the status of their community. As a result, the Korean government received a sevenfold return by instilling a self-help mentality.7

Within four years, rural income surpassed urban income for the first time.8 Within nine years, rural income sextupled from 225,800 won to 1,531,800 won.9 Rural poverty decreased from 27.9 percent in 1970 to 10.8 percent in 1978, and women were given a significant role to play.10 Thanks to a major land redistribution movement between 1948 and 1951, communal land formerly belonging to Japanese landlords during colonization was allocated in an egalitarian manner, so that there were many small-farm owners and few landless homes.11 Across the country, thatched huts transformed into sturdy tiled houses.12

By 1974, foreign aid and grants had dropped from 60% to 20% of all investments in ROK. Eventually, the United States phased out their aid program in ROK altogether.13 The SMU Movement adopted the slogan diligence, self-help and cooperation, as active participation and successes grew.14 From this first project, communities were pulled together to be decision-makers of their own community-led development. This process gradually rebuilt both ROK’s infrastructure and national identity.15

The New Village Movement grew into a success based on six separate phases, which the country collectively passed through chronologically.

  1. Foundation and groundwork (1970-1973)
    • Living environments were gradually improved as roads and villages were expanded. Laundry facilities, roofs, kitchens and fences were improved. Income increased as roads provided more agricultural opportunities, and seeds and the division of labor were improved. Attitudes within the community shifted towards a mindset of diligence, frugality, and cooperation.
    • During this phase the campaign was introduced and implemented. The government initiated activities, with a top priority in improving living conditions.
    • GDP per capita (in USD) increased from 257 in 1970 to 375 1973.
  2. Proliferation (1974-1976)
    • Income increased further, with the proliferation of rice field ridges, creeks, and a mentality encouraging combined farming and common workplaces. Non-agricultural income sources were explored more than ever before. Attitudes shifted further with the help of the Saemaul education programs and due to public relations activities. Living conditions continued to improve, with an improvement in housing and water systems. Village centres spread.
    • The program’s scope and functionality grew, increasing incomes and further changing the attitudes within the communities. This kindled an atmosphere of understanding and consensus.
    • GDP per capita grew from 402 in 1974 to 765 in 1976.
  3. Energetic Implementation (1977-1979)
    • Rural areas saw the construction of modern houses, which encouraged growth, especially of industrial facilities, agriculture and manufacturing. In urban areas, alleys were paved and order was improved and reinforced.
    • This progression allowed for linkages between villages, economies of scale, and an emergence of district unit characteristics
    • GDP per capita (in USD) increased from 966 in 1977 to 1,394 in 1979.
  4. Overhaul (1980-1989)
    • Throughout the country the social atmosphere improved – kindness, order, selfishness and cooperation were reinforced. Economic development soared, especially with farming. Resources were better allocated, and credit unions proliferated. The environment was taken into consideration, with parks and roads improved and established.
    • The private-sector was revitalized, and there was a more enhanced designation between the government and the private sector. This assisted with inactivity and overlap.
    • GDP per capita improved from 1,507 in 1980 to 4,934 in 1989.
  5. Autonomous Growth (1990-1998)
    • With the establishment of a sound atmosphere, ROK improved traditional culture with an emphasis on hard work and stable lifestyles. The people experienced economic recovery then economic stability, particularly with the help of urban-rural direct trade. Autonomous lifestyles became more popular and possible.
    • Self-reliance was established, allowing the growth of liberalization and localization. The economic crisis became seen as surmountable, and GDP per capita increased significantly.
    • GDP per capita increased from 5,503 in 1990 to 10,548 in 1996.16

The New Village Movement’s successes can be most clearly seen as a “learning cycle of stimulus, reflection, resolution and practice”.17 Upon introducing the program, the ROK government educated the people then allowed the communities to build up their own development. The government used incentive systems that they knew would be successful, playing off of the competitive nature of the Korean people. Farmers were seen as the center of the movement, promoting the spirit of the Saemaul Movement. Eventually, the program was implemented both in rural and urban areas and at all different levels of society: village, town, county, and provincial.18 This good practices led to the six steps of the SMU virtuous cycle.

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 3.33.18 PM(UNDP, 19.)

Due to these successes, ROK has now begun implementing SMU’s New Village Movement across Africa, Asia and Latin America.


  1. Sawyers, Dennis. “South Korea’s New Village Movement.” The Borgen Project. December 20, 2015.
  2. Korean International Cooperation Agency. Saemaul Undong Rural Development. Republic of Korea, 2015. Print.
  3. Sawyers, Dennis.
  4. Korean International Cooperation Agency.
  5. Sawyers, Dennis.
  6. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 2015: “Saemaul Initiative Towards Inclusive and Sustainable New Communities: Implementation Guide.” Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, pg 13. n.d.:
  7. UNDP, 13.
  8. “The Saemaul, New Village, Movement Was Mindset Change.” Hyun Jin Moon.
  9. Sawyers, Dennis.
  10. UNDP, 11.
  11. UNDP, 12.
  12. Sawyers, Dennis.
  13. Hyun Jin Moon.
  14. UNDP, 12.
  15. Hyun Jin Moon.
  16. UNDP, 14-15.
  17. UNDP, 16.
  18. UNDP, 17.

Gender & Resilience – A BRACED Working Paper

The Overseas Development Institute, one of the UK’s leading think tanks, recently released a working paper titled Gender and Resilience: from Theory to Practice. The paper is a synthesis of four different case studies, documenting how gender equality can be strengthened through resilience projects. It draws on the experiences of the project Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED), one year after implementation.

BRACED is a program funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID). The project was targeted to help the people of the Sahel, East Africa, and Asia to better adapt to the effects of climate change. The program aims to:

  1. Secure, service, and promote trans-border livestock mobility across the Sahel,
  2. Share skills and technology to improve uptake of climate information in Ethiopia,
  3. Support smallholder farms in Nepal to take advantage of economic opportunities and invest in climate-smart technologies,
  4. Build new approaches to knowledge and learning and to influence policies and practices at the local, national, and international level.

The report examines four different case studies, in Myanmar, Uganda and Kenya, Burkina Faso, and Chad and Sudan. The projects worked with many different partners on:

  • Improving information available on climate risks with adaptation approaches and disaster preparedness [Myanmar, Burkina Faso]
  • Building resilient markets, governance, and social systems[Uganda/Kenya]
  • Improving community resilience through climate-smart agriculture, health, and early warning systems [Chad/Sudan]


The report methodology used “writeshops” to conduct research. Writeshops involved the participation of researchers, NGO staff members, policy-makers, farmers, students – anyone involved in the experiences being documented – so as to produce a written output that understands the project more holistically. Each participant contributed his or her own knowledge by drafting a paper and then reviewing the work of others to establish a strong base of many opinions for the project. This is done with the support of facilitators, editors, and logistical staff members.

The writeshop method was pioneered by CLD Movement member, the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction, and has since been adapted by many other institutions, such as the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the International Institute for Environment and Development. BRACED’s Knowledge Managers hope to conduct writeshops twice a year to create publishable research pieces covering different dimensions of resilience-building.

All four studies examined in the ODI Report found that social and cultural norms discriminate against women and girls in a number of ways. Women on average work longer days than men and are paid lower wages. In West Darfur, women work 12-14 hour days while men work 8 hours during cropping season and 4-5 hours per day for the rest of the year. In Myanmar, the estimated annual income for women was $630, and $1,043 for men. Women’s literacy rates continue to be lower than men’s, and women have less control over their rights, entitlements, and resources.

The ODI Report also found that women are significantly less involved in decision-making processes than men, both within households and at the community level. In BRACED’s participatory assessment surveys (BRAPAs) in Burkina Faso, less than 50% of women interviewed felt that they were able to participate in household decision-making, with 27% of respondents saying they did not participate at all.

These inequalities are further exacerbated by the rapidly changing climate. In each of the four cases, women are confined to agricultural roles where crops are increasingly difficult to cultivate and yields are poor. Due to traditional gender roles, females are unable to diversify their livelihood and grow different crops. As climate change reaches extremes as time passes, women are more likely to be impacted significantly as a result, particularly in the four aforementioned target areas assessed.

BRACED offers many recommendations for implementing partners, the BRACED Knowledge Managers, and donors. These include ensuring that projects do not perpetuate instances of social inequality, combating gender-based violence with resilience-building interventions, and sharing knowledge and experience between practitioners with the field experience and the donors and policy-makers involved to ensure a sound community-led approach.

Regardless of the barriers that NGOs face, BRACED concluded that the four case studies require that increased attention is paid to further gender and resilience programs. At the international level, donor commitment is key. The report commends DFID’s requirement for empowering women to be included in proposals. Without it, the Myanmar study would have likely taken a more gender-neutral approach. At the national level, NGOs must collaborate with other like-minded organizations, including UN agencies and community-based organizations and networks. Additionally, advocating for sound policies will be crucial to help support initiatives, such as a law in Uganda encouraging the participation of women in politics.

Most importantly, at the organizational level, a combination of rules and incentives promote a greater emphasis on gender and resilience. The case studies found that it is important to gain the approval and commitment of the senior management in the country, that gender equality must be embedded in the project’s theory of change, and that existing practices must be drawn from in order to achieve success. The case studies additionally identified key members of NGO teams, working specifically on gender empowerment to act as a driver towards its success. For instance, Concern had a special gender representative for BRACED’s project in Myanmar. With these factors in place at each level the project has a greater chance at success, and increases the likelihood that women will be empowered in that community in the future.

To review the full BRACED report, visit BRACED conducts additional projects in Myanmar, Nepal, and throughout the Sahel region, with the specific intention of prepare people in need to be more resilient to climate extremes. DFID funding for BRACED has been awarded as 3-year grants for 15 projects. Further project summaries, such as in Niger, Mali, and South Sudan can be found here.

Righting the Wrong: Oxfam America’s Report on Strengthening Local Humanitarian Leadership

Oxfam America has recently released a report, Righting the Wrong: Strengthening Local Humanitarian Leadership to Save Lives and Strengthen Communities, addressing the shortfalls of humanitarian assistance, and offering solutions to this complex issue.

In 2014, humanitarian assistance hit a record high of $24.5 billion. Within the last 70 years, aid workers have made massive strides in providing life-saving services, such as healthcare, water, and physical protection.

However, demand is rapidly outstripping supply. In 2014 alone, 60 million people were displaced by political oppression and violent conflict. 138 million people were affected by catastrophic climate disasters, and since 1965 the number of these disasters has increased from 52 to an all-time high of 401 in 2005. These projections are expected to continue, as climate change causes more frequent droughts, floods and storms.

Today, only a small fraction of humanitarian aid is provided to local actors. More often, community leaders take direction from international agencies, leaving them in the lesser role of subcontractors instead of equal partners in their own countries. Oxfam America asserts that this arrangement leaves the actors no better suited in addressing a new crisis with autonomy.

Oxfam American asserts that these long-term aid shortages do not have a concrete solution. From 2004 to 2013, donors met less than two-thirds of humanitarian need requested annually. These shortfalls had devastating consequences, such as the World Food Program (WFP) suspending food aid for 1.7 million Syrian refugees in both 2014 and 2015. These cuts can be attributed to weaker economies and large cuts from usual donors such as Australia and Spain. Oxfam asserts that the main problem with humanitarian assistance is that countries and international organizations are not addressing these issues as top policy concerns.


Therefore, humanitarian assistance is often too little too late. As described by former UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland, “Imagine if your local fire department had to petition the mayor for money to turn on the water every time a fire broke out”.

Too often, priorities in donor countries trump those of the in-need recipient countries. For instance, the US frequently provides in-kind food aid from surplus US harvests. This practice can drive down prices in the recipient country and diminish local farm income. This can cause dependence or delays in food deliverance, as was seen with the Haitian earthquake. The US provided 72% of assistance in the form of in-kind food donations, and only 28% as cash transfers or vouchers. By contrast, Canada, Brazil, France, and the WFP provided assistance with food purchases from Haitian farmers.

The report emphasizes that it would be more cost effective to prepare communities in advance for shocks such as floods, earthquakes, and tsunamis, instead of providing assistance after the crisis has occurred. Regardless of this discovery after the crisis of the drought in the African Horn and promises from the UN, donors, and governments, only 0.4% of official development assistance over the last 30 years has been spent reducing the risk of disasters.

In order to fix this broken system, Oxfam America demands that humanitarian assistance must shift towards an emphasis on local actors. The report suggests:

  1. An insistence on more and predictable humanitarian funding
  2. An increase in direct humanitarian funding to national governments, as well as to national and local NGOs
  3. An increase in investment in disaster risk reduction before crises hit
  4. More emphasis on strengthening local capacity

Regardless of amazing accomplishment over time, the humanitarian aid community needs to do better. Crises will continue to accumulate in the future due to climate change and intractable conflicts. As the report concludes, “if we, the international humanitarian community, want to help local communities, we need to start trusting them more with their own future.”


Methodology at Spark MicroGrants

Spark Microgrants works in impoverished communities in Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi, with 116 community partners across the three countries.

Using an in-country fellowship program, Spark trains and employs recently-graduated university students to serve as project facilitators. These facilitators reach out to villages with particularly poor infrastructure, in order to involve them in a six-month planning process of carefully structured weekly meetings.

Community members develop their own project proposal, and Spark awards a one-time microgrant of up to $10,000 to support the initiative’s implementation. Spark additionally provides six months of management support and up to two years of follow up support.

Spark follows five steps within a project in order to catalyze change within a community:

  1. Partnership and Community Building: a leadership committee is elected, a mission statement is developed, and the committee conducts resource analysis and mapping.
  2. Goal Setting: the community brainstorms and creates a goal, develops objectives for reaching this top goal, researches progress towards each objective and prioritizes focus, and identifies a project that will help reach the goal.
  3. Proposal Development: a monitoring and evaluation system is created to track the project’s impact, a plan for implementation is established using action plans and budgets, and risks are analyzed and bylaws are established in accordance with the sustainability plan.
  4. Technical Advisory & Proposal Review: the Spark team and a technical adviser provide feedback, and the proposal is then revised to create a stronger plan.
  5. Implementation: resources are mobilized and implementation begins, Spark provides supporting funds in installments and advocates for transparent and accountable financial management.
  6. Post Implementation: the community participates in the development of an exit strategy, partnerships are built with other organizations, local government, businesses, data is collected and evaluated based on original M&E goals, new initiatives are brainstormed, and key members of the community are trained on the Spark process to facilitate future projects.

The Spark process is centered on 5 core principles:

  1. Cohesion- measured with four different dimensions:
    1. A sense of belonging
    2. A communal approach
    3. Conflict resolution
    4. Social trust and social capital
  2. Civic engagement – determined with three dimensions of participation:
    1. Participation
    2. Commitment
    3. Ownership
  3. Leadership – with four dimensions of measurement:
    1. Extent
    2. Equity and diversity
    3. Quality
    4. Transparency and accountability
  4. Capacities – measured with four dimensions:
    1. Social skills
    2. Project and technical skills
    3. Confidence
    4. Agency
  5. Sustainable local impact projects – measured by project sustainability and the community’s ability to meet their own project objectives.

Nuru International Methodology


Nuru International applies an integrated methodology of community-led development called The Leadership Program, which seeks “to foster an environment of co-creation in which local servant leaders recognize and develop their ability to critically analyze and successfully develop poverty solutions in constantly changing environments.” Nuru aims to remove psychological and physical barriers, so that these new leaders produce genuine discourse about the needs of the community.

Nuru’s methodology, found here in this brochure, is termed “servant leadership“. It is based on the idea that “a leader can achieve more by bringing out the best in those they lead with a service-oriented mindset. To do this, a community leader must “serve” her followers to help them achieve their fullest potential.”

Nuru highlights twelve core traits and actions:

  1. Admit when you make a mistake
  2. Seek to understand
  3. Be together with your people
  4. Do what is right
  5. Speak when something is wrong
  6. Lead by example
  7. Apologize for mistakes
  8. Treat all people equally
  9. Don’t waste resources
  10. Represent your team well
  11. Make sacrifices for your people
  12. Take the initiative to make improvements

Nuru has found with empirical evidence that traditional approaches to management and leadership perpetuates the gap between those in power and those living in extreme poverty. To counter this norm, Nuru seeks to grant agency to the staff and the community. Nuru does this in three ways:

  1. By promoting agency and dignity of the local staff
  2. By sustaining opportunity structures to encourage critical thinking, feedback and debate
  3. By allowing local staff to manage their programs and make all decisions

With these steps of co-creation, Nuru hopes to grant meaningful power to those in the community living in poverty by engaging in discourse to shape their own futures.