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Smart Risk: Community participation as a measure of success

What if we didn’t measure success just through statistics and numbers, but instead looked to community accountability? If the community is behind a grassroots organization, then there’s a good chance that the group is effective in their work. If there’s no visible support, if people in the community couldn’t be bothered to get involved and contribute, then it’s probably not a solid organization.

When I visited CIFORD Kenya last year, it was easy to see that this is a very effective grassroots organization. People care about it, and they are involved. They identify as being CIFORD members and are proud of that affiliation.

CIFORD, which stands for Community Initiative For Rural Development is based near Maua, Kenya and works broadly for female empowerment, environmental sustainability, food security, and HIV/AIDS support. They have twenty-two self-organized groups, mostly with women and girls. The groups also serve as “merry-go-round” savings and loans groups.

Neighborhood Garden Clubs

Rosemary Joseph and Margaret Kerayu are neighbors and also part of the same CIFORD group. Since joining the group, all members have started kitchen gardens – gardens that grow a wide variety of foods for the family to eat. When I met them last June, they told me that now they don’t have to go to the market, which saves them money and time. They can even sell what they don’t use and earn a bit of income!

Water is a big challenge, especially in this year of drought. Through the group they are conserving water, sharing water tanks, and using their waste water on their gardens. Rosemary told us that, “The greatest benefit from being in the group is that I’ve expanded my gardens skills and productivity. Now I have the capacity to pay for school fees. I have diversified and I grow tomatoes and sell eggs. We also contribute to social welfare within the group.”

Tanya visits Rosemary Joseph and Margaret Kerayu’s garden. They are proud CIFORD members.

Community Support for Girls

Spirit in Action has partnered with CIFORD to provide alternative rites of passage for girls as a substitute for female genital mutilation (FGM). They are free programs and they talk to the girls about the risks associated with FMG and provide a different kind of celebration of adulthood. Girls who went through the seminars six years ago now want to give back and pay-it-forward, so they offer their support and encouragement to the new girls in the seminars. Margaret Ikiara, founder of CIFORD told us, “The chiefs and the district officers come to the graduation for the girls. When they see what is happening here they say, “This is working well. Here is my number, give me a call if you need support.”

The on-going enthusiasm of past participants and the declarations of support from local officials are good indicators that CIFORD is effective and has community buy-in.

A large group of CIFORD members gathered to meet the SIA Team. They told us their stories, sang songs, and showed us their gardens.

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