“The Story behind the Well”: a new report from the GFCF and Coady International Institute

What are the key ingredients that are required to make “good development” happen and how can they be fostered? The story behind the well: a case study of successful community development in Makutano, Kenya is a new publication from the GFCF and the Coady International Institute. It tells the story of Makutano, a community in rural Kenya, which over the course of the last fourteen years has transformed itself from a poor, inaccessible and arid “outback” into a thriving hotbed of people-led development.

So what were the drivers for this success? Well, as the report describes, there were several. One was the bold vision of a handful of individuals who believed that for development efforts to be effective they needed to be conceived, owned and direct by the very people they were meant to benefit.  Another was the role played by the a fledgling voluntary association, the Makutano Community Development Association, which saw itself as part of a collective and community-wide effort to improve local livelihoods and standards of living. And a third key influence was the enduring support and of a key partner and funder, the Kenya Community Development Foundation, Kenya’s first public grantmaking foundation, which was established in 1997 with a determination to approach development differently.

The report, co-authored by Halima Mahomed and Brianne Peters, draws on field research and interviews with key individuals who were part this process.

We invite you to read the report, share it with colleagues and to share any comments or feedback with us. To read the full report click here.

In praise of intangibles

Seventeen wells, nine dams, twenty-three kilometres of road, eighty-four institutions, seven thousand active members. There may be plenty of figures available to help measure the remarkable transformation of a community in Makutano, Kenya. But the process – supported by the Kenya Community Development Foundation and now the subject of a case study by the GFCF and Coady International Institute[1] – has followed its own, organic, largely unforeseen path, taking fourteen years to achieve these results, and the most significant changes may well be in the attitudes and perceptions of the eighty thousand people in the broader community. If there had been benchmarks and monitoring at every step, would Makutano have found and followed its own path towards success?
In the words of Albert Einstein, “Not everything that can be measured matters and not everything that matters can be measured.”

The growing emphasis among foundations on hard outcomes and measurable results may not be a bad thing. Foundations have often been accused of letting too many “flowers grow” and of investing too little in monitoring and evaluation, particularly compared with their bilateral and multilateral brothers and sisters. A culture of learning and reflection within an institution helps to keep it dynamic and responsive to pressing issues of social need. Indeed, over the last few years, conference sessions on this subject – previously relegated to the smallest meeting rooms and attracting only die-hard evaluation specialists – have invariably become standing room-only events. This sudden interest in evaluation reflects a growing awareness of the importance of measuring and understanding the impact of philanthropic investments. But it also suggests that while more and more foundations may indeed be seeking to introduce greater rigour in evaluating the impacts of their interventions, when it comes to the level of practical implementation many practitioners are still searching for the answers to basic questions about methodologies.

Who determines what is to be measured, what is an acceptable outcome, and over what time frame? Or as one development practitioner with many years of working in Africa puts it: “How do we know how many girls have been saved from crocodiles and hyenas when a new well is created or a path diverted from danger?”
Long-term social change is rarely neatly linear: it can be hard to separate out the multiple variables and factors at play, and to develop systems of learning and measurement that reflect these complexities, long-term horizon, and varying attitudes.

Clearly, certain types of development interventions lend themselves to relatively straightforward means of measurement: x number of vaccinations lead to an x percentage reduction in new incidences of a particular disease. But things become more complex when it comes to measuring some of the less tangible, more subjective drivers of development: levels of trust within a community emerging from conflict and division, for example, or the attitudes of young people towards themselves and their futures, or the feeling of ownership and involvement that is inspired when community members contribute to the solutions of their own problems. And yet these may well be key contextual factors in determining the success or failure of other development efforts. A library opened on the right street may reenergize and reconnect a community; on the wrong one it may serve to reinforce old divisions.

Swimming against the current tide of interest in big grants and hard outcomes is a growing group of local organizations – community foundations, grassroots grantmakers, women’s funds, and other local public foundations – which are working in and with communities. In Palestine, for example, when a local foundation – the Dalia Association – ran a small village-based grants programme where community members were asked to decide on how grants were allocated and were also the first audience for grantees reporting back, the point of the exercise was not just to achieve a particular result but rather to model an alternative scenario where community members were encouraged to be a part of and have a view on the kind of development they wanted to see, rather than be the passive recipients of it.

On paper, this kind of “intermediating” can appear costly in terms of ratio of grants made to operational costs, because in many instances local foundations have to work intensively with community groups to bring them up to the level where they are able to manage funds and implement projects for themselves. And yet, in many developing contexts, these organizations play key roles in transforming individuals and communities in fundamental but often subtle ways that are far below the radar of most international funders and their metrics frameworks. How, for instance, do you measure trust?


[1]  The story behind the well: a case study of successful community development in Makutano, Kenya, 2011

Exploring the idea of a community foundation for Haiti

“How can we get long term reconstruction and development that is Haitian-led and owned?” This was the topic of a two-day meeting held on Haiti’s Arcahaie Coast in late July 2011 which brought together a diverse cross-section of Haitians from civil society organizations, business institutions, members of the Haitian Diaspora and representatives of international foundations. The meeting, which was convened by the GFCF, Espwa, the Puerto Rico Community Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, was a first step in a conversation around the idea of establishing a community foundation-type institution in Haiti.

The “makers” group discuss next steps for the Haiti Community Foundation initiative

The earthquake which hit Haiti on January 12, 2010, killing over 200,000 people and leaving more than 1.3 million more homeless, crippled the country’s already very weak systems and infrastructure. It also prompted a huge outpouring of donations and development aid as well as a massive influx of international NGOs into the country. Increasingly, concerns have been voiced about the ways in which some international development efforts have marginalized local communities and de-emphasized indigenous leadership.

In addition to reflecting on some of the structural flaws in the ways that development funding was being delivered, the group discussed the potential role that a Haitian-owned, Haitian-led philanthropic institution might play in supporting the country’s long-term reconstruction and development, particularly in the areas of strengthening the capacities and voices of home-grown groups and community associations and of developing philanthropic assets which can be both transparently and effectively applied.

This process is still at an early stage and there is much to be done in terms of determining its feasibility, consulting widely with a broad range of Haitians from all walks of life and ensuring that what emerges is deeply rooted in Haiti’s context and culture. An informal working group has been organized which will take responsibility for the next steps in the process.

For more information, contact Espwa (romainmurphy[at]gmail.com)

New Johannesburg office for the GFCF

We are pleased to announce that the GFCF has moved into new offices in Rosebank, Johannesburg.

The GFCF has been kindly hosted by the South Africa office of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation for the past year. We look forward to welcoming visitors to our new premises.

Our new contact details can be found here