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When a hammer mill is so much more than a hammer mill: The Zambian Governance Foundation’s work in Namanongo

Bwwob bwwobbubwub…the first sound of grinding mealie-meal emerging from the Namanongo community’s new hammer mill was a moment two years in the making, though the grinding was quickly drowned out by the sounds of community members singing and dancing in celebration. The mere sound of the hammer mill coming to life was a dream come true for those living in Namanongo – a remote rural area in Zambia’s Rufunsa District – as well as a moment for celebration for the Zambian Governance Foundation (ZGF) who had been working with the Namanongo community for two years around building local philanthropy.

It was back in March 2018 that ZGF had brought together 150 allies in Lusaka for the event From Dependency to Ascendency, which marked the beginning of ZGF’s new way of working – moving away from external donor dependency, to instead focussing on working with communities to build local assets for durable development. In addition to launching the report Beyond Giving, ZGF’s research into local giving in Zambia, the event also saw the premier of the incredibly catchy #ShiftThePower Zambia song – a clear sign that with creativity and energy in abundance, ZGF were up for doing things differently.

Work with the Namanongo community began soon after, with the community identifying its lack of a hammer mill as being its greatest challenge. Two years of patient work followed, introducing the concept of community philanthropy, helping the community to organize itself and testing different strategies for mobilizing local resources. Gently pushing community members to think differently about their role in this, and to reflect on their own assets and capabilities (why wait for outside help when the resources are already here?) was key to ensuring the success of this work, according to ZGF. With support and encouragement from ZGF, ultimately the Namanongo community rallied together, raising local funds and contributing the land, cement, bricks and labour required to construct the hammer mill.

Speaking at the hammer mill launch on 4 September 2020, Lucy Muyoyeta, ZGF Board Member remarked: “This is a journey in which we set out to ensure that the community is not only at the centre of development, but it is the driver of that development. It is a journey that shifts the power from people in offices to those on the ground, the people themselves.” A former ZGF staff member remarked after the launch: “For some, there may be nothing special about this hammer mill and shelter. But it is a physical representation of the mutual trust and respect that has been developed and the great progress that has been made in helping the community know that they may not have a lot of money, but they do have other resources they can use to take charge of their own development.”

In a recent interview appearing in ZGF’s NewsFlash, GFCF Executive Director Jenny Hodgson commented on the importance of ZGF’s journey with the Namanongo community: “Too often, international development translates only as money, and big money at that, and this has been prioritized over local contributions, and what they can represent in terms of things like relationships, trust, social capital, and confidence, all things that ‘aid money’ really cannot buy. By undervaluing local assets and what exists on the ground, people themselves end up being written out of their own development processes.”

With lessons from Namanongo firmly under its belt, ZGF has already started similar processes in Chawama, Chisamba, George and Mandevu. In addition to the hammer mill, ZGF’s legacy will live on in Namanongo for years to come, according to one of the residents, Keelos Mweemba: “In 2018, when ZGF first came to introduce the philanthropy concept, we did not trust them. We just thought they were like other NGOs who came to our community, promised us things, but never fulfilled. However, ZGF made us understand the importance of using our own resources for local development. It was a long journey but we are happy we made contributions that have made us see the success of the hammer mill project. Even when ZGF leaves, we will continue organizing ourselves for our development.”

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