Mistakes We Have Learnt From
Like any other small charity, we have made our fair share of mistakes and learnt a lot along the way. We don't necessarily need to shout about these, but we think there is a purpose in having them out in the open, if for nothing else, to help other people thinking of doing something similar.
Where to start
We admit we did things the wrong way round in the beginning. We didn't start by identifying a problem (or a need) and then developing a solution to address this. We started by wanting to help people who maybe didn't have the same life chances as others, and then figured out what we could do to help. This was naive, yes and more than anything led to us spending the first couple of years figuring out what direction we were travelling as an organisation, before we settled on our theoretical approach.
What would we do differently
We would have started with a more thorough demand based approach:
- analysing the circumstances to identify what problems needed addressing
- researching if anyone was already addressing them
- identifying a range of solutions to find the right approach
Creating an over-dependence
In trying to do things right, you have a tendency to do them yourself. With experience you learn that this is not necessarily doing things right, but doing things your way. It is a difficult find a balance in this regard, but we certainly didn't get it right at the very beginning. Creating an over-dependence on UK staff/volunteers to deliver an intervention in Uganda is not the way it should be; and can undo much of the good you are trying to implement.
What would we do differently
- Building the local team first and taking them on the journey with us form the start would have ensured that we empowered local leaders from the outset, and ensured that our processes and activities were relevant to the user group.
- We would also have seen ourselves as more trainers or facilitators, supporting a local team to implement the change and building their capacity to do so; rather than seeing ourselves as the solution.
Not reinforcing stereotypes
A big lesson we learnt is that it is no use making small positive change if you are part of a larger reinforcement of inequality or a negative stereotype. The net result can be a loss rather than a gain. Our early name, we felt did this, suggesting that us going out there and helping people in Uganda was amazing. This was not the intention - it was more that having the opportunity to do something simple like read a book, or join a sports team was amazing; but it is not possible to explain this to everyone, so we felt it we could be contributing to a negative idea of Uganda. By rebranding, we have gone on to ensure we promote a positive idea of Uganda.
What we Would Do Differently
Through the circumstance of setting up and running a charity in Uganda from the UK will not change, you need to go out of your way to ensure you do not reinforce any negative stereotypes from the outset. You need to take more positive action to ensure that there is a net gain for the work you do, when looking at the bigger picture.
Things We Did Well
We wouldn't be completing our tenth year if we hadn't done some things right OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS. So it is worth reflecting on what we think we HAve done well OVER THAT TIME.
Worked with local partners from the beginning
We understood from the outset that we needed to engage with local Ugandan organisations to guide us with implementing our good intentions. We sought out a number of NGOs working in Uganda and then made two trips out to meet prospective partners and discuss the activities we were offering. Rather than then starting our own projects in random communities, we built a partnership with a local NGO and piggy-backed on their projects to add value to the work they were already doing. This way, we were more certain the community we were working with wanted and needed any intervention from us; and also, that we were able to enhance our understanding of the communities themselves.
Didn't try to do too much
The tendency when starting a project or an organisation is to have grand ambitions to do everything, change everything. I think we understood from the start that this was not possible, and we were a small fish in the pond. We wanted to identify a practical solution that we could implement effectively, that aligned with our expertise and interests, and was achievable.
We chose the simplicity of recreational activities based on the idea that the opportunity to do something simple is to do something amazing. That having something to look forward to is a great driver of behaviour change. So we started to give something for people to do, and then the additional activities we have implemented have arisen through a more natural process of need from the people we work with.
Doing ourselves out of a job
We are relatively hard on ourselves, and continuously question our need to exist or the critique of whether we should have started the charity in the first place. We think this internal critique has been vital to ensure that we corrected our early mistakes and then started to make decisions to do ourselves our of a job and empower our local team to take on the running of the organisation. This takes time however, and we are building long term plans to build capacity on the ground and transition the ownership of the organisation out to the team in Uganda.