April 2008 Newsletter: Progress on Scale-up in Ghana

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The Hunger Project has made major strides in its most ambitious program to date: mobilizing women and men across the Eastern Region of Ghana to create epicenters within walking distance of every villager. In just the first 18 months, we’ve expanded the number of clusters of villages mobilized to form epicenters in the Eastern Region from seven to 30.

The Epicenter Strategy is a bottom-up, gender-focused approach that empowers clusters of villages to meet all their basic needs on a sustainable basis. It takes people from abject poverty to self-reliance in five years for just US$8 per person per year. The strategy has proven to be effective, affordable and replicable. Today, there are more than 100 epicenters across eight countries of West, East and Southern Africa. Sixteen of these epicenters are now self-reliant, requiring no additional financial input from The Hunger Project.

The next big challenge for ending hunger and poverty in Africa is not to pioneer new approaches, but to expand successful strategies to full national scale. Never before has a multisector rural development strategy been scaled up to this extent. Taking the Epicenter Strategy to national scale will require a dramatic change in the policies of governments and international agencies.

Timeline

September 2005: At the Clinton Global Initiative, we commit to launch a demonstration of scale-up in at least one African country.

July 2006 — Year One: Four mobilized epicenters begin construction; mobilization begins in five of the Eastern Region’s 16 rural districts.

July 2007 — Year Two: Eight more epicenters begin construction; mobilization begins in six more districts.

July 2008 — Year Three: Eight more epicenters to begin construction; mobilization begins in the final three districts.

July 2011 — End of Year Five: Total of 36 new epicenters complete construction

Note from Jill Lester

As you receive this newsletter, I will be in Ghana — where scale-up is our highest global priority for 2008. During my first 100 days as president of The Hunger Project, I am also visiting India and Bangladesh, as well as gatherings of investors, staff and activists in Europe, Australia and the U.S. It is deeply inspiring to directly experience the difference that your investment is making when combined with the leadership, initiative and hard work of millions of women and men working to end their own hunger. I greatly appreciate the privilege of being your partner, and I look forward to our work together as The Hunger Project enters this next phase in its history.

Elements of the Epicenter Strategy

The Epicenter Strategy is a step-by-step methodology to overcome enormous social, economic and political challenges. Consistent with our programs on each continent, the Epicenter Strategy tackles the three “make or break” issues that are key to achieving all eight Millennium Development Goals at the local level:

  • Social mobilization for self-reliant action, building people’s own capacities, leadership and confidence.
  • Interventions for gender equality, including equal representation in all leadership bodies, economic empowerment of women through the African Woman Food Farmer Initiative, and transforming harmful gender-based practices that fuel the spread of HIV/AIDS.
  • Making local government work by fostering partnership with local officials at every step of the process, to provide teachers, health workers, literacy instructors and other resources to the epicenters.

The Epicenter Strategy Unfolds through Four Clear Phases

Phase One: Mobilization. Through participation in a series of Vision, Commitment and Action Workshops (VCAWs), the people in a cluster of villages overcome resignation and dependency, develop local leadership, launch village-level development projects, and allocate land and materials to create their own epicenter building. This phase takes at least one year.

Phase Two: Construction. The people build and begin to operate their own L-shaped epicenter building, nurses’ quarters, and a multiseat improved latrine, providing facilities necessary for meeting all basic needs. This phase takes approximately one year.

Phase Three: Progress on All Fronts. Epicenter leaders learn to run all epicenter programs including the health center, preschools, adult literacy and microfinance. Farms are improved, the food bank is stocked, and the epicenter’s own income programs reach the point at which the epicenter can fund itself. This takes roughly three years.

Phase Four: Self-reliance. The epicenter continues to make social and economic progress through its own finances and leadership. The oldest epicenters have been entirely self-funding for more than a decade.

Progress in Phase One

At the start of Year One, a top priority was to launch Phase One (mobilization) in many areas of the Eastern Region, so that at least eight epicenters would be ready to move into Phase Two in Year Two. As shown on the map, during Year One we began the process in five districts, which resulted in 18 new epicenters.

This process begins as staff meet with district officials, who invite village representatives — with equal numbers of women and men — to participate in a district-level VCAW. The representatives return home and begin mobilizing their fellow villagers, who then invite The Hunger Project to conduct village-level VCAWs.

During Year One, this mobilization led to more than 50 village-level action projects, ranging from building new classrooms to installing grain mills and improving farms.

Of the 18 epicenters that emerged from the Year One mobilization, eight appear to be on target to implement Phase Two (construction) during Year Two.

The expansion of Phase One has continued in Year Two, during which The Hunger Project expanded into six more districts, which have held district- and village-level VCAWs. At least one epicenter — and most likely three — will emerge in each of these districts from this mobilization.

Also during Phase One, the Robertson Foundation has made a grant to Yale University, in partnership with the University of Ghana and the University of California, Berkeley, to conduct an independent, 10-year impact evaluation of the epicenter model. The research team is applying state-of-the-art evaluation methodologies, including surveys of randomly selected households in both the areas of mobilization and areas not being mobilized.

The Epicenter Strategy transforms the culture of dependency, resignation and gender discrimination into a culture of responsibility, self-reliance and gender equality.

Progress in Phases Two and Four

One reason we chose the Eastern Region of Ghana was that in two of its 16 rural districts there were already two epicenters in Phase Four, and five epicenters in Phase One.

The journey from Phase One to Phase Two is very challenging. Communities must allocate five acres of land (two for the epicenter building and three for a community farm); transfer clear title on the land to The Hunger Project (a big challenge in Ghana, where traditional chiefs control land ownership); mobilize building materials such as sand, gravel and roof beams; mold blocks; and contribute the labor required to construct their epicenter building.

On a target of building four epicenter buildings in Year One, the first, Dwerebease, was inaugurated in August 2007. Two more, Odumase and Ankoma, had difficulty finding sufficient wood to finish their roofs as a consequence of changes in government forest policies, and completed construction in March 2008. The fourth epicenter, Nkawanda, ran into serious land title and site challenges, which were overcome only in January, and construction is now under way. These challenges have been compounded by global economic factors, such as a weak U.S. dollar and skyrocketing fuel costs.

We knew scale-up would present challenges — we just did not know what they would be! Our Africa Department is providing additional training to support the regional staff in meeting these challenges, and we’ve increased our rate of mobilizing new epicenters in Phase One, recognizing that reaching Phase Two will likely take longer than projected. This strategy seems to be working.

Work continues even after an epicenter reaches Phase Four. One lesson we learned from epicenters in this phase has been that we can sustain trained nurses at our epicenters only if the community provides housing for them. One Phase Four epicenter already had nurses’ quarters; in the early part of Year Two, the other Phase Four epicenter also constructed housing, completing all the requirements for long-term self-reliance.

Expansion in the Eastern Region of Ghana

Where we have been working since 2001, with two epicenters in Phase Four, and now four more having entered Phase Two

Launched in Year One: 18 new epicenters in five districts, now nearing completion of Phase One.

Launched in Year Two: six new districts have completed district-level Vision, Commitment and Action Workshops (step two in Phase One).

Will be launched in Year Three.

Primarily urban district where we will not be working.

Underwriting Scale-up

In July 2006, the Robertson Foundation agreed to provide US$5 million over five years to launch scale-up in Ghana.

Years two to five are a challenge match. The Hunger Project receives funds only if it secures an equal amount from new sources (that is, from entirely new investors, or from increases beyond people’s mid-2006 investment levels). To meet the Robertson Challenge, we invite investors to commit at least US$25,000 per year for at least the duration of the grant. At the level of US$80,000 per year for five years, investors can underwrite an entire epicenter.

We met the challenge in 2007, with 18 investors ranging from individual Dutch entrepreneurs to the Leavey Foundation to the city of Zurich. At this point, there is still an opportunity for a few investors to join the challenge beginning in 2008!

Hannah’s Lunchbox

One of the newest participants in the Robertson Challenge is the Salwen family from Atlanta. At age 15, Hannah Salwen awakened to the profound injustice of extreme poverty. She convinced her family that they should sell their home, move into a more modest house, and contribute the proceeds to ending hunger in Africa. Her younger brother, Joseph, made a video of this commitment titled “Hannah’s Lunchbox,” which you can see on YouTube.com. After extensive research and consultations, the family concluded that the best investment of their money would be through The Hunger Project. They are underwriting one epicenter beginning in 2008, and a second epicenter beginning in 2009.