Connecting local responses around the world
I’m going to tell you the story of Dougoudouma, a village where life is good. Usually stories and tales start with “once upon a time”. But our story takes place in 2022! We created it with a colleague from UNICEF in Bamako during the founding meeting of Malicompetence, a member organization of the Constellation. We didn’t know each other but in less than an hour, we realized how close we were. I hope that someday, I can do the same exercise with the inhabitants of my village in Brabant Wallon!
Dougoudouma, 28 October 2022.
Dougoudouma, a remote village in the Bafoulabe Circle in Mali celebrates the end of the harvest. During this celebration, Dougoudouma takes stock of their progress and decides on actions for continued progress in the
future. Mr Modibo, an adviser to the chief of the village, asks for permission to open the discussion. The leader approves, and soon, Modibo is referring to a large drawing, collectively painted on a large wall by a group of young artists, not far from the discussion tree. This drawing represents the common vision of Dougoudouma.
The vision has evolved over time. Initially, the village had focused on its needs in terms of infrastructure: water, electricity, better roads. Then came the Centre for Community Care (CSCOM) and the school. Gradually, the "hard items" made room for the "soft items": attitudes and practices that lead to sustainable results. Thus emerged solidarity, connection with other communities, both within the country and around the world, and an openness to new ideas... Little by little results were integrated within the vision; including health and even happiness! Finally, once the vision had begun to stabilize, the enthusiastic village asked a group of young people to reproduce their vision on the wall. What resulted was a striking mix of traditional motifs and symbols worthy of even the best graffiti art in Paris...
It all started with the fight against HIV. In 2010, a team visited Dougoudouma to talk about it. At the time, the villagers were not very enthusiastic. They expected that once again they would be bludgeoned with orders: "Young people, abstain! Those who are married, be faithful! And if you cannot control your impulses, use a condom!" However, this team, instead, was interested in the life of the community and encouraged the village to describe its own vision of success against HIV and AIDS. A self-assessment followed and the community
members discussed their situation. They acknowledged the actions already taken so that AIDS has become only a minor concern among other concerns. Now, the community encourages young people to marry before leaving for the capital. Women themselves put condoms in the travel bag of their husbands. "You leave for a long time. So take it if ever you need it. Think of your family and your children." The women have committed vis-à-vis their co-wives not to bring HIV into the family. Now one person in the village is responsible for ensuring the uptake of anti-retro-virals by those in need.
In 2011 the youth decided to get together. "Instead of going far away to get money and risk finding HIV, let us create employment in the village. Here everyone wants electricity. Instead of waiting for the EDM (Electricity From Mali), let us produce electricity ourselves. We have a brother who can send us a first photovoltaic system, let’s install it, and sell electricity. Gradually, let’s supply electricity throughout the village! " And what was said was done.
In 2012, young people proposed to expand the vision of the village. "You can see that, when responding to AIDS, we act for a better life. Let’s define our vision for the village and act together to achieve it. Didn’t we used to say: if you do not know where you want to go, someone will take you elsewhere? We are tired of all these people who define our problems and pretend they bring solutions". Thus the community produced its first vision for the future; a vision of the village where one is happy.
Self-assessment and action plan
Let’s come back to this beautiful day in October 2022, when the debate is animated.
"Do we have to put up the death of young children?" asked the counselor. The women answered: "But Modibo, why do you remind us of these old memories? It has been five years since we have buried a child! You know that today we seek to reduce the incidence of diabetes and stroke with the help of our Health Center!"
"And the young people who have returned this year from Bamako and Paris," can we see them? The young people got up, 5 of them. The drums rolled, the you you sounded. The young people smiled. "So being back is not too difficult?" “Not at all, we joined the trade association of young people. Now it is me who helps to check on the website for the market prices of agricultural commodities in Bamako! "
So, little by little, the village analyses its situation. Health, agriculture, education, water, sanitation, informal economy, infrastructure, security, everything is discussed. The dream partly has been achieved but there is still much to do! Thus they must remain vigilant. The counselor asks: "So, are there new threats in our community?” A young person rises: "We have told a group of drug dealers from Nigeria to go away. We must be vigilant. I volunteer to develop a plan of action!“ A girl stands up: "A friend confessed to me. A teacher gave her good
grades in exchange for intimate relationships. Let us keep the practice of Sexually Transmitted Grades out of here: who wants to help me?”. People get involved. The action plans are discussed. Here people do not vote, but instead agree on targets and indicators of success. The meeting ends. The advisor symbolically presents this year’s action plan to the village chief. The latter, who has not said a word during the meeting, gives it back to the advisor, smiling: "Keep it. You'll need it to monitor the implementation.”
Dougoudouma is not alone. All villages and districts from Mali are on board this process, although HIV and AIDS not the only points of entry. Communities have gained confidence in their ability to continuously build
on their progress in different areas: the fight against malaria, child survival, water supply, waste recycling in urban areas, use of solar energy,improving agricultural yields and so on…
The change that took place in Dougoudouma and elsewhere did not happen spontaneously. Many of the young people are part of Malicompétence, which is the association in Mali for facilitators of local response. They are
motivated by a common vision of a world where each person lives its full potential and where each community builds primarily on its own resources. The essence of their approach lies in the appreciation of the strengths of communities. They are enthusiastic, and not only because they contribute to progress of
communities. The positive view on others transforms their personal and family lives. Where they once found themselves victims of injustice and misunderstanding, they have now been transformed into actors responsible for their own lives.
Born from facilitating local responses to AIDS, Malicompetence has since brought together facilitators operating in all sectors of development. The association continually reviews its approach, enriching it with experiences from Mali. The association, which is a member of the Constellation, contributes to the local response of communities around the world whilst also benefiting from their experience. Malicompetence facilitators are present throughout the country. The communities invite them to accompany them in the development and implementation of their vision. Facilitators do not bring money or inputs such as fertilizers, machinery, medicines or specific technical information. What they bring is priceless: the space to generate the vision of a better future and the awareness of local strengths to achieve it.
The facilitators also connect communities to services that can support them. At first, relations with these services were not always easy. Indeed, staff members were used to considering themselves as being in control of development. However they began to understand how communities are targets of top-down ephemeral programs, depend upon national and international trends. They began to see how, in these circumstances, communities achieve only some transitional results and only as long as financial incentives and material resources reach them. Thus gradually they have realized that it is better to support actions taken and led by
communities to achieve their vision of a better future.
Moreover, the facilitators bring together communities so that they generate new knowledge from their actions. Rather than calling upon experts from the capital, communities have become accustomed to turning to other villages to find solutions to their problems. In the beginning Dougoudouma did not see the benefit of interacting with its neighbors, thinking that everyone had the same experiences. "We had a problem: how to ensure that young people adopted responsible sexual behaviors while they did not experience the 90s, when there was not one month without the burial of a young man or young daughter who died of AIDS? We found the solution in a village located 20 km from here. There they maintained the tradition of introducingyoung people and informing young people about Sexually Transmitted Infections. We have invited the head of our Health Center, and together with the youth we have adapted the program initiation inspired from the experience of a
Today they can use new wisdom born from local experience. Exchange Festivals are organized at local, regional and national level to generate the wisdom and consolidate it into a robust knowledge. Little-by-little, age-old wisdom has made the necessary modifications to successfully integrate modern
life. We must no longer choose between modernism and tradition. Policymakers are surrounded not only with brilliant experts from leading universities, but also wise people able to integrate, in service of a common vision, new opportunities coming from technological and scientific innovations elsewhere.
The role of politics
The mobilization of local resources for development is reflected in macroeconomic terms. We are close to a double-digit growth. The Millennium Development Goals are now outdated, without the authorities putting
in place specific programs to achieve them. How to explain this turnaround? The Prime Minister kindly agreed to respond.
"I have no great merit, because I just started my function. You have to ask my predecessors! But since you insist, here is my interpretation of the keys to success.
Firstly, we have benefited in 2010 from the fiftieth anniversary of independence to settle our colonial and post-colonial past. With our partners, we decided to put an end to paternalism. Governmental and para-governmental institutions do not decide for the citizens of Mali, not even if they believe it is for their own good.
Secondly, and consequently, we have encouraged all officials and development actors to appreciate local strengths. They had to unlearn the expert behavior in charge of development in order to become human
beings, eager to appreciate and learn from the experience of others. Today any situational analysis or any project will describe the local strengths capable of overcoming constraints to meet needs.
Thirdly, the decentralization process in the 90s was an opportunity to invite circles of dialogue and develop their vision for the future. Where these circles did not exist, especially in urban areas, we have encouraged their creation. These circles are the crucible of our democracy, because they are where essential conversations for the achievement a better future based on common strengths are taking place.
Fourthly, into policies of each sector, we have built the principle of universal access to the facilitation of local responses. This has created a demand for facilitation of local responses in which thousands of facilitators, young and old have been trained.
However, beyond these fundamental mechanisms, has been the reassertion of values that have always been at the very foundation of the Malian society: faith and trust in humanity, solidarity between people from Mali, the appreciation of diversity, invaluable to build a common future.”