Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Over 70% of Uganda’s population lives in rural areas and depends on subsistence farming for survival. It is also estimated that over 60% of Uganda’s population- the majority of who live in rural areas- still live on less than a dollar a day. The socio-economic challenges in rural communities remain intractable despite decades of targeted development aid and interventions in Uganda, and across Africa. Rural areas still account for the lowest level of infrastructure development, the highest level of illiteracy, the highest levels of child and maternal mortality, the highest rate of unemployment, highest rate of malnutrition and ultimately, the highest rate of poverty.
The above scenario has persisted for decades- a strong statement about the ineffectiveness of current NGO and government-driven development models. The traditional development model promotes the idea that rural communities are helpless and incapable of solving their own problems. For example, the Ugandan government has set up a rural development fund to give any group of twenty or more villagers - organized into a cooperative - funds for investment in agriculture. Without any further support, these groups almost always fail with their only hope being that the government will bail them out again. Development assistance has revolved around the external development of solutions and their importation to rural communities. It is a top down approach that removes these communities’ most valuable asset- their independence and capacity to create change. This fosters attitudes of self-defeat and resignation. For example, hundreds of young people escape the perceived shackles of rural poverty by selling off their inherited land to pursue economic opportunities in urban areas; and multitudes of women widowed by HIV/AIDS who (together with their children) accept a life of destitution. As in these examples, the attitude persistent among most people living in rural areas is one of passivity, dependence, and displays a lack of self-confidence in their ability to enact change their own lives.
The inefficient implementation of interventions has also contributed to the failure of current development models to create long-lasting and sustainable rural development. For example, the extension service (designed to give rural farmers technical support as they transition from subsistence to commercial farming) supplies only one extension worker for every 30,000 farmers. It would take this extension worker 100 years to spend just one day with each farmer. For years, the government has allocated three percent or less of its annual budget to agriculture and only recently has that figure jumped up to 4.9%, compared to almost 29 percent that is consistently allocated to public administration. Of the little allocated to agriculture and rural development, just a fraction is actually spent on intended activities. The majority is lost to exorbitant administrative costs, corruption and mismanagement. Without grooming leadership and creating the grassroots capacity to hold duty bearers accountable, such malpractice is bound to persist for generations to come. Therefore, the paradox of rural development in Uganda is that communities have been programmed to rely on government and development aid programs to address their problems, and yet these institutions lack the capacity, longevity and, in some cases, the genuine interest to provide appropriate and long-lasting solutions. To John, the diagnosis was clear and so was the solution: rural communities need to be empowered to take control of their own circumstances.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
John is working to challenge rural dependence on ineffective development assistance and catalyze local solutions to poverty in Uganda. Through his organization- Agrostock- John fosters local leadership by supporting community-elected Change Agents who, in turn, support others in a virtuous cycle of community upliftment. Fundamental to John’s idea is the insight that empowering communities and shifting mindsets (from passivity to active social and economic citizenship) can unlock long-term and local solutions to poverty. In this manner, he is mobilizing previously untapped human capital and natural resources to create self-reliant and economically vibrant rural communities in Uganda.
Agrostock assists the community in electing an “outstanding citizen”- a change agent-who has overcome the same debilitating challenges faced by all in the village. Agrostock provides financial and professional support to the change agent to scale their income-generating activities and, in return, they train and mentor up to twenty community members to replicate their success. In addition to Agrostock’s support, the respect and honor bestowed upon change agents by other villagers motivates these outstanding citizens to honor their end of the “social contract”. Over a thousand change agents have been recruited across three large districts in Uganda and they are now transforming the lives of tens of thousands in return. In contrast with the past, the community’s attitude shifts from dependence to self-reliance, as they look inward for local solutions to local challenges.