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Listening to the Community is Key to Success for Social Programs

It is never enough merely to have good intentions, or the conviction that a great project conceived within four walls is so good that simply it cannot fail. This practice often discredits theories that on the surface appear quite sound. To create lasting solutions and sustain effective change, we must be prepared to listen to the beneficiaries of the proposed action, be open to discourse with those who wish to help, understand their needs (expressed in their own words) and learn from their knowledge about the real life situation earmarked for change. In doing so, we need to accept that preconceived ideas must be considered with other points of view before being applied. “This explains why projects that are good in theory haven’t proven to be successful,” said Marco Castillo, general director of the Ceiba Group, from Guatemala.

In spite of their good intentions, many organizations fail in their attempts, since they are viewed as outside agents who arrive with stock solutions. As soon as they leave, the social framework reverts back to how it was previously.

Ceiba is a non-governmental organization that works with the prevention of the drug and street gang phenomenon in poor neighborhoods of Guatemala City, providing youth with personal and professional development opportunities through education and training, leadership and entrepreneurship programs. “The youth in these areas are stigmatized by society, viewed as a social menace. In order for they themselves to believe they can become something different, we need to earn their trust, understand their needs and, together with them, develop alternative outlets.”

For Regina Cabral (wearing a black T-shirt, on the picture), from Formação, an NGO from the Brazilian state Maranhão, innovative social projects need to develop articulated actions in order to forge close bonds with the community. Cabral supervises the cluster of projects in the Baixada Maranhense region entitled Young Citizen, which is supported by the Kellogg Foundation. “This requires thorough researching of the real life situation earmarked for change, identifying community organizations, getting to know their leaders, delivering programs that satisfy the needs of the youth and believing in their capacity for growth.”

Furthermore, it requires persistence until the results of the efforts to implement innovative projects begin to appear. “Three years ago, when we began to discuss the Citizen Project in the Baixada, we encountered a reticent youth with poor self-esteem. However, they embraced the activities we developed, such as art and communication workshops,” explained Cabral. “They became more purposeful after the creation of Youth Forums, which engage organizations from the Baixada Maranhense’s 10 municipal districts. And also as they began to negotiate with municipal leaders the right conditions for conducting their activities and specific policies for their towns.


Published in Interaction nº 20




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