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October 16, 2011

Breakout Session: Innovating to Meet Community Needs

By Barbie Lucio

Innovating to meet community needs.Panel (from left): Facilitator Diane Griffin (VP of program management), David Allman, Craig DeRoy and Jim Frantz.David Allman at the podium.“The more you listen and respond… the way you increase your chances of success and long term benefit is dramatic,” stated Jim Frantz, chief transformation officer at Opportunity Colombia, speaking about the importance of having local input and ownership when implementing initiatives in impoverished communities.

This breakout session highlighted just a few of the innovative solutions to fighting poverty that have been implemented in Nicaragua, Colombia, and Ghana.

David Allman began the session talking about the program he has been a part of as chairman of Opportunity Nicaragua. At the agricultural level, the program in Nicaragua involves granting loans for farming, as well as training farmers to become local leaders and influence improvements in their communities’ infrastructure. They have also brought in a low-technology processing plant to help them add value to their crops. For instance, he showed us a yucca plant, and explained that, with the help of the low-tech processing, they were able to introduce to the farmers ways of increasing their crop yields and new usages for different product types.

In Nicaragua, they also try to promote community initiatives to build local leaders who are both competent and aspirational. They help these communities identify their own needs and find ways to implement solutions. Since then, they have created their own roofing and road repair projects, and have felt empowered enough to visit their city government and demand necessary changes. Allman finished by talking about the impact this has had on the communities, and how the citizens are so motivated by their accomplishments that they are excited to ask, “What can we do next?!”

Craig DeRoy, founder and CEO of Medeem, talked about his company’s service of bringing land rights to those who live in poverty. They work to formalize the land rights process for those who are unable to do so on their own. He explained that most countries have land records, but that they’re unused and inaccessible for the poor. Medeem has created a self-sustaining local enterprise called ParcelCert to allow for a cost-effective and accessible solution for individuals to own land and feel empowered. They have primarily been working in Ghana, and are working on a model that will be scalable for other communities.

The last presentation was by Jim Frantz. He talked about their program, “A Roof and a Floor for My Home.” Couldn’t get more direct of a title than that! The objectives of this pilot program were to 1) improve the quality of life, 2) provide access to technical expertise, 3) take advantage of lower costs of materials, labor, etc. and 4) strengthen family relations within the community. This pilot program has been successful so far, and he mentions specific cases of women who have built solid homes for their families. “There’s just something about a mother being able to provide security for her kids,” Frantz says. He also talked about a woman named Astrid Suarez who has been providing her technical expertise to the program, and unfortunately was unable to make it to the conference to share her on-the-ground local experience.

This was an interesting breakout session to learn about different partnerships Opportunity has been building in order to provide services to people in poverty. I look forward to following up on their activities and seeing the impact they continue to make.

This post was written by Barbie Lucio. Barbie is a member of the San Francisco chapter of YAO and works with philanthropists to create change and impact.