At the heart of every solution lies a problem and we always begin with problems, not solutions. When we review the proposals we receive, one of the first things we look for is a statement of the problem. It will often appear under many headings, such as ‘Rationale for the Project’ or ‘Reasons behind the Intervention’ or, simply, ‘Problem Statement’, but they all mean largely the same thing. In that section, we want to see evidence that:
- There is a problem or need that is currently not being met or is only partially being met.
- The organisation in question has researched the area, community and field in which it will work to learn the extent and scale of that problem.
- All reasonable efforts have been made to research the ways in which that need or problem is currently being addressed and by whom.
Each of those steps is crucial to designing a successful solution. First and foremost, if we are to be effective as a funder we need to be confident that we are tackling a pressing need and addressing issues which are having undesirable consequences on people within a given community. We also want to know the root causes of the problem, as well as its symptoms, so that we can see whether or not the proposed solution will address the problem or simply tackle the consequences.
Sometimes, what is a problem for one community or group may not be a problem for another community five miles down the road. Sometimes, two communities may share a similar problem, but with very different root causes. And sometimes, people may be reluctant to admit that a problem is a problem at all. For these reasons – and many others besides – it’s important that any organisation knows the environment in which it’s working. More often than not, the very best solutions come from those with a deep knowledge and understanding of the issues involved. This is one of the reasons that we like to work with grassroots, African-based organisations or, at the very least, organisations with good on-the-ground relationships and partnerships. We want to see that organisations have spoken to those most affected by the problem to learn from their experience, help them gain a better understanding of the issues and, hopefully, to develop appropriate solutions.
As well as developing a solution, organisations also need to be aware of any other attempts that have been made to address the issue. Often, there may be several NGOs working within one community all trying to solve a particular issue. Wherever possible, we want to see that an organisation has taken steps to talk to others working in and with the community to ensure that their own efforts don’t undermine or otherwise detract from successful projects that are already running. If technology can aid or extend the reach of an already existing project, then so much the better. Where a new project seeks to compete with an existing one, however, we would require convincing that the existing project was failing in some respect.
Many of our current grantees are working to address significant problems and while they may not be able to solve them unilaterally we believe in the potential that they offer. Youth for Tech, for example, are working to address a chronic lack of HIV/AIDS awareness among Nigerian youth. According to one survey, just 25% of those aged between 15 and 24 were able to correctly identify ways of preventing HIV transmission. Clearly, the need for more effective sexual health education is considerable and is not currently being fulfilled. As a result of their work with NGOs, meanwhile, iLab Liberia were able to identify a significant gap in IT skills and services provision for Liberia’s local tech community. They have sought to overcome this by setting up Liberia’s first tech hub. These are just but two examples of how Indigo’s current grantees have identified problems and gone about addressing them.
In the next post, I’ll look at the importance of appropriate and accessible technology.