The Civil Society programme inherited the Foundation's long-standing concern for the organisational well-being of its grantees, but four major cross-cutting issues remain. The following are so important to all Foundation programmes that they cannot be addressed in isolation.
Human Resource Development
The Foundation supports a great variety of education and training activities for its partners. These range from upgrading technical skills to providing scholarships for degree programmes, from instructing managers of women's organisations in accounting to providing internships to young development professionals in certain countries. Human capacity to make a difference can indeed be nurtured and taught, and "can do" attitudes are needed everywhere.
The benefits of community participation in development programmes have been richly demonstrated. Local people can acquire the organised capacity to define and meet common needs on a sustainable basis.
Each year the range of problems poor communities address through participatory efforts grows - as does the Foundation's understanding of what is needed to champion local initiative.
Full participation comes most quickly when there are immediate, tangible benefits from community action. Projects that bring economic rewards, for instance, move forward faster than those aimed solely at preventing health problems. As community organisations created for economic benefit mature, however, they gain the confidence and vision to address longer-term social needs successfully. The potential of these groups is vast.
Support organisations need to listen carefully. Community groups want to be heard, to be offered choices, to have central roles in project management and a genuine stake in the outcome. As the Foundation monitors community initiatives in different cultural and geographical settings, it is learning what combinations of these factors bring maximum social and economic benefits over time.
It is also learning the limits to the effectiveness of community participation. Experience shows, for example, that small enterprises are best run by individuals or partners rather than by community organisations.
Gender and Development
The Foundation is committed to highlighting the key role of women in the development process and to facilitating their participation. Research and experience have shown that taking gender considerations into account in planning economic and social interventions greatly increases the probability of their success. In most countries and communities, gender determines both domestic and productive roles. Women generally have responsibilities for both, but their ability to contribute to society is constrained by social, cultural and political traditions. Compared to men, they tend to be less educated, more limited in their options and paid less.
Yet women manage households, raise children, pass knowledge to the next generation, tend livestock, grow and process crops and often run businesses to supplement family income.
Families and communities benefit exponentially when women reap greater rewards for their own efforts and labour. Once sustenance needs are covered, women quickly address the health and education needs of other generations. To raise the competence and confidence of women - and, correspondingly, to open up the thinking of men - is a long-term commitment of the Foundation. In addition to supporting research and action aimed at making women's participation a reality, the Foundation supports women with village credit schemes, training in forestry, masonry, crop and livestock management, accounting and marketing. It encourages education and careers for women.
It looks for ways to engage with men around the attitudinal and structural changes that flow from programmes that benefit women.
In resource-poor areas, people and the environment are often trapped together in a downward spiral. Penury of natural resources forces the less privileged to consume the few resources available to them. The result is deeper poverty, depleted soils, deforested hills, polluted water, disease and despair. The Foundation's rural development programmes combine local organisation, appropriate technology and investment in efforts to reverse this destructive course.
Health, education and capacity development programmes also help to raise awareness of environmental issues and encourage people to manage change in the best interests of the community.
The environment includes natural, built, and cultural factors that cut across virtually all development programmes. Each profoundly affects the human condition, and all are interrelated. The Foundation cooperates with the Aga Khan Planning and Building Services to help poor communities overcome environmental problems and to plan growth even in remote villages and towns.
Environmental problems are complex and often extremely difficult to solve. Even the smallest steps in the right direction have positive implications for rich and poor alike.
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