March 1, 2015
As part of its strategic grantmaking to support women and their families to overcome poverty, violence and injustice in Africa, New Field Foundation focused part of its efforts on southern Senegal as it emerged from twenty years of conflict. During 2006-2012, $3,500,000 was awarded in 90 main grants to 20 nonprofit organizations that served rural women in Casamance. Six of these nonprofit organizations acted as community grantmakers to award 257 community grants totaling $1,347,663 to 116 women's community organizations. In addition to receiving grants, the women's community organizations received technical support and training in order to build their capacity in financial management, project implementation, group savings, and women's leadership. Some members also participated in literacy and numeracy classes, seed exchanges, and knowledge sharing on agro-ecological practices. In 2013, a participatory study was carried out to examine the changes that occurred for women's community organizations receiving community grants. This showed increased food security, improved livelihoods, increased status of women, and greater access to health care and education for rural women and their families. It also showed that, because of the grants, many of the women's community organizations acquired agricultural equipment, increased their revenues, and attracted funding from other sources. In order to explore more deeply the effects of community grants on changes in assets and asset management, the Senegalese non-profit Association Conseil pour l'Action (ACA) carried out a detailed study of 8 of the 116 women's community organizations that had received grants. The study examined the growth in organizational assets, the degree to which the organizations were in charge of their assets, and whether all members of the organization benefited from those assets. Membership of the 8 organizations totaled 723, with members taking care of more than 5,000 family members. The findings provide evidence of improvements in revenues, savings, and capital equipment at organizational and membership level, with an increase in democratic decision-making processes. They also reveal that, while the women's community organizations had ownership of significant assets, not all had authority over thechoice and use of those assets. One women's community organization in particular provided a clear example of the poor outcomes that result when groups are not in charge of decisions. Overall, the successes revealed by the study point towards the importance of entrusting rural women to implement their own development solutions and the necessity of providing the right kinds of support to help them achieve their goals. Encouraged by these results, New Field's board decided to extend its funding in Casamance through 2017.