Fontes Foundation is specialized in community development through the implementation of safe water systems and education projects. We pride ourselves in our long-term approach and focus on sustainability. In effect, in twelve years of being active in supplying water to disadvantaged communities as an entry point to escape poverty, we were able to attain a retention rate of a 100% of our portfolio projects. One of the main pillars of our long-term approach is Community Involvement. This article briefly touches on benefits and costs of this form of organizing our projects and discusses ways to smooth the processes.
There are many benefits that come with the involvement of the respective communities and the employing of local resources. Most of them are related to the creation of ownership. By closely involving the communities in the planning, implementing and running of our projects, we aim to establish a sense of ownership and thereby increase of responsibility within the community. However, deep community involvement also bears the potential of challenges. Some challenges are found in the implementation of sound management processes.
Most failures in management result from three major reasons; first, the attitude of the community towards money collection. It is a common belief in some communities that it is legitimate for the volunteering water committee to use some of the money collected from water sales to cover their basic needs, instead of improving and maintaining the water system. This misunderstanding can lead to mismanagement of funds by the water community, which comes with terrible consequences in case of defects in the water systems.
Secondly, due to a low democratic capacity, it is possible that the community elects people for short-term personal gains instead of by reason of capability. In unfortunate cases, this can result in locally elected representatives with little inspiration or interest of developing the water project, in the worst case even to an embezzlement of funds. Lastly, the high illiteracy level among people in rural Uganda is a prevalent challenge. Literacy constitutes the minimum criteria for some of the positions within the water committee, such as chairman, treasurer and secretary, in order to being able to conduct their tasks. These criteria unfortunately exclude a part of the population from being eligible to the mentioned positions.
Workshop on financial management
Over the years, we developed different tools to tackle the mentioned challenges. Regarding the financial management issues, we have been increasingly focused on educating the water committees in cash management and basic accounting. For this to be successful, it is important to keep the tools simple and to move step by step as well as to let the committees try and fail.
To foster the democratic capacity of the communities, we educate communities about the importance of electing strong and responsible water committees. Through workshops and capacity buildings that are organized at least once every year, Fontes teaches roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder in the community, aiming at improving the understanding of the entire system. We constantly remind the members of the community that the project belongs to the community and not Fontes Foundation. The community should therefore take responsibility for inventory of the systems, and supervise the water committee, which is directly accountable to them.
To solve the illiteracy issue, Fontes has started a scholarship program where a child is selected from the villages basing on performance, discipline and the financial status of the guardian or parent. The program covers four years of high school and two years of vocational training. This has been very fruitful, two former students, Cleophas and Pascal supervise the water projects on behalf of Fontes Foundation.
In addition to these formalized efforts, we need to stay open-minded to learn and flexible to find individual solutions, adapted to specific occasions. This was apparent in a recent case, when a respected treasurer turned blind. Since the community insisted on keeping the experienced treasurer, we agreed on appointing an assistant to help him, who takes over the reading and writing. In this way we managed to ensure the completion of the task without interfering with the decision of the local community.