Focusing on the person, not the problem

Nigel Livesley

Regional Director for South Asia, USAID Applying Science to Strengthen and Improve Health Systems (ASSIST) Project, University Research Co., LLC (URC)

I really like this case study by Tiwonge Moyo because it highlights the importance of focusing on the person not on the problem.  Many aid projects come in with a set of solutions for specific problems.  For example, education projects may give school materials to improve education or nutrition/livelihood projects may provide animals to improve economic security.  The needs of people and communities, though, are usually more complex and single solutions may not always work. 

Members of the Blantyre QI team in Lundu

In this case study, Tiwonge and her counterparts in the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare, worked with a team chosen by the community to address the needs of vulnerable children.  The team decided that the priority for their community was to improve early childhood development support so that these kids were being stimulated and were being prepared to enter school.  Their focus was not on delivering a predetermined solution but on making sure that these kids had the best possible start to life.  The team approached this with an open mind.  First they focused on the obvious stuff – building ECD centres, training ECD staff.  But as they worked they realized that many of the kids were malnourished and that this was going to affect their results.  They, therefore, broadened their approach and worked with many different stakeholders and ministries to address improve the kids nutrition status and thus improve the quality of ECD.

The main lessons for me from this case study are that we need to help communities pick their own priorities to solve, to support them to try their own solutions (providing external support only when they encounter problems they can’t address on their own), and to remember that children – unlike governments and other organizations aren’t chopped up into different sectors but have multiple, interacting needs which must all be addressed.


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