The URI Africa- Great Lakes regional office has been working on more ways to stay connected with CCs in the region, namely in six countries: Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, and Tanzania, which is just coming on board. In order to strengthen this relationship, the regional office initiated a pilot exchange learning program this year among its member CCs, starting with Uganda. Among the many objectives, the program specifically aims to:
- Enable and foster an informal learning environment for the CCs, their target communities, the coordination office, and the URI-GL secretariat
- Deepen relations and connections through learning CCs’ administrative style and how they offer services to its target communities or people.
- Build the capacity of both new and older, small and larger CCs in terms of organizational development affairs in programming, leadership, management, and fundraising
- Create and enhance CC linkages to existing networks and opportunities within their immediate localities such as available government structures.
So far, two exchange visits have been organized; the first one among 5 peace-building focused CCs. In this first cycle, Conflict Resolution by Youth CC, Restoring and Empowering Communities CC, and Interfaith Youth Partnership CC visited 2 CCs based in Northern Uganda, Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI) and Golden Women Vision Uganda.
The second cycle focused on CCs with an environmental, economic, or human rights focus. The CCs participating were: Prometra Uganda, Friends of Community Health (FCOH) CC, The Latter Glory of Religions in Busoga CC, and Pamoja CC, who visited Peace Kawomera based in Mbale (Eastern Uganda), a CC that grows Peaceful Robusta coffee through a cooperative association model.
Program and Execution
Driven by URI’s goal to strengthen connections and adaptive learning, the URI-GL regional office embarked on a pilot initiative to have CCs undertake exchange learning visits to each other’s’ duty stations as well as the communities in which they work. The pilot initiative, started among Ugandan CCs due to proximity and financial reasons, began with different consultative sessions between the Secretariat and CC members during through different platforms such as regional assemblies, profiling visits, email, phone conversations and other activities.
The regional staff conducted a CC matching strategy/exercise to map CC competencies, needs, and challenges to determine which CCs would be exchange partners. We also identified which participants from the CCs would attend, such as technical people or active members who would best be able to carry the learning back home. The team also chose to include some additional CCs even when their action areas did not perfectly match the initiative’s guidelines, just to give them the opportunity to experience new programming, management, and other ideas. and other areas. The program used a cluster approach where just two CCs hosted the entire cluster in two turns.
The actual execution of the program entails both an in-house appreciation of the host CC’s work in terms of its founding story/history, ideals, program action areas, leadership and management, fundraising, challenges, needs and more. This was accompanied by a field learning module to communities in which CCs work to interface with the people who benefit from the programs. Besides the formal agenda, there was also casual conversations, site visits, laughter, and bonding over personal, spiritual, or work life.
Cross-learning exchanged among CCs: visiting CCs gives more room and freedom to learn about each other’s work. This allows members to see how things are done by others and translate what they learned to their own situations. Establishing this atmosphere encourages all participants to be able to share ideas or ask questions.
Fostering technical learning: learning based on CC focus programs, organizational structure, and lines of responsibility, administration, and networking helps them to evaluate institutional gaps and available opportunities.
An informal space beyond a workshop setting: before the exchange initiative, it was rare to see people so free and enthusiastic about learning from each other in a workshop setting such as in trainings or assemblies. During the exchange, the atmosphere was one of calm, warmth, and collaboration.
Appreciation for interfaith endurance: having people from diverse spiritual, traditional and religious backgrounds created an atmosphere of tolerance, respect, and appreciation for each other’s faith values. Sometimes, discussion about faith was done in an informal setting, allowing learning about each other’s faith to grow, demystifying prior unease.
Relationship building between CCs and regional staff: we noticed members chatting, laughing, and sharing throughout the whole exchange. Some CCs even made follow-up plans on their own to facilitate continued skill-sharing, including ARLPI and REC, CRY and Golden Women, and Prometra and Peace Kawomera.
CC action stories becoming more real: CCs share their histories, grassroots actions and the like, as well as stories from both their personal and work lives. This environment has become a better way of documenting stories in their real, natural form.
Networks & opportunities realized: members discussed the different circles in which they work and what opportunity are available for their needed services or support. Regional staff are newly determined to support these relationships and follow-up as needed.
Learnings from the CC Exchange Initiative
Challenges and solutions
Like any pilot program we encountered a few challenges and some of these were:
- As a new initiative, some CCs were still in the spirit of workshop-based learning so demands on the organizers were sometimes beyond our means. We worked on this in next visits, ensuring that we provided proper information on roles and responsibilities.
- Sometimes the host CCs’ work seemed disconnected from the focus area of some visiting CCs. We did a CC assets and opportunities mapping for the learning, but some CCs were not clear on what they were doing. We however encouraged such CCs to focus less on the programs but more on the institutional management capacities for learning and integration in their work.
- The journeys to some of the visited CCs were long, and we sometimes arrived very late because of car or road conditions. We therefore adjusted our schedules to stay the night and leave in the morning to avoid problems, and revisit the logistical plans based on CC proximity.
- Some CCs, especially those who are not yet registered, were far behind in terms of implementation compared to more established CCs. We always advised them to start small but with clear focus areas so that they can be able to stand out in the community for future appreciation and networking the way the strong CCs started.
- Increasing hosting time if budget allowed.
- Exchanges are more impactful when technical personnel from CCs and community members served are involved.
- Exchanges are better started in small humble ways to assess viability.
- Exchanges are more appreciated if CCs pick up added value tips for their work, however small.
- CCs have to be encouraged to own the process right from the start through a clear explanation of the benefits involved to lessen the burden on the organizer and for learning sustainability.