Twaweza

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It has been very hard to explain to people the idea behind the organization I am working for this summer, in and out of the development field. At this point, it is not even really an organization, but an initiative of Hivos, a large Dutch NGO, which is known for funding innovative and long-term projects. This is the description of Twaweza, published recently in a Hivos newsletter:

Twaweza Lets Africans Decide For Themselves

A ten-year initiative that will give people in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda the means to improve their own quality of life. On all possible fronts, the way they want to. That is Twaweza.

The project was set up this year in collaboration with Hivos by the Tanzanian Rakesh Rajani, who worked in the field of development aid for many years. It is innovative that – except for broad contours – the actual plans of the project will be completely determined by the East African citizens…one such broad contour is that the project aims to increase access to information, for example, by broadening what is offered in the way of local media and improving their quality.

The truth is no one knows exactly how Twaweza will look in the next few years. But that is the idea: to be flexible and able to adapt to the needs of the community, rather than implement top-down projects, as happens so often in development aid. While it is not an advocacy organization in and of itself, it is hoped that through Twaweza, people will gain access to more information which will allow them to advocate for themselves. For example, one of the first projects Twaweza is funding will map water points throughout Tanzanian, and provide citizens a way to sent text messages if their water point is not working. This can be used to have specific information on access to clean water for use by the media or citizens lobbying for the government to improve service delivery. *In 2005, a survey by Afrobarometer showed that over half of Tanzanians had gone without clean water “several times,” “many times,” or “always” over the past year.

I decided to go to Fletcher to explore alternatives to traditional development aid. The central question of my [self-designed] Masters is: how we can make aid more effective? If we are going to use tax-payer money, or even voluntary donations, how can we make sure that programs are actually helping people? Money will always come with political baggage – for example, no one should be surprised that most US aid dollars are funneled to Afghanistan and Iraq – but there is no reason why it can’t still be effective. Therefore, working at Twaweza is providing an opportunity to explore one alternative model to development. Most of my other coursework, and the mobile banking conference, is closer to another popular alternative, using the private sector to tackle social problems. I do believe that the private sector is vital, and the public-private partnerships do often work better than development aid, but one can’t forget that the private sector can’t solve everything. *More on this in the next post.* Please do not hesitate to drill me more on the Twaweza model if it doesn’t make sense to you. I have been working here for a month and I’m still trying to figure out exactly how to describe it!

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