In my last post, I wrote about creating community ownership of projects, and focused on the need to ground truth innovation in the design phase. Now, moving onto my second observation from Cite Soleil, I will discuss sweat equity in the implementation process.
What is sweat equity? I chose this term to depict the fact that ownership does not necessary mean that communities have to pay for it. It does, almost always, mean that the project will take more time than planned. One example provided to me by my friend Sabina: An NGO decided to build a school in the community. They purchased the materials, but made it clear that the school must be built by the community themselves, and by members of multiple blocs to overcome trust issues (see previous post.) The building of the school started, and stopped, started again, and stopped again. Each time, the NGO did not step in to continue the building, and their consistency made it clear that the community alone was responsible for the completion of the school. When it was finished, the community did not only use the school, but it became a full community center, voluntarily used for community events and social gatherings. On the contrary, a child nutrition center right next door cannot seem to get anyone to come to the center. Why? They built the center without any community buy-in, and failed to recognize that it would have been much more sustainable to provide income-generating activities within the area (which offers very little formal employment) so that parents could afford to feed their children on their own.
Another example is this Eiffel Tower. The picture was started by a young and humble graffiti artist, Snake, who will paint upon request for little to no commission, as long as the procurer provides the spray paint. However, spray paint is relatively expensive, and this Eiffel Tower, unfortunately, is not yet finished because the community members who asked for it have run out of money for paint, for the time being. And yet, they still find pride in the picture, which is for the community and by the community, and they are confident that it will be finished someday. Sabina, who still has some American sensibilities despite being integrated with into the Haitain community, has been tempted to simply buy the paint and get it finished. Hwoever, she knows very well that if she did, the picture would be ruined, and would no longer have any meaning for the community. So she’ll just have to wait, too.