How We Work
Groundswell is a global partnership of civil society organizations, NGOs and resource people in Africa, Latin America and Asia. We strengthen rural communities to create and spread healthy food and farming systems from the bottom up. Groundswell partners work together to:
- Learn from each other and strengthen our impact on the ground.
- Spread successful practices.
- Amplify the voices of rural people to shape the policies that affect their lives.
- Mobilize resources to accomplish our goals.
Most of the world’s poverty and hunger is concentrated among farming families in Africa, Latin American and Asia. We also believe that these people are on the front lines of creating many of the solutions to the world’s challenges. Groundswell works with and strengthens these rural communities to create and spread healthy food and agro-ecological farming systems from the bottom up.
Over 1 billion people in the world are hungry, and 80% of them are rural farmers and food producers. Groundswell’s partners work with these people at the community level to sustainably grow more food and improve their lives. As importantly, we help them to spread successful approaches to farming and strengthening local economies – and to build alliances with urban communities, wider social movements, and between countries in the global South and North. While we focus on strengthening local food and agro-ecological farming systems, we also support people to address other priority concerns – such as community health, equity between women and men, savings and credit cooperatives, income generation and resilience to disasters. All of these issues are connected in rural communities.
Groundswell’s partners have recognized for decades that real development happens and is sustained when local people take the lead, build their skills, create healthy, representative organizations and generate prosperity – and when societies put in place the policies and institutions to foster this. Too many traditional development models are based on top-down mandates from donors and dependence on external inputs and expertise. Too often they fail to generate long term results.
Through decades of experience in rural communities around the world, and critical dialogue and debate across programs, we have developed some principles that guide our work. These are reflected in the diagram below.
All communities and local organizations have a history that pre-dates our relationship with them, and they each have their own strengths, weaknesses and different capacity levels to pursue their dreams and improve their lives. Our goal is to foster strong community-based organizations whose continued development is not dependent on us.
This growing local capacity level is represented by the wavy line in the diagram above. We start by facilitating reflection with community members on what assets, capacities and needs they have. We help them identify key constraints, and start small to generate solutions. We support them to deepen and spread those solutions, and to strengthen local organizations to manage the process. Community leaders and local organizations become more resilient and capable in confronting new challenges and opportunities.
What do these principles look like in practice?
- Creating opportunities for people to take action and to lead: In Burkina Faso, we support exchange visits between village women’s groups, exposing them to successful farming techniques. In Ecuador, we help farmers analyze how to capture and use rainwater, and to see how great an impact this can have on their food production and income. As these people begin to succeed and improve the lives of their families, many become leaders and agents for change in their communities.
- Test new ideas on a small scale: Farmers in Honduras and Guatemala experiment with soil conservation, cover crops and improved local seed on small sections of their land, to discover what works without risking an entire season’s harvest. They evaluate the results, and then apply the successful practices on the rest of their farms. Then they share their experience and their knowledge – becoming teachers to their neighbors.
- Mobilize local resources first: In Mali and Haiti, groups of 10-20 people pool and manage their own savings, often starting with less than $1 each, and set up rules to make loans to members on a rotating basis. They reinvest these loans in the more productive agroecological farming techniques they are learning. Community savings, regenerated soil, local seed banks, community skills and organization – these and other local resources are the building blocks of a better future.
- Strengthen local organizational capacity: In Haiti, those responsible for hundreds of these savings & credit groups form a growing network of local leaders. These leaders then create coordinating committees across 20 or 30 communities, founding viable local peasant organizations which manage their own plans and activities to improve their lives. And 5-10 of these local peasant organizations are forming regional networks to increase their leverage and support each other.
- Promote a multiplier effect: Successful practices are spread farmer-to-farmer, community-to-community, and organization to organization. In Burkina Faso, we are supporting a learning network between farmers and local organizations in the eastern part of the country to spread effective agro-ecological practices. In Mali, we are supporting women’s groups 20 villages to test nitrogen fixing trees and cover crops to improve depleted soil – with plans to spread successful practices farmer to farmer among 200 villages.
- Build bridges to Movements for Social Change: Strong local organizations link to wider movements to shape the decisions that affect their lives. In Ecuador, we are supporting local farmers groups to build networks and engage in policy dialogues on the country’s food sovereignty laws. In West Africa, we are linking village level groups to the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa.
In all of this work, we also support some cross cutting principles. We encourage equity and inclusiveness. As most farming is now done by women, we emphasize gender equity and leadership development and opportunities for women. We focus on strengthening local food and agro-ecological farming systems, while also support community-based organizations to address other priority needs in a holistic manner. We ground our action locally, supporting positive change from the bottom up, but coordinate globally to share lessons, improve our strategies, and amplify the voices of rural people to shape supportive policies and a more people-centered paradigm for development.