Thursday, July 16, 2009

Dreaming Together: A Community Approach to Planning

by Sarah Ferry, Tanzania Programs Officer During a recent trip to Africa, I met with local communities to create a five-year strategic plan for Plant With Purpose Tanzania. Our planning group consisted of the Plant With Purpose Tanzania staff, board members and community group members from each region we work in, as well as representatives from partnering government agencies. It was an exhilarating process, digging in to find the pulse of Plant With Purpose and deeply examining its past and future impact in the communities. It is so wonderful to have so many diverse stakeholders from all levels together to share, dream and design our future in this county.

During our first day together, members were beaming with stories of how important Plant With Purpose has been in transforming their communities. Many have been so grateful that Plant With Purpose Tanzania has been able to expand into new communities in different districts, which have not previously had organizations working with them because of their very remote locations.

Most recently, Plant With Purpose began working in the community of Bwambo, in the Same district. Here, women who have joined the group have already been astonished at the ability they have to save money and the power the savings has to reduce their vulnerability and provide them with confidence. It has only been three months since beginning work in this community, and people can already sense the transformation happening.

Together in small groups, the participants of the planning session described and created maps of the community after Plant With Purpose’s work. The vision that Plant With Purpose is helping communities achieve includes: a good house, parents having the ability to send their children and themselves through secondary and vocational schools and university, increased production of crops, strong leadership in the communities, a clean and healthy environment surrounded by trees and clean water sources, food security and good health.

The vision we strive for contains elements that Plant With Purpose does not have activities to address directly. For instance, Plant With Purpose does not build houses for people, and it is not an organization that sends children to school by distributing books, uniforms and school fees. We do not distribute food to hungry families. We do not send doctors to villages or pass out pharmaceuticals to the ill. How then can we claim to have a vision for our organization that proclaims health, food security, and education? This question was indeed raised in our meetings by some.

The response to this question quickly rose from the group: Plant With Purpose does not send children to school, but because of Plant With Purpose, parents can now afford to send their children to school. Plant With Purpose does not distribute food, but because of Plant With Purpose families’ nutrition improves and children do not go to bed hungry. Plant With Purpose does not send doctors into villages, but because of Plant With Purpose, people have the financial ability to go to the hospital and clinics.

Plant With Purpose’s work of community and economic development enables this vision of education, food security and health to take place. And because the community does it themselves, together with each other, they build love, peace and hope in the process. This complete vision could not be achieved if Plant With Purpose did things for the community, rather than enabling the community to do things for themselves.

Plant With Purpose focuses on the sustainability and overall health of the communities it serves, not solely on the power of the organization itself. As a person who focuses my own work on organizational health and development, I must admit that I found it a little unsettling at first that the organizational strategic plan focused much more on the community’s plans than the organization’s. Even though I am well familiar with Plant With Purpose's approach and uphold these values and virtues, I still assumed the strategic plan would be focused on the organization’s next five years. I am again coming face to face with the reality that makes Plant With Purpose unique. It is not about us. It is not about what we can do as an organization for these communities. It is about what the community can achieve with our encouragement and support.

I am so happy that more than half of the strategic planning group, who gathered to talk about the organization’s next five years, were beneficiaries themselves, living the program. It is this perspective and participation that mobilizes the groups to take on this plan themselves. This has made it about the community from the inside-out and about what the community will achieve, and how Plant With Purpose can help. This is so much more important than what Plant With Purpose will achieve for the community.

Of course, we worked on organizational goals in the end, but it was so great to see that the plan was not solely about us and for us as an organization, but is fundamentally for those we exist to serve. Many strategic plans are developed in a vacuum and upon completion are filed on a shelf not to be looked at until the next five to ten year planning process begins. The plan we created together this week was written on the hearts of those we are accountable to: our beneficiaries, and because of their involvement and commitment to the development of his plan, we can be assured that Plant With Purpose Tanzania will not only be held accountable by the communities for the plan, but it will be implemented by all of us, together. This ensures that we are moving forward together to achieve the vision that Plant With Purpose communities, staff and the board share for Tanzania.

This article was written by Plant With Purpose Programs Officer Sarah Ferry. Sarah oversees the strategic planning for Plant With Purpose Tanzania and travels there a couple times a year to meet with local communities and evaluate the program’s progress. To find out more about our programs in Tanzania and how you can help, please email You can also find out more on our website.

1 comment:

  1. Great article, Sarah! Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us. Sometimes we talk about "empowerment" without really knowing exactly what that means or looks like, but you painted an awesome picture of empowerment and community development for us. So cool! Thanks for giving us a little glimpse of the amazing transformation taking place in Tanzania!


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