Sevalanka specializes in strengthening the institutional capacity of civil society organizations with a particular focus on community-based organizations (CBOs). In our experience, strong CBOs can reduce poverty, conflict, and environmental degradation, improve the living standards of disadvantaged groups, stimulate rural economies, and contribute to participatory, inclusive decision making and good governance.
Although it takes time to build effective, democratic and inclusive village institutions, the long-term impact of strengthening community organizations can be much greater than the short-term benefits of providing grants and services to individuals. Strong CBOs are able to contribute to a self-sustaining process of change that can result in unanticipated new initiatives, social services and businesses. Increasing the capacity of engaged community members to work together, solve problems, and meet their own goals can have a multiplier effect that expands the benefits of an intervention beyond its initial target group and time frame.
Sri Lanka has a pre-colonial history of village-level organizations forming to identify and address shared problems, but today, many of these traditional institutions are weak or inactive. In response, government agencies and NGOs have launched development initiatives that focus on forming new CBOs. It is not uncommon to find villages with 5, or even 10, CBOs registered under different interventions. The same villagers are often registered members of multiple CBOs. The majority of modern CBOs were formed and registered in order to access grants and services. These origins tend to limit local initiative and create a sense of dependency. CBO members wait for goods and services to be provided and problems to be solved by the external agency that formed the CBO. Most villages do not need an external agency to come in and 'mobilize' a new organization, they need support to strengthen the capacity of their existing institutions and improve their access to information and services.
Sevalanka currently provides support services to more than 550 CBOs throughout the country. Depending on local interests and needs, we will help a community strengthen an existing organization or form a new organization. We work with a wide range of CBOs: fisheries cooperative societies, farmers' organizations, women's groups, rural development organizations, producer groups, small business associations, and youth groups. Women tend to assume active leadership roles in most community organizations; on average, more than 60 percent of members are female.
Organizational Development Process and Services
Sevalanka has a process-oriented approach to organizational development. Our experienced field staff work closely with a CBO to provide advice and support services as needed. We help the organization plan and implement new initiatives through a process of action and reflection. Newer CBOs typically focus on simpler activities like organizing events, establishing basic financial systems and coordinating infrastructure repair or construction. As people gain confidence and experience planning and working together, they are able to move on to more complex challenges. In our experience, it is not possible to build strong organizations through a fixed series of activities and training programs. The process is different in every community and every organization.
We provide support services to help organizations and community leaders:
- Conduct participatory socioeconomic, environmental and institutional assessments
- Develop baseline studies and participatory monitoring and evaluation systems
- Mobilize self-help groups
- Facilitate action-oriented meetings and workshops
- Develop community action plans
- Improve leadership skills and organizational management
- Use participatory learning and action approaches to increase institutional capacity
- Develop transparent record keeping and financial management systems
- Establish internal savings and microfinance systems
- Develop shareholder systems for community enterprises
- Assess external stakeholders and link CBOs with information, resources and services
Monitoring Organizational Development
Our senior field staff have developed a system of indicators to assess and monitor organizational development. We look at five aspects of institutional capacity:
- Planning and implementation experience
- Financial management
- Organizational management
- Leadership, participation and group dynamics
- External linkages
A CBO can range from 1 (weak) to 5 (strong and self-sustaining) in each of these five categories. The 'CBO Level' is the average of these five scores. The categories and indicators are based on our field experience. For example, a CBO may appear strong if it has an outspoken charismatic leader, but based on our indicators, an organization that is dominated by a very narrow leadership is only at level 1 in the 'leadership, participation and group dynamics category' since this type of leadership is not inclusive or sustainable.
It generally takes a minimum of three years of intensive social mobilization and institutional capacity building to bring a new or inactive CBO (Level 0 or 1) to a level where it is self-sustaining (Level 4 or 5) and can continue to grow without external support. In villages which are particularly politicized, conflict affected or marginalized, this process may take longer.
For more information about Sevalanka's organizational development activities, please contact our Research and Learning Unit Director at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our newsletter page to see recent articles about our work.