Poverty Reduction Strategy
Sewalanka has a 'community development' approach to poverty reduction. Some NGOs and service providers separate out individual beneficiaries within a community and support them exclusively. We focus on bringing individuals together to build strong civil society organizations that are capable of catalyzing village, or even regional, level change.
In Sri Lanka, regional inequalities tend to be more pronounced than village inequalities. Opportunities, resources, services and political decision makers are concentrated in urban areas. This has been a major source of tension and has contributed to conflicts in both the north and south of the country. We work to address this regional inequality by targeting:
- Remote villages with limited access to information, services and markets
- Villages that have natural resource or livelihood constraints and no support from other organizations
- Areas directly affected by conflict and/or natural disaster; and
- Areas where people have been relocated or resettled
We strengthen the capacity of organizations in these disadvantaged communities so that that people in these areas are able to access information, resources and services, influence decision making and address their own development needs. Sewalanka currently provides support services to more than 550 community-based organizations (CBOs) throughout the country. Depending on local interests and needs, we work with fisheries cooperative societies, farmers' organizations, women's groups, rural development organizations, producer groups, small business associations, and youth groups.
As individuals, the rural poor do not have many opportunities to bring about social change, but when they work together they have the capacity to address a wide range of challenges. We have seen CBOs:
- Establish savings systems and revolving loan funds that reduce dependency on moneylenders
- Provide community services and build basic infrastructure
- Develop systems to manage common resources more effectively
- Influence government planning and decision making (advocacy)
- Improve their access to services and resources
- Increase their bargaining power with private sector traders through collective purchasing and marketing
- Develop community enterprises to add value to local products
- Protect community interests and reduce vulnerability to disasters
- Provide support for families in need or vulnerable groups
Approach and Core Services
"Every village is different. The situation in one village is not the same as the situation in another
village, and everything is constantly changing."
Sewalanka Social Mobilizer
Sewalanka's activities vary from village-to-village and district-to-district based on local needs and interests, but our basic social mobilization approach remains the same. Our experienced field staff facilitate participatory group discussions to help people assess their situation and identify challenges and opportunities.
If people have been displaced by conflict or natural disaster, we enter through our disaster management program. We assist with the emergency response and recovery process, provide psychosocial support services and use participatory approaches to help people transition from dependence on relief aid back to self-reliance and sustainable development.
If people are settled, we focus on strengthening their institutional capacity to address their challenges. We share experiences from other villages and explain what others have been able to accomplish by working together. If people are interested in joining together, we facilitate discussions to help them identify their priorities and decide how to organize. A community may decide to strengthen an existing CBO or it may decide to form a new CBO. We provide organizational development support services to strengthen the institutional capacity of their CBO.
As part of this process, we connect CBOs with information, resources, training and support services. Based on local needs and interests, we have helped CBOs improve their links with government officers, politicians, journalists, religious leaders, university researchers, other NGOs, training centers, financial institutions, private sector suppliers and buyers and international agencies. We also help CBOs network with other community organizations and civil society groups.
Since most CBOs are interested in livelihood development, we have developed specialized livelihood services based on their requests. We have specialized staff that coordinate support for fisheries, agriculture, community products, tourism and enterprise development. We also have specialized staff responsible for ensuring that the following "cross cutting issues" are considered in all of our work: environmental sustainability; gender, youth and children; psychosocial wellbeing; and community peace building.
As CBOs become more advanced and self-reliant, they start to request different kinds of services. For years, we focused on trying to identify existing institutions to provide these services. Finally, after a series of strategic planning workshops in 2002 and 2003, we decided to form two subsidiaries to address a gap that had been identified in most rural areas. Sewa Finance is a registered microfinance institution that provides financial services to community organizations and rural entrepreneurs. Sewalanka Enterprise Development Company (SEDCO) is a social enterprise that focuses on fair trade, value chain investments and enterprise development services. We continue to link CBOs with additional service providers as needed.
Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom
Another reason that we focus on strengthening community organizations is that they have the potential to drive a self-sustaining process of change.
A strong CBO has:
- Its own name, own programs and own identity,
- A broad leadership and active members,
- A sense of pride, confidence and unity,
- Experience with creative problem solving and democratic decision making and
- A history of achieving its goals.
The accomplishments and spirit of a strong civil society organization can inspire community organizations in neighboring areas and create a new generation of young leaders committed to non-violent social change.
The Sewalanka logo is an illustration of this process. We help plant a seed in a community and nurture it until it matures and flowers into an active, self-reliant community organization. The 'S' flower represents a strong CBO. Inside this flower are thousands of seeds, and each of these seeds has the potential to take root and become a new flower. A strong CBO contains the flowers of the next generation.
For many years, there has been a shadow over our beautiful country. In the south and the north, at the village and the national level, people have attempted to communicate their frustrations and change their circumstances through violence. We have productive soil, but our seeds lie dormant.
Sewalanka works with a wide range of committed individuals and organizations that share a different vision of the country's future. We hope that together we can help the seeds of the next generation unleash their potential. Let a thousand flowers bloom.