Development's design challenge: Before creating new projects, scale what works

After completing the Journeys of Transformation program, Hassan stopped being violent toward his wife, Hassina, and began helping her with the laundry and taking care of the children. Today he persuades other men to turn away from violence and treat their wives as partners in Huye province, Rwanda. Photo by: Raegan Hodge / CARE

Growing up here in Rwanda, I have seen how quickly violence can spread. I was 14 when my father and two brothers were killed, along with a third of my immediate family members, during the height of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. And today, in my work for the poverty-fighting organization CARE, I confront the violence that rippled out from that bloodshed and into my generation. About 40 percent of women aged 15-49 report emotional, physical or sexual violence from their spouse in Rwanda.

But I also have seen that violence stopped in its tracks, through a four-year-old effort called “Journeys of Transformation.” Relationships — and lives — are truly transformed as couples work together to tackle violence, including the backlash against some women who find economic success after joining a CARE Village Savings and Loan Association.

Nearly 8,000 people have gone through the program. And that’s good. But the scope simply isn’t sufficient to truly address the gender-based violence that still echoes through my country. That’s why a first-of-its-kind initiative from CARE grabbed my attention last year.

Tune in for the winners

The challenge will culminate at 7 p.m. EST on Jan. 26, at New Lab in Brooklyn, New York, where a panel of expert judges will hear 5-minute presentations from each of the finalists and select the winners. Anyone can tune in to watch live on CARE’s Facebook page.

Called the Scale X Design Accelerator, its purpose is to scale up proven solutions to the barriers holding poor communities back. Scale X Design includes mentorship, labs that build scaling skills and the opportunity for greater investment. My team is one of 15 finalists competing for three $150,000 prizes in the accelerator’s signature event: the Scale X Design Challenge. Others include a mobile application that shortens the time and reduces the cost for individuals claiming their land rights in Tanzania; a public-private partnership in Bangladesh that bolsters the business skills of female health care workers; and a school-based program in the Western Balkans that promotes a culture of non-violence.

Take pilots to scale for success

The truth is that we are witnessing a proliferation of pilot programs in the development sector. Successfully scaled solutions remain exceptions rather than the norm.  

Consider the case of Village Savings and Loan Associations, or VSLAs. Since the first ones formed more than 25 years ago in Niger, groups of 20-30 people have pooled their money in a lockbox and given out loans to members who want to start a small business or make other investments. This has given women, in particular, a safe way to save, all while earning interest together.

“The truth is that we are witnessing a proliferation of pilot programs in the development sector. Successfully scaled solutions remain exceptions rather than the norm.”  

— Sidonie Uwimpuhwe, coordinator of the Vulnerable Women Program, CARE Rwanda

But it took a long time — 16 years — for CARE VSLAs to reach 1 million people. There hadn’t been a concerted strategy to scale up. Once one was in place, the savings groups exploded, and today there are more than 10 million savings group members in least 35 countries, half of them created through CARE. Even so, many women participating in VSLAs aren’t reaching their full potential. Violence is getting in the way, too often in the form of abuse from husbands who don’t know how to handle the changing power dynamics at home. So my team’s pitch at the Scale X Design Challenge will be that Journeys of Transformation must be scaled up, too.

How training works in practice

Our program centers on a series of 20 intense training sessions. Husbands and wives work together to tackle domestic violence, disproportionate workloads and other issues at the core of inequitable gender roles holding women and communities back. I have been astounded to see couples redefine what it means “to be a man.” Many men find the program liberating as they deconstruct dominant narratives of masculinity. No longer expected to be solely responsible for financial support of the household, they are able to enjoy more engaged and positive relationships with their wives and children.

Take Hassan, who earned the nickname “Simba” or “lion” because of his violent outbursts against his wife, Hissina. After going through the Journeys of Transformation program, he began to treat Hissina as an equal partner, one he treasures. The beatings stopped. Or as Hassan puts it: “Simba no longer has teeth.” Today Hassan helps with chores such as doing the laundry or taking care of the children. He persuades other men to turn away from violence and treat their wives as partners. Hissina, meanwhile, is now the village head in Umudugudu, Rwanda, and has risen to the position of dean of all village leaders in her region. She and Hassan are doing better financially, too. The couple has used funds from the savings group to purchase cows, the family’s first mattress and a new addition onto their house.

A recent study indicates that their experience is common, showing higher incomes for women whose husbands participated in the training, compared to those whose husbands had not. That’s why we’d like to spread that kind of progress to 83,000 people in Rwanda by 2018 — and ultimately to 12 million people worldwide.

via Youtube

Apply simple ideas, while thinking big

The Scale X Design Accelerator already has helped us troubleshoot barriers to scaling. We originally planned to disseminate parts of the training curriculum through text messages. But after learning about human-centered design and applying these simple techniques in the field, we realized that participants rarely use their phones for messaging. Instead of potentially wasting time and money, we pivoted to another strategy that relied on recorded skits and radio to get the message out. The Accelerator is also helping us think through the importance of business models in scaling and sustaining our work. Instead of leaving it to chance that others might attempt to adapt or copy what we’re doing, we are considering several social enterprise or consulting models to purposely scale our model.  

As a proud Rwandan, I have to think big. I want to help as many people in my country as possible. Violence and poverty should never have an exclusive claim on scale. Through determination — and design — we can help spread nonviolence and prosperity to millions, too.

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About the author

  • Sidonie Uwimpuhwe

    Sidonie Uwimpuhwe is CARE’s coordinator of the Vulnerable Women Program in Rwanda.