Sustainable Development with On the Ground


SEATTLE, Washington — There is often no consensus on local versus foreign-led programs in the development community. It can be hard for charitable organizations and individuals to know whether it best to fund local organizations embedded at the grassroots level, or to fund organizations with outside expertise and technology to combat problems. One organization, called On the Ground, synthesizes the two approaches by bringing in external funding and advice and working alongside local organizations to combat the problems of global poverty.

On the Ground (OTG) begins by working alongside pre-existing organizations in target communities. This enables it to better promote sustainable development by looking to the community for ideas rather than imposing an externally-developed agenda. The latter kind of plans are often built using cookie-cutter techniques for development, rather than using approaches tailored to unique problems in specific communities.

Organizations with skin in the game have been found in several cases to better facilitate sustainable community development because of several factors, including freedom from reporting regulations and large administrative costs. In addition, such organizations are often made up of people directly dealing with issues on a day-to-day basis.

OTG’s work is divided between several programs in different parts of the developing world. In Mexico, Project Chiapas began developing community water projects alongside local partner Las Abejas in 2005. This project brings members of the community together to learn how to maintain water pipelines built to combat water scarcity. Access to clean water and sanitation is a key United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG).

Project Ethiopia began in 2011 with the goal of providing free public education in impoverished coffee-farming communities, in pursuit of another key U.N. SDG. With support from the local Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union, Project Ethiopia has so far provided educational opportunities for more than 4,200 students, and has aided in the the construction of libraries and sanitary latrines.

Project Palestine has helped marginalized Palestinian farmers to replant olive trees while living under military occupation. Working with the local Palestine Fair Trade Association, On the Ground has financed microloans for 28 women to plant more than one thousand olive trees. Project Palestine aligns with U.N. SDG number eight, which is to promote sustainable economic growth.

Project Congo has the aim of advancing female participation in the coffee sector in partnership with the Democratic Republic of Congo Café Muungano Cooperative. According to USAID, empowering women through the creation of an inclusive economy has been linked to greater crop yields. On the Ground is working to meet the challenge of empowering women and girls by engaging citizens with gender equality classes in the DRC.

Project Nica began in 2013 to help Nicaraguan farmers adapt to climate change, a goal aligned with U.N. SDG number 13. In Nicaragua, more than 40,000 families depend on coffee for their income. With widespread devastation resulting from a coffee leaf rust outbreak and a subsequent drought, On the Ground’s assistance in developing local bio-fertilizers is helping to increase production again after a very bad season. On the Ground has helped to plant more than 70,000 coffee-rust resistant seedlings and helped to train local agronomists.

These programs all enable farmers and communities to grow and do business with importers in other countries. Importers like Just Coffee Cooperative and Dean’s Beans commit to fair trade practices which further strengthen producer communities. By offering smart, targeted assistance to local producers, aid organizations can enable struggling communities to help themselves and ensure their own sustainable development.

Lucas Woodling

Photo: Flickr


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