On July 25-28, Tostan team members traveled to Velingara Ferlo and Unou Féré in the Fouta region of Senegal to distribute a total of 7,000,000cfa ($1,400) in Community Development Grants to representatives of 20 different villages.
With the support of Radio Sweden, all 20 communities have been participating in Tostan’s holistic Community Empowerment Program (CEP) since 2011. During the CEP they learn about human rights, democracy, health and hygiene, and literacy, numeracy and project management skills which they can then then use to manage community development grants for the benefit of their community.
The grants will be used as revolving microcredit funds managed by each village’s Community Management Committee (CMC). CMCs are 17-member democratically selected groups trained to lead development initiatives in communities long after the Tostan program has been completed.
Each community receiving funds was represented by three members from their CMC – the coordinator, treasurer, and secretary – as well as each village’s chief. Local authorities attended as well, along with local Tostan staff.
During the meeting, participants discussed ideas for income-generating activities, how the funds could be invested, and overall fund management. Each CMC will take charge of distributing the funds in the form of small loans to members of the community who present viable income-generating projects. For example, the community members can use the funds to start or expand a small business, such as a restaurant or boutique in their village, or an activity such as aviculture or adding a crop to their already existing range.
The microcredit fund will sustainably grow over time as recipients commit to repay their loan to the CMC in six months, along with ten percent interest. This interest will be reinvested by the CMC, who will be able to decide whether the money should be used as additional microcredit funds for another group of community members, or be spent on development projects that will benefit the wider community, such as equipping a local health center or building a classroom.
These grants are an important and sustainable way to promote community development. When managed using the project management and income-generating skills learned during the CEP, funds will continue to be available for years to come. These funds allow communities to take control of their own development and provide innovative financial opportunities for households within the community. Villages receiving grants in the past have been able to use the funds to sustain the functioning of health centers, construct additions to schools, start community gardens, and more.