Spark Microgrants, in collaboration with the World Bank, Comic Relief, and the governments of Rwanda and Japan, launched the Advancing Citizen Engagement Project (ACE Project) in September 2021, with the goal of improving livelihoods for 17,750 households (76,000 people) and community, national, and local government capacity for citizen engagement in 249 Rwandan villages.
The project consists of a series of activities that combine sustainable livelihood grants for poor rural communities with capacity-building for district, sector, cell, and village officials and communities on inclusive and participatory planning.
The ACE project is implemented in four districts, Burera, Gakenke, Gicumbi, and Huye, across seven sectors and 249 villages. The total population of the target villages is 152,645. This total number benefited from improved village planning and engagement with local government, as well as improved understanding of and access to government social protection programs.
Overall, 39% of households in the four districts have begun implementing their pathways under the project pathways. In addition to microgrants, savings are helping villages to implement their own projects ranging from purchasing household assets such as mattresses and utensils, raising small animals such as chickens and rabbits, participating in savings and loaning schemes, paying for health insurance, and investing in agricultural inputs.
So far, the 249 villages have saved over 29 million Rwandan francs, with an average savings of RwF 114,762 per village. Villages established Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs), which improved financial inclusion, household business outcomes, and women’s empowerment. There was also evidence of increased resilience: households in various villages reported improved food security and income.
In Burera, for example, 160 households have formed a VSLA, which plays an important role in assisting village members, the majority of whom are women, to gain greater access to and control over their financial resources. VSLA participants gain increased influence over decisions in their homes and beyond by using tools that engage men, village members, and market actors.
Village members in the four ACE districts saved over RwF 29 million and formed Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) to help them improve their social inclusion and household business outcomes.
To increase the success of a steadily scaling Community-driven development program in Rwanda, Spark Microgrants, in partnership with the Government of Rwanda and the World Bank, developed a coaching and facilitation component. Spark MG’s Facilitated Collective Action Process (FCAP) provides six and a half months of intensive coaching to local government officials and Community Based Facilitators (CBFs), as well as an $8,000 microgrant to fund social enterprises and subsequent projects or businesses chosen by village members.
The Facilitated Collective Action Process (FCAP) is the Spark MG model that combines facilitated meetings, community capacity building, saving groups, and a microgrant to the community in order to impact individual livelihoods & a sense of social cohesion within the entire community.
Community-Based Facilitators (CBFs) in Rwerere Sector said that the first part of the support provided by Spark MG was a series of training sessions that provided village members with the skills and knowledge to choose and implement their own projects.
“The first thing we are proud of is the FCAP training we got from Spark trainers and community-based facilitators (CBFs). It gave us the opportunity to create saving groups based on the goals we set and helped us achieve them,” they said.
The ACE Project developed the skills and knowledge of local government officials and CBFs to assist village members in selecting and implementing their own projects. In the picture are CBFs after a training session in Rwerere Sector, Burera District.
The Executive Secretary of the Mutete Sector, in Gicumbi District, Deogratias said that FCAP meetings built the capacities of villagers and built their financial resilience through social impact projects.
“The FCAP meetings strengthened participatory planning and citizen engagement in government processes. It also supports villages to lead their development and increase citizen capacity, self-reliance, confidence, financial literacy, and project management”, the Executive Secretary said.
“The projects you choose should address development challenges in your respective villages. The ACE project will last two years before being phased out in the third year. If the grant of 7,600,000 Rwf given to each village does not generate around 25 million in that time frame, the project will be considered a failure,” Pierre Celestin, SEDO of Kaganda Cell, Kinyababa Sector, told Kaganda Cell’s Villagers prior to the project’s implementation phase.
The SEDO of the Gaseke cell in Mutete Sector, on the other hand, confirmed that FCAP meetings were an opportunity for village-led planning and development prior to the project implementation phase.
“Village members used the meetings to identify local development opportunities, which guided their villages in selecting development projects,” he explained.
The ACE project also provided social, economic, and community benefits throughout its implementation. Local residents in Gakenke and Burera Districts explained how the FCAP meetings increased the attendance in village meetings and enabled mobilization for different Government programs particularly mutual Health Insurance and insurance for animals (Cows and pigs).
“FCAP approach increased the attendance in village meetings and enabled mobilization for different Government programs, particularly the active participation in Health Insurance and crop and livestock insurance programs”, one village member in Gakenke District said.
Local leaders, on the other hand, applaud the project for providing citizens with social, economic, and community benefits throughout its implementation in the four target districts.
“These meetings greatly assisted in the development of a framework for village participatory planning, increased local government capacity to effectively engage community members in participatory planning, and strengthened participatory monitoring and evaluation,” local leaders stated.
The project also allowed communities to scale up the deployment of innovative financing approaches that provide pathways for poor and vulnerable households across the four districts to deal with existing family challenges.
The ACE project has significantly increased women’s involvement in the seven target sectors. Following an interview with women in the Burera, Gicumbi, Gakenke, and Huye Districts, they shared that the project gave them not only the confidence to share their thoughts in different meetings, but also control over household business decisions and food expenses, as well as influence over education and children’s health-related expenses.
The ACE project has increased women’s participation. In meetings, women exchange ideas and gain confidence in their ability to influence local changes.
Rose is a mother of three who lives in Kabeza village, Kigoma Sector, Huye District in South Rwanda. She has aspired to provide enough food for her family and to pay her children’s school fees.
“It was hard for me to obtain manure so that I could harvest more, and I could only provide a small amount of food for my family, but after joining Spark in 2021, knowing that we would receive a grant to purchase pigs, I felt that being a part of the project would be my opportunity to meet my family’s basic needs and pay my children’s school fees,” she said.
“Now, we’ve already started getting manure to use in our farm and hope to get more harvest,” Rosa cheerfully continued. “I intend to sell piglets to pay for my children’s school fees.”
Raissa from Busengo Sector and her neighbors said that FCAP meetings enhanced confidence in public speaking skills among women.
“Before starting FCAP meetings, Women were not allowed to meet and share their thoughts with men and there was no special day dedicated to women. Today, they are confident to speak in meetings and participate in decision-making”, she said.
The ACE project increased villagers’ capacity and financial resilience through social impact projects.