What We’ve Learned from Piloting the Community Independence Initiative in 3 Countries

Rachel DickinsonDevelopment Revolution, Rebooting Systems, Reimagining Projects, Rethinking Organizations

Almost two years ago, we announced the launch of the Community Independence Initiative (CII) and the start of pilots in Mexico, Colombia, and the Philippines in partnership with Children International. The pilots were an effort to identify new approaches for improving the well-being of children, and to learn about the benefits of CII for families, children, and INGOs alike. To answer some of these questions, we’ve examined one year’s worth of data (between July 2020 and July 2021) from the three Children International pilot locations. 

What is CII?

CII invests in the talents, strengths, and ingenuity of people living in low-resource communities. The initiative offers no services or advice to families. Instead, it provides a structure within which families set their own goals and strengthen social networks that support their progress. Families are treated as paid consultants,sharing monthly data about income, employment, education, quality of living, and more in the form of a monthly journal. ” CII  looks for patterns in the data and shares it back with families, who use it to inform decisions about their own lives. Families exchange information and stories about how they are improving their lives in peer groups, which meet once a month. In so doing, they make what is working for them visible to others–whether it’s starting an informal business or making sure that their children are getting the education they need. CII follows up with small investments to each family to support peer-tested, “right-sized strategies” for exiting poverty. 

What have we seen so far in the pilot?

First, data from all three countries indicate that CII families have significant coping capacity and resiliency in the face of challenges, shocks, and stresses. A global pandemic meant that between the time families were recruited for CII (Feb/March 2020) and the time that the Pilot formally launched (July 2020), families in Mexico, Colombia, and the Philippines experienced monthly income declines of 20 percent, 9 percent, and 28 percent respectively. The pandemic was coupled with repeated natural disasters in the Philippines and a water shortage in Colombia. Despite this, between July 2020 and July 2021 we observed a 1% growth in average family income, 5-7% growth in satisfaction with standard of living, and families sharing as much as 9% of their incomes with others. Families reported a higher sense of control over their own lives, and helped one another by sharing technology to ensure that their children could participate in virtual classrooms, buying and selling small business products from other CII families, helping each other understand applications for government assistance, and sharing food with cohort families in need. 

Ms. Ana, Colombia: With another CII participant, Ms. Enith, led a project to build a set of stairs. During the rainy season, their neighborhood is a high-risk area for mudslides, posing danger for children and elderly in her community.

Second, we saw that giving choice and agency to families led them to invest resources in practices that improve child outcomes (a goal of Children International) and economic wellbeing for family members. Roughly one in four families in Mexico and the Philippines, and roughly one in eight families in Colombia, reported using their investments to directly support child development. Early on this took the form of buying tablets for school, but later in the pilot we saw many families saving money for school fees, or using the money to pay current school fees. By the end of the pilot, Filipino families reported an average 10 percent increase in savings. Colombia and Mexico had a much more modest increase of between 2 and 3 percent in family savings. CII families in the Philippines largely attributed their gains to strategies shared by their Liberian peers (unaffiliated with Children International) through a call organized  by Root Change. By July 2021, there was a 9 percent increase in the number of Filipino families participating in lending circles and a 15 percent increase in the amount contributed. 

Peer Group 17, Philippines: “Upon receiving our first monthly journal payment, we started a group savings. Because of the pandemic’s hit, we realized how important is to have resources amidst of financial crisis.”

Lastly, CII has created opportunities to tackle operational challenges long-faced by Children International through a bond between Children International staff and participating families. Chief among these are utilization-focused evaluation and learning. CII unites the “stakeholder” with the “evaluator” through family journals, data progress reports, and regularized meaning-making sessions between CII staff and CII families and children. Over the course of the pilot, we collected thousands of data points about family aspirations, housing, health, child development, financial growth, and community engagement. We also created processes to understand the data and share it back with families. This ”learning infrastructure” has paved the way for ongoing measurement and deep learning about program impact as well as authentic collaboration and shared program ownership with families and their children.

What’s next?

Children International is continuing CII for an additional six months past our preliminary analysis, until March 2022. We look forward to learning more about scaling strategies as Children International continues the pilot, and look forward to seeing how learning from CII impacts Children International’s future work with children around the world.

Separately, Root Change is working with communities in Uganda, Liberia, New York City, and California to launch CII initiatives, building off of the success and learnings of the pilot with Children International and working to create a community of peers using this model.

To read the full report of preliminary findings from the CII pilot with Children International, please see here.