This summer, Root Change is thrilled to introduce the groundbreaking Community Independence Initiative (CII) in Zomba T/A Chikowi, Malawi. The CII pilot project will engage 50 families in a transformative, peer-driven model that seeks to leverage their innate talents, strengths, and resourcefulness. Contrary to conventional development approaches, CII refrains from providing services or advice, opting instead to establish a framework that empowers families to define their own goals and foster social networks that reinforce their progress. The primary objective is to uncover the strategies families utilize to uplift themselves and their communities.
Rebuilding Together After Cyclone Freddy
In the wake of Cyclone Freddy, the 50 participating families will be organized into two groups. Root Change will facilitate discussions, fostering a sense of camaraderie as families share experiences and pinpoint opportunities for collective rebuilding. The CII process begins with an orientation phase, followed by in-person meetings on community grounds. Given that many of their structures have succumbed to Cyclone Freddy, families will convene under the shelter of trees and exchange their aspirations and strategies for success.
The CII model has a long history of success under the leadership of Mauricio Miller, a Macarthur Genius Award recipient and author of The Alternative. Since our partnership with CII began in 2018, CII has expanded from one project site in Liberia to eleven countries. The impact has been swift. For example:
- Business income has grown by 138 percent over three years in Liberia
- Family incomes have increased by 36 percent in Uganda
- Incomes have increased by 69 percent for youth living in the Rwamwanja refugee settlement in western Uganda
As Malawian families grapple with the ongoing ramifications of Cyclone Freddy, collaboration, shared goal-setting, and investment in community-supporting social networks will be crucial. CII’s data suggests that families and communities demonstrate remarkable coping capacity and resilience when confronted with adversity.
The Zomba District Council has expressed its excitement for the potential of CII, as it will enable families to enhance their living conditions and rebuild together through monthly meetings, family journals, and mutual support. Moreover, the District Council is keen to glean insights from families regarding their approaches to overcoming challenges as a community. This invaluable knowledge will feed into the district’s annual development plans.
Catalyzing Growth Throughout Malawi
Many Malawians from Mulanje and Rumphi Districts will already know about Root Change through our previous work implementing USAID’s Local Works program. The Social Lab initiative strove to promote locally owned and led development by assembling a diverse array of changemakers, including representatives from local government, Community-Based Organizations, NGOs, Village Development Committees, Area Development Authorities, Media, international NGOs, faith-based leaders, and traditional authorities. Focusing on locally-nominated and defined issues, these changemakers were able to co-create solutions to challenges at social lab gatherings and then test them in their communities with small grants.
The CII Malawi pilot project will run for twelve months, with Root Change sharing findings with the Zomba District Council and other local and international organizations. The ultimate aim is to cultivate the initiative and catalyze its growth throughout Malawi. With CII’s novel approach to development, NGOs and funders in Malawi, as well as larger international organizations have a unique opportunity to witness firsthand how this model differs from traditional methods. CII has the potential to revolutionize development work in Malawi, offering a more sustainable, community-driven approach that places families at the center of the decision-making process.
For NGOs working in Malawi and international organizations partnering with local entities, CII presents an exciting opportunity to rethink our strategies and explore new ways of supporting communities. Instead of imposing external solutions, CII is a pathway to invest in initiatives that are genuinely rooted in the communities they serve, leading to long-term change and resilience.
We also hope that funders, both within Malawi and beyond, will take notice of CII’s potential to create lasting, positive change. By supporting peer-driven change models like CII, they can contribute to the development of innovative, context-specific approaches that prioritize the voices and experiences of the communities themselves.