Cultivating Democratic Leaders from Marginalized Groups in Thailand
The project was designed to engage young people from marginalized populations in four regions of Thailand, to empower them to voice their needs, access their rights, participate in political processes, and improve their lives and communities. The grantee set out to create new leaders among young people to lead actions in the disenfranchised communities. While the project supported the implementing partners financially and to a lesser extent with expertise, it did not demonstrate significant added-value in the area of democratic development. The trainees were by and large already engaged in development work in their communities and, once the project ended, the partners and the young people continued as before. The project designers would have been more aware of this, and potentially had a chance to rethink the relevance of the design, if they had reviewed existing and earlier practice in this area, and had considered in more depth the way NGOs in the regions work and from where they get their funding. The project fell into the trap of becoming, essentially, a short-term provider of funds.
Lessons from Project
After a project ends local partners should be able to continue the work begun. Specifically, mobilized young people should have follow-up, guidance and resources. Building fundraising techniques into the project design could address this issue. Such forward planning may include developing networks that can support young people including local authorities, media and potential donors (private and public sector).
One criterion for selection of youth was perceived leadership ability, not their potential influence in their community nor the likely longevity of their participation in community activities.
What will be the role and responsibilities of the implementing partners at each stage of the project (and after)? Do they have the capacity to achieve these? If necessary, include capacity building/training of partners into the preliminary stages of project activity. In this case, control remained in the grantee’s office in Bangkok and was not delegated to the regions. As a result, quality control could not be guaranteed without additional personnel being allocated to the project, with resulting additional costs. This structural weakness created a corresponding imbalance between money spent at central level versus the grassroots level.
The one potentially new element of the project – the participant survey – did not underpin the activities of the project participants; the issues actually addressed were those that have been the focus of actions in this region for some time and which are the focus of other local projects. Trainees were already engaged in development work in their communities and, once the project ended, continued as before. The project designers would have been more aware of this if they had reviewed existing and earlier practice in this area, and had considered in more depth the way NGOs in the regions work and their funding sources.
Raising expectations of young people and then leaving them unmet because there is no follow-up is bad practice. Building sustainability into actions that depend on a group that is by nature evolving and likely to move on is also difficult. Consulting young people and involving them in project design, monitoring and evaluation may help. Set up “buddy” systems where more senior/experienced/older youth agreed to mentor younger people not yet of an age to participate in the project formally.
When project beneficiaries are marginalized not only by geography and ethnic origin but by mainstream politics and public attitudes, advocacy opens up a political space in which the aspirations and expectations of young people and their communities are more likely to be met. Survey results might have been of interest to the media generally – including international media – and media coverage might have contributed to putting some serious social issues on the political agenda
Media as a component of project activity is not the same as involving media in order to publicize the project or organizations involved. Survey results might have been of interest to the media generally (including international media) and media coverage might have contributed to putting some serious social issues on the political agenda.
If local media – for political or other reasons – are reluctant to pick up on issues, consider contacting international correspondents based in the country. To do this effectively, and to ensure that local stakeholders are not put at risk of political or personal reprisals, take on an experience media liaison officer or commission the services of a media agency for advice.
Before beginning on project design, ensure that issues that need to be addressed have been mapped comprehensively and a stocktaking of previous and ongoing projects or programmes with the same or similar focus. Carry out a stakeholder analysis of potential partners’ capacity and financial viability. Does an organization have a secure funding base or does it stumble from project to project seeking funds to stay afloat? If there are resourcing problems in a given area, or any group of NGOs, do not add to these by bringing in short-term funds without addressing the longer-term problem.
An unanticipated outcome of the project was the impact on young people of being brought together from the four different regions. The opportunity to move outside their own area of concern and experience differences and similarities among other young people was mentioned by several participants as the most memorable aspect of the project.