Emory University and USAID

A Better Way to Deliver Foreign Aid – CC’s Grass-roots Approach

 The Philippines and Ukraine

CC began consulting for Emory University’s PAMM Program in 1994 to find a better way to deliver foreign aid in especially problematic countries where “nothing seemed to work.”  As a community organizer for the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and the Alabama State Department of Education in the late 1970s, CC’s founder, Michael Kaiser, had developed the grass-roots approach to address civil rights and education inequities throughout the State of Alabama and later used the same approach to build self-determination among Native Americans living on reservations in northeastern Minnesota.  The approach was developed specifically for local problem-solving, but Kaiser argued it could be used to solve virtually any problem in virtually any country, “simply by addressing the problem “bottom-up rather than top-down.”

In 1998, Emory and USAID selected Ukraine and The Philippines as pilot countries to test Kaiser’s theory.  The two countries were considered to be the most difficult in the world for delivering foreign aid at the time – Ukraine, due to the fact it had just become an independent state and was still plagued by top-down, Soviet-style bureaucracy, and, The Philippines, due to its own political instability and thousands of remote islands where government policies seldom reached.

CC’s grass-roots approach was considered quite radical at the time – even inconceivable for many USAID staffers – but the results spoke for themselves.  In Ukraine, CC partnered volunteers from Cincinnati, Ohio with their counterparts in Kharkiv to dramatically reduce Iodine Deficiency Disorder (IDD) in that city.  The grass-roots campaign eventually involved hundreds of volunteers, small businesses, NGOs, multinational food companies, as well as numerous international aid organizations and civic groups, including Sister Cities International, Rotary International, Kiwanis, etc., all working together on a comprehensive campaign to eliminate micronutrient malnutrition – “One City at a Time.”  Kaiser’s grass-roots campaign managed to accomplish in less than one year what UNICEF, USAID and other international aid organizations had been unable to accomplish in five.  Given the large population in Kharkiv and four additional pilot cities later added to the campaign, IDD coverage rose in Ukraine from less than 3% to more than 33%.  More importantly, the grass-roots approach managed to achieve this level of success at a fraction of the cost of traditional, top-down foreign interventions, and what funds the U.S. Government did contribute to the campaign were leverage more than 10-1.   UNICEF and USAID both attempted to use this same approach to launch their own community-based campaigns in Ukraine not long thereafter, but they were unsuccessful because the organizations still attempted to control and manage the campaigns top-down and outside-in.

In the Philippines, Kaiser partnered volunteers from Tacoma, Washington with volunteers from Davao City in the southern-most part of Mindanao to eliminate iodine deficiency in that city.  The grass-roots campaign in Davao helped to increase the percentage of iodized salt coverage in that city from less than 5% to more than 75%; again, accomplishing in less than one year what international aid organizations had been unable to accomplish in five, and again, at a fraction of the cost.  The campaign also helped to persuade a local flour mill, cooking-oil company and peanut butter producer to fortify their  products with vitamin A, folic acid and iron, and this grass-roots campaign in Davao continues to this day (NOTE: Davao became the first city in Asia to voluntarily fortify its city’s rice supply).

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has called Davao the model for all of Southeast Asia and both ADB and UNICEF have referred to the “Davao Experience” as one of the most successful and innovative approaches to eliminating micronutrient malnutrition worldwide because it continues more than a decade after the campaign was first launched at no cost to the international aid community.



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