For the grant cycle, and beyond!

Written by Plant With Purpose on February 8, 2012 in General

By Aly Lewis, Staff Writer and Grants Specialist

Last night I had the privilege of enjoying mouthwatering Mexican food with a fellow grant writer. We’re an elusive, behind the scenes bunch, so I don’t meet other grant writers often.

My new friend writes grants for an Indian reservation in Idaho. We talked budgets, we talked program management, we talked deciphering tax exempt language, and we talked the down and dirty double-spaced-times-new-roman-formatting requirements.

Now before you leave the page in sheer boredom, I’ll get to the good stuff.

Beyond budgets and details and the nitty gritty of grant writing, we talked IMPACT. Not just outcomes and success rate of proposals, but the PURPOSE of our grant writing endeavors.

She talked about the attitude of dependency and despair among her beneficiaries, an attitude similar to the often victimized rural poor Plant With Purpose partners with. I asked her if she felt her work was having a greater impact on her, in grant terms, “target population.”

Her response, “Yes, until the grant ends.”

Until the grant ends. This got me thinking, what’s  the point of a program or a grant or project that doesn’t last beyond the funding? That doesn’t ultimately result in improved quality of life or transformation in the long run?

That’s the question that the founders of Plant With Purpose (then Floresta), asked themselves when they first started out in the Dominican Republic over 25 years ago.

They saw the victimization. They saw the attitude of dependency and despair that resulted from well-meaning but short-sighted relief efforts. They saw lots of programs and grants and projects that didn’t last beyond the funding.

And they wanted something different.

So they started a development organization with long-term transformation and sustainability in mind. (This long before sustainability became the non-profit buzzword that it is today.)

They started an organization with EMPOWERMENT at its core.

They designed a program intended to not really be their program at all, but a program dependent on the initiative and passion and determination of its beneficiaries.

This process of community development empowers communities to take responsibility for the solutions to their own problems.  The community identifies its problems. The community identifies its resources. The community identifies and implements its own solutions. Yes, in partnership with the skills and expertise of Plant With Purpose in areas such as agroforestry, microenterprise, and forest management, but ultimately the vision, the solution, and the program is their own.

At Plant With Purpose, we’ve learned that this change, this transformation, that lives beyond the grant cycle cannot occur unless people want to change—and more importantly—believe that they can change.

I’ve come to think of our role more as a development Myth Busters team than the development implementers. We help communities break the myth that they have nothing to offer, that they are hopeless without foreign assistance, and that they have no skills or resources to offer into this transformational process.

And we’ve seen real change, lasting change, generational change.

One such story comes from the Dominican Republic. Payiyo is an older gentleman who purchased large amounts of land in a rural area a long time ago. For many years, Payiyo did not put his land to much use or protect it from deforestation, causing erosion and spilling pollution into the local river. Plant With Purpose approached him many times to talk about implementing a reforestation project in conjunction with the local government. Payiyo was reticent.

It wasn’t until Payiyo’s grandchildren began planting trees on his land that he began to see the benefits of Plant With Purpose’s work. Two of his grandsons, Miguel and Luigi (pictured above), joined a Plant With Purpose farmers association called “Nuestro Esfuerzo,” or “Our Effort,” where they began to dream of a brighter future for their grandfather’s land. Since then they have planted thousands of trees across the property, restoring and replenishing the land that will one day be their own.

Now Payiyo is one of our most enthusiastic supporters, telling everyone about the benefits of planting trees, and he hopes his grandchildren will continue to restore the land for their children to enjoy. This will have a lasting impact not only on Payiyo’s family, but for the region as a whole. Because Payiyo’s land is part of a watershed that feeds into one of the country’s most important rivers, protecting Payiyo’s land will bring clean water to thousands of children and grandchildren for generations to come.

This is the kind of story of lasting hope and transformation I am proud to retell to my grant writer friends.

Because what is the point of a program whose benefits stop when we leave?

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