About FSD – Founded in 1995, FSD achieves community-driven goals through asset-based development and international exchange in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
When was FSD established and how was the idea conceived?
Alicia Robb started the Foundation for Sustainable Development in 1995 while working on her doctorate in economics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. After numerous volunteering stints in Latin America, she realized that countless community leaders and grassroots organizations were doing incredible work, but were limited in terms of human and financial resources. These were people with full-time jobs who didn’t go home at the end of the day. Rather, they voluntarily worked around the clock to help their communities find a way out of poverty.
It was frustrating to Robb to see the limitations these organizations faced because they often didn’t have the needed resources to accomplish their objectives. After seeing the same situation over and over, she committed herself to starting FSD.
By observing other organizational models in action, Robb quickly realized what she did not want FSD to become:
A donor organization that funds projects in communities where it didn’t have a physical presence (huge amounts of money are wasted on inefficient or corrupt projects that are insufficiently planned or monitored);
An organization that was reliant on grants that could force shifts in development vision—a phenomenon known all too well as mission creep;
A volunteer organization that simply connected culturally inexperienced, untrained “Westerners” with local organizations that knew little about hosting foreigners (in the long term, this route is sometimes beneficial to the volunteer, but it often fails to build sustainable organizations or empowered communities);
A well-intentioned international organization that patronizingly imposes utopian development solutions on communities who have little participation or ownership in the projects.
Robb wanted FSD to be a development organization that empowered underserved communities to voice their needs and participate in the implementation of locally managed solutions. She worked to create a feedback loop to ensure the flow of communication and resources between community leaders, the local grassroots organizations, interns and volunteers, donors, and the FSD staff – which is made up of local community leaders and trained practitioners from Western nations. Central to the vision was a binding adherence to the truth that development solutions are only sustainable when they come from an empowered community base.
What are some of the chief activities and objectives of your organisation? How many countries are you actively working in?
Our model incorporates three programs that support underserved communities in a collaborative and sustainable manner:
FSD’s Grantmaking Program supports community-driven projects and capacity building initiatives for our NGO Partners in the sectors of Health, Gender Equity, Human Rights, Environmental Sustainability, Economic Development, Youth and Education, and Applied Technology.
International Development Training Programs
Our Intern Abroad, Pro Corps Volunteering, and Global Service Trip programs provide students and professionals with intensive training in grassroots sustainable development while also providing human resources and technical support to our partner organizations.
On-site workshops led by FSD Field Staff train our community partners to create economically and environmentally sustainable programs through community assessments, grant proposal development, project design and management, financial management, and monitoring and evaluation. We also connect our partners to experts and other local resources. Our asset-based approach to project design and management leverages local resources before looking to external inputs, emphasizes potentials rather than problems, and favors skill building over large financial awards.
FSD is actively working at 10 sites in six countries: Argentina, Bolivia, India, Kenya, Nicaragua, and Uganda.
What are some major programmes being run by fsd?
One of FSD’s core values is to motivate community ownership of the projects we work on. That means that at each of our sites, projects are developed and carried out in tandem with local community partners. Every project we work on falls into one of our focus areas (Health, Gender Equity, Human Rights, Environmental Sustainability, Economic Development, Youth and Education, and Applied Technology).
We support these community projects–from a women’s beekeeping business in Kenya to nutritional education for mothers in Nicaragua and cook stove projects in India–through a number of major programs:
FSD interns gain invaluable experience by working directly on grassroots initiatives in their area of interest. They work with FSD’s in-country staff to receive on-site training and real-world skillbuilding. Interns live with host families and are paired with local NGO partners, where they gain skills in project design and management, participatory leadership, community assessments, budgeting/financial management, and cross-cultural communications by supporting local projects with high community buy-in.
ProCorps Volunteering with FSD is designed for working professionals and career changers looking for grassroots international development experience. This highly customizable volunteer experience of 9 to 52 weeks allows participants to contribute their professional expertise while addressing pressing socioeconomic issues. Working directly with a local community organization in one of our sites, participants gain valuable perspective on their profession in an international context as well as a working knowledge of global development issues.
The Gap/Bridge Year program is aimed at people in transition, whether from high school to college, undergrad to grad school, or university to the professional world. Participants learn every day from community organizations while working together to create, implement, and sustain development projects abroad. As they cultivate relationships with international communities, they also strengthen their applications for the next phase of life.
Global Service Trips
Global Service Trips (GSTs) offer volunteers a unique service trip experience at some of our most popular program sites. These opportunities are short-term trips (10 to 14 days) designed for individuals, friends, family members, co-workers, educators, professionals, and students to team up on exciting community development projects.
Additionally, we have a vibrant internship program at our San Francisco headquarters where interns can gain hands on experience in several areas of focus: Programs, Translation, Marketing, Operations, and Executive.
How can individuals join in your efforts?
Individuals are welcomed and encouraged to join FSD’s efforts by interacting with us by participating in our programs, by starting or joining a Giving Circle (see below), by interacting with us at events or through social media, and by supporting us directly through donations.
What are your future plans and activities?
In the next year, we hope to expand our Global Scholars program. FSD’s Global Scholars Program offers international service-learning experiences to at-risk Bay Area youth. Through the Global Scholars program, young people learn to see their experiences and situations in a global context; youth who participate in the program have never traveled outside the United States, and many have never left the Bay Area. During their project term, they stay with Nicaraguan host families and gain an idea of daily life in another country.
The program allows participants to strengthen their character and their college applications with unique service and learning. Trips are organized around community development projects that require the youth to communicate and plan as a group and to coordinate with local community members. All projects take place in FSD’s framework of sustainable development, which trains participants to learn about the qualities of successful and sustainable projects through direct participation.
Please tell us more about your work in India?
FSD has two sites in India: Johdpur and Udaipur. In Udaipur, FSD’s community partners work to empower local communities by assisting grassroots organizations to form village level seminars, provide training programs, and organize rallies. These organizations work in the communities to establish local management committees, which generate awareness and encourage political and social change.
Due to Jodhpur’s desert setting and conservative cultural practices, the city is faced with extensive environmental, labor-related, and educational development issues. FSD’s community partners in Jodhpur work in the city and neighboring rural communities on a variety of development projects including advocating for the rights of HIV+ people, preservation of Rajasthani oral traditions and artisanal crafts, and implementation of community-based approaches to water management.
What is the Giving Circles project?
A giving circle is a community of donors who are looking for a more engaged form of philanthropy. Members join together and pool their funds to provide grants to projects. During a series of meetings the members acquire knowledge about pressing issues affecting global communities, meet with expert speakers, discuss articles and other curriculum materials, and review a portfolio of grant proposals. Through a collaborative grant making process, the group works together to decide on grant awards.
Giving Circles have the option to travel to the country of focus and meet with potential grantees in person to see the potential impact of their generosity. According to the Circle’s geographic and/or issue interest, FSD solicits proposals from a selection of their 300+ grassroots partners, and vets proposals for consideration by the Circle
FSD provides the Circle with logistical support by:
Offering step-by-step guidance for creating and hosting a circle via the Giving Circle
Providing a toolkit and personal support from FSD staff, including meeting facilitation
guidelines and tips
Linking hosts with FSD Giving Circle alumni for additional support
Creating Circle-specific curriculum
Offering tax-deductible donations through 501c3 Tax status
After funding, FSD monitors projects and shares reports back to the Giving Circle
Image credit: FSD official website. Logo used in the image here is property of FSD.
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