What if we saw “mistakes” as fuel for innovation?

Sharing an excerpt from the book Smart Risks: How small grants are helping to solve some of the world’s biggest problems. Chapter 17 was authored by Thousand Currents’ former Executive Director, Rajasvini Bhansali.

In this new volume of 30 essays, 22 authors (including Thousand Currents’ Director of Philanthropic Partnerships Rajiv Khanna and board member Sasha Rabsey) explore how responsive grantmaking, focused on grassroots wisdom and close connections, can make a lasting impact in the Global South.

To learn more (including how to purchase), see: www.smartrisks.org


From Chapter 17: What if we saw “mistakes” as fuel for innovation?

By Rajasvini Bhansali, former Thousand Currents Executive Director

A Guatemalan organization called the Women’s Association for the Development of Sacatepéquez (AFEDES), discovered something troubling: Its programs were not making much of an impact. AFEDES [had] developed a robust microcredit, savings and loans, financial management, and income-generating skills building program.

However, they began to see that some women were deeper in debt at the end of the program, than at the start. Women were not participating as actively outside their homes as AFEDES had hoped. Inside their homes, nutrition levels were not improving.  In fact, more women were approaching AFEDES to ask for support around domestic violence than for economic concerns. Milvian Aspuac, Interim Director of AFEDES (in italics below and throughout), explains,   

It was necessary for women to regain our self-esteem, know our rights, stop violence against us. We realized that as women, we did not feed ourselves well. We produced just to sell, not thinking about the family consumption. We were sick. Conventional agricultural practices are polluting the environment. We live in a world where money is the main thing. Women’s caring work is not valued. So we began to work for our freedom and autonomy.

AFEDES had been a Thousand Currents grantee partner since 2005. At the time we started our partnership, micro-credit was seen by many in the international aid and philanthropic community as a magic bullet to eradicate poverty. But in 2006 and 2007, the women of AFEDES had looked deeper and came to an important conclusion: Women’s oppression could not be solved by credit alone.

In a bold and deliberate move, AFEDES set out to examine the root causes of these troubling results. This process of self-reflection was not easy. It was easy to show donors superficial success from AFEDES’ microcredit program. What they now were embarking upon was a non-linear process of social transformation that would require, first and foremost, meaningful community accountability.

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