Envisioning a Pathway to Resilience and Economic Opportunity
Gisele Mukara is a young Congolese woman from Kalehe, South Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Livelihoods and economic opportunity in South Kivu have been strongly affected by disease and epidemics, outdated infrastructure, political instability and over 15 years of armed conflict between government and anti-government forces. Two years ago, Gisele, like many young women in her community, was unemployed and financially dependent on her husband. Through dedication, hard work and the training and encouragement she received through the Gender Action Learning System (GALS), a program implemented by USAID’s Feed the Future DRC Strengthening Value Chains (SVC) Activity, Gisele is now an entrepreneur. She bakes and sells bread in her community, earning a profit of 25,000 Congolese Francs (about USD $15.50) a week.
The goal of the SVC activity is to increase household incomes in rural communities in South Kivu and improve access to nutrient rich crops. Empowering women, youth and marginalized groups to overcome entrenched inequities is key to the success of the activity. Gisele is one of more than 1,500 young men and women who have participated in the GALS training. The methodology emphasizes a shared recognition of both the resource and power inequities between men and women, and the unique economic challenges facing women, young people and the socially marginalized.
Through participatory processes, visioning exercises and diagram tools, participants create individual, household and group visions, identifying economic opportunities and developing the skills and motivation to pursue them with their community’s support. GALS participants can increase their economic resilience and independence and gain more control over their own lives, spurring transformational change in themselves, their households and communities, organizations and beyond. Tetra Tech and its partner, Banyan Global, gained five critical insights into how GALS equips participants with the tools needed to identify economic opportunities, gain confidence and leverage the required resources to pursue these opportunities.
- GALS empowers youth to envision a future for themselves. Initially, SVC staff found that most youth in South Kivu could not imagine or articulate a vision for their future, let alone one that they could actively shape. The GALS facilitators used creative approaches to introduce new worlds of possibility for youth to discover. Bertin Bisimwa, SVC’s gender, youth and social inclusion specialist, explains, "After using tools such as the ‘Vision Journey’, ‘Gender Balance Tree’ and ‘Leadership and Empowerment Map,’ youth realize they can achieve a life they have never envisioned. When facilitators use the tools to analyze income use, resource allocation, spending, and production, young people become aware of missed opportunities. Their interest increases with a new understanding of how their choices and decisions today impact their future."
- GALS strengthens communities by uniting different groups for a common purpose. Different segments of the community — the better-off and the marginalized, the youth and their elders — did not feel they had a common purpose to work toward. The community-level participatory learning exchanges brought people together from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds to identify community-based resources and support systems to realize their visions. Desire Byseragi, a GALS participant, reflects, "[As a porter], we were always despised and dirty. I would never have thought that one day in my life, I could sit in the same room with other members of our community and follow a training together."
- Building capacity of community volunteers promotes the model’s sustainability. Each community volunteer who participates in the training becomes a local "Champion" and trainer, facilitating further dissemination of methods and tools in their community. The "Champions" help new participants solve problems when they run into stumbling blocks implementing their vision, in addition to monitoring the implementation of GALS participants' action plans. The SVC team observed that once change has been realized at the individual and household levels, positive changes spread to organizations and community institutions as well.
- A modular approach to training is key to the model’s adaptability. GALS training is comprised of a set of powerful tools including: Visioning Exercise, Gender Balance Tree, Catalyst Workshop, Leadership and Empowerment Map, Multi-lane Highway and Community Day. Depending on a community’s objectives and time available, these tools can be mixed and matched. For example, a community may determine that high youth unemployment and gender inequity are major impediments to overcoming poverty. In this case, the GALS' Visioning Exercise can be paired with the Gender Balance Tree to address gender issues in the community by creating a forum to analyze men’s and women’s daily tasks, decision making, use of resources and expenses.
- The methodology is strengthened with a growing community of practice. GALS has been used in different forms to promote gender justice by at least 100,000 women and men worldwide. In addition to the DRC, this methodology has proven effective in Colombia, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Malawi, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zambia. The growing community of practitioners shares lessons learned about how the methodology has been scaled up in other communities and countries through the GALS Network and the GALS at Scale Network Facebook page.
After three years of implementing the GALS methodology in South Kivu, the SVC team has seen transformative results, including new economic initiatives for women and youth, improved money management skills, healthier lifestyle choices and decreased domestic violence. In February 2020, SVC’s Gender Youth and Social Inclusion team led a participatory assessment of the GALS intervention to document the most significant changes in participants’ lives related to gender equality and inclusion. The DRC SVC GALS Most Significant Study Technical Brief summarizes the assessment methodology and findings, providing further evidence of how the GALS training is replicating Gisele and many of her peers’ stories of successfully implementing their new visions of a more resilient and prosperous future. As Gisele reflects with a big smile, "Thanks to GALS, I became financially independent!"