NPO 039: Creating Space for Local Voices (Dr. Susan Blaustein, WomenStrong International)

Today's Guest: Dr. Susan Blaustein
     Dr. Susan M. Blaustein is Founder/Director of WomenStrong International (WSI), a global consortium of non-profit organizations working with women and girls to end extreme urban poverty. In collaboration with our consortium, we develop, finance, and share powerful, women-driven solutions that transform lives. 

Prior to starting WomenStrong, Dr. Blaustein co-founded and directed the Millennium Cities Initiative, a project of the Columbia University’s Earth Institute committed to sustainable urban development across sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Blaustein has served as a senior consultant and analyst with the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank focused on conflict prevention; she worked as well with the Coalition for International Justice, a Washington-based NGO supporting the efforts of international criminal tribunals to prosecute gross human rights abusers in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, Cambodia, East Timor and Sierra Leone.

Dr. Blaustein reported on conflict, politics, economics and social injustice from the Balkans, Southeast Asia and Washington, DC, for such publications as The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Wall Street Journal, The Nation, The New Republic and The Los Angeles Times and is completing a book about the Rwanda genocide. Dr. Blaustein served previously as Assistant Professor at Columbia University, where she still teaches. Her doctorate is from Yale University, she was a Harvard Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard University, a Guggenheim Fellow and has been the recipient of multiple awards.

Nonprofit Spotlight: WomenStrong International
WomenStrong International supports women-driven solutions to urban poverty. Their programs are implemented in collaboration with a consortium of NGO partners in the countries where they work. They believe that the path of our poverty and toward a more just and prosperous world can be achieved by making women strong.

Lessons Learned:
In our conversation, Dr. Blaustein shares her experience of leading WomenStrong International and how she is always finding ways to increase the voices of the local experts. Some of the key lessons she has learned through her work are outlined below: 

  1. Start with a needs assessment that goes beyond just the physical needs, but points to some of the root causes.

  2. Create Feedback Cycles:

    1. From the start, each organization created a roadmap and identified their theory of change.

    2. After 18 months, they reviewed that initial plan to see what worked, what didn’t, and acknowledged what unexpected barriers were faced.

    3. After 3 years, an outside monitoring and evaluation organization

    4. In the 4th year, they built in opportunities for local organizations to start completing their own monitoring and evaluation so that moving forward, the organization could continue this process on their own.

  3. Flip the script - listen to the feedback and respond.

    1. Susan shared the example of changing the curriculum (and budget allocation) within their project in Kisumu, Kenya.

      1. This is a benefit of being a small and nimble organization.

      2. Requires trust with the people working on the ground and having a strong relationship with those organizational leaders.

  4. Create opportunities for sharing knowledge beyond each individual community to larger communities so each community does not need to re-create the wheel.

    1. Engage the program and educational coordinators from each location.

    2. Get feedback from those leaders, have them review all materials before anything gets printed/published/shared.

    3. Identify modifications within each area that might be utilized under different circumstances.

  5. Focus on listening and creating space for local voices to share and learn

    1. Within local communities, building groups/clubs where women can see that they are facing similar challenges and can help one another to overcome them.

    2. Globally, creating opportunities for leaders to share their knowledge with one another and learn from each other.

    3. Final thought: People in their own communities know what they need!

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