Learning experience in East Uganda with Tearfund and TEDDO, a grass-root NGO

When I reached out to Tearfund Netherlands to offer my help, at the beginning of 2020, two things had happened: There was this group of Dutch entrepreneurs that discussed ‘collaborative entrepreneurship’, in the Dutch language: Samen Ondernemen Met Tearfund (SOMT). They had met once and SOMT was to meet again. And the corona lock-down. I offered my help: to facilitate online, virtual meetings, and to help facilitate this initiative using my entrepreneurial expertise. The project Tearfund was working on, was with an NGO of the Church of Uganda, called TEDDO: the Teso Dioceses Planning and Development Office. The Teso region is a poor region, situated in  Eastern  Uganda, a semi-dry, rural area, with many poor small-hold farmers that can hardly survive the climate change.

For two years we were supporting the TEDDO project, reading and learning a lot about the background of the tribes in the Teso region and in the Kalaki district, sub-country Bululu. We organized virtual meetings, facilitated Value Proposition workshops, listened to the challenges as described by the TEDDO leadership, and created some smart hypotheses on how to collaborate. 

Collaborative Entrepreneurship With Tearfund (CEWT) a COU-TEDDO project 

Visiting Uganda

Finally, we were able to travel to Uganda and visit our friends from TEDDO and meet with the local farmers, from 18-25 March 2022. I have helped close to one hundred NGOs and visited Africa many times, but this was one of the most insightful experiences I ever had.

The story beyond data

As experienced entrepreneurs, we all like to see data: how much has been invested, what are the results, what would have been the yield without this intervention, and how can we improve the ROI (Result On Investment) for these farmers?

We met with a tribe in Bululu County. The community welcomed us warm-heartedly, at one of the villages, we were the very first ‘muzungus’, white people, they ever had as their guests. They introduced themselves, the chairman was in most cases a lady, the different committee members, the saving group members, and shared stories of how the TEDDO interventions had changed their lives and the community. “We were a marginalized tribe”, said Grace, the lady that explained their business plan, “We had no land and were not well organized.

Thanks to the program of TEDDO we are now organized in communities, we have saving groups and learn about cooperative farming and growing drought-tolerant crops.” It became clear to me that the impact was huge, the impact of being seen and heard, and receiving guidance on how to organize themselves. The project manager of TEDDO was a trusted advisor, that was obvious. Community building may be the most impactful aspect of this whole program, it’s a story of real people, struggling to survive during the increasingly dry seasons. And about their self-governance, taking ownership of the possibilities they have.

Sharing ideas, collaborative entrepreneurship

A completely new approach for TEDDO, Tearfund, and for us, that we as ‘white Dutch businessmen’ shared our feedback and vision. Of course, it all started with asking questions, many questions during the tours in the villages, speaking with the farmers, they showed us how to plant sesame seeds into rows in the dry ground, the rainy season was about to begin. We were asked to plow with two pairs of oxen and demonstrated how to make bio-friendly pesticides from ashes and soap. We had lunch with these village people, played with their children, and danced to their lovely music.

After three days of visiting the church meetings and the farm fields, we spent time with the team of TEDDO, where they shared their outcome of the last two years and we had a joint brainstorm on how to create ‘collaborative entrepreneurship. An exciting challenge, because we are six completely different entrepreneurs from the Netherlands and had all different views, but we all tried to be as open-minded as we can, and to listen-before-we-speak, Tearfund and TEDDO took us seriously, and together we came up with some useful insights. We agreed on concrete next steps. 

Become data-driven?

Like most grass-root organizations, TEDDO has been working with excel sheets to capture data and has recently been trained on the use of the Kobo Toolbox for mobile data collection. This is an area I can support TEDDO. Although my experience is in automating NGOs with the Salesforce platform, this experience adds value to my experience. I had the opportunity to discuss this matter with my Africolt.com colleague from Uganda; she is interested in guiding TEDDO with Kobo. For me it is a new experience to start with such tools from scratch, all of the one hundred NGOs I have worked with, had a running operation when it comes to data. As sponsors and advisors, it feels like a privilege to add value right from this stage.

A quite diverse team!

We discussed the investment in water irrigation, two of my fellow travelers are in marine technology and will do some research, and one colleague brought structure to the onboarding and maturity process, from the individual small farmer to a full and active member of the cooperation. We have an accountant in our team and a natural-born chairman. Thus we form a ‘complementary high-performance team’ in close collaboration with the Tearfund program manager, where the team of TEDDO is the real subject matter expert, it is so good to notice that both Tearfund and TEDDO are open to our (sometimes weird) new ideas.

The most valuable part of all is the ‘small data’

We talked a lot about agribusiness, forming cooperations, thinking like entrepreneurs, and methods to increase the yield and the income of the poor farmers, becoming more resilient against climate change, and less depending on the middlemen. But what struck me most was the impact of the community training designed by Tearfund, the ‘Umoja program’ as their Church and Community Transformation (CCT) approach

In my business (ICT), we often talk about ‘big data’ and ‘becoming a data-driven organization’. It is true that data is important, but nothing has more value than the positive change I saw in the lives of these people, thanks to the Christian values taught by Tearfund and TEDDO, which we could refer to as ‘small data’.

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