Butoke’s work is attracting increased attention both in DRC and internationally. In the summer of 2008, Butoke was selected as an example of effective grassroots development, and a case study of Butoke’s work was published as part of the documentation distributed at the Accra High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in September 2008.
The following is the text of that case, included in a document titled “Civil Society and Aid Effectiveness Case Book,” produced for the OECD-DAC Advisory Group on Civil Society and Aid Effectiveness. Reasons for selecting this case are explained in the section titled “Description of Good Practice.”
Butoke is a grassroots development organization founded in 2004 to address problems of hunger and malnutrition in the Western Kasai province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It emerged from the initiative of two medical doctors, one foreign-born, the other from the region, who is also an agronomist. Together, they worked to fill an institutional void in an area in which the economy, the government and even the social fibre of society itself had been devastated by years of war and bad governance.
Their objective was to focus on malnutrition, which had reached epidemic proportions in Western Kasai, by helping the most vulnerable people to establish or re-establish themselves in agriculture, with an emphasis on crops of high nutritional value, particularly soybeans, beans, and peanuts. Money was scarce. Butoke started its work based on personal savings along with contributions from friends and associates overseas.
Butoke’s strategy from the start was to combine a humanitarian approach designed to address immediate needs with a longer-term development approach, by providing food for work and managing a nutrition centre while providing seeds and basic tools and introducing village associations to new low-cost agricultural techniques such as row planting and proper spacing. Beneficiaries tend to be primarily widows and others whose nutritional status was the most precarious, but all associations contain a mix of members to allow for division of labour. The approach has been successful in reaching large numbers of people at low cost, using a formula that could be replicated to scale as resources became available.
Butoke is a legally constituted NGO whose founding charter was signed by a representative assembly of church leaders, chiefs, and community leaders respected for their integrity. A board of directors was created in 2007 to strengthen the organization’s institutional base.
Butoke grew quickly, based on its success in delivering programs to the poor and in fundraising. Drawing on contacts abroad, Butoke drew in voluntary contributions from all over the world in support of both its humanitarian and development objectives. It was able to expand its development activities to scale in 2005 thanks to project funding provided through a Canadian NGO (Africa Inland Mission - AIM) that was eligible for CIDA’s Voluntary Sector Fund. Important amounts of funding were subsequently secured from UNICEF and FAO, who were looking for an effective partner for project delivery in Western Kasai. This was followed by a new project with CIDA and Help the Aged Canada approved in early 2008.
Butoke’s programs have reached a large population. Starting work in 2004 with 20 village associations on 19 ha, it was reaching a population of 19,000 small farmers by 2007 – with their families, a population of about 120,000 people – whose nutritional levels are thus being improved, albeit marginally, through access to more abundant, more nutritious crops. In 2006, Butoke was supporting the school fees of 665 orphans (up from 278 in 2004), treating approximately 6,500 cases per year in nutrition and primary health centre, and rehabilitating approximately 200 severely malnourished children per year. It was also providing counselling on responsible sexuality for approximately 5,000 people per year.
The example of service and respect for human rights and dignity that are demonstrated in Butoke’s work provides hope and inspiration for the population, who can see in this a different way of doing things. The most important results of Butoke’s work may be at the cultural level – breaking down the barriers to gender equality and changing attitudes towards the handicapped and downtrodden in a society that tends to blame orphans, widows and the handicapped for their own misfortune as bewitched people to be isolated, shunned and often dispossessed.
Butoke has succeeded in generating development results with significant impacts on the lives of the poorest members of society in one of the poorest corners of the world. Its success is not necessarily replicable in all ways – depending as it does on the work of a highly experienced and dedicated team and strong support from partners in other countries. However, the factors explaining Butoke’s success include the application of principles that resonate with those of the Paris Declaration and the findings and recommendations of the Advisory Group on Civil Society and Aid Effectiveness.
Butoke is a locally-based NGO with a strong domestic institutional base and legitimacy. Its priorities are determined strategically, in the pursuit of Butoke’s role as an agent of change and development, combining efforts to meet the immediate needs of the population with long-term development goals of a far-reaching nature. Given institutional weaknesses in Western Kasai, the founders of Butoke preferred to create a new NGO over working with existing ones, so “alignment” in this case has meant creating new, but locally-defined, institutional structures and building up these structures over time to ensure their sustainability and accountability.
A culture of results and of results monitoring is an integral part of Butoke’s approach, and Butoke monitors a number of measurable indicators of results, such as the number of hectares under seed, the number of children whose school fees are supported, and the rate of success in rehabilitating severely malnourished children. However, Butoke’s approach also includes considerable attention to qualitative results whose rigorous monitoring may or may not be possible. However, this does not prevent Butoke from identifying results having to do with improved understanding or changing attitudes to human rights and gender equality, and reduced emphasis on witchcraft-based explanations for social problems.
Butoke’s culture of accountability is primarily moral in character. Butoke is a values-based institution that holds itself accountable for results, and whose staff hold each other accountable for results. Butoke’s donors and NGO partners are not actively present on the ground, but they do play a challenge function, encouraging Butoke to monitor results, and encouraging Butoke to avoid dissipating its energy fighting short-term emergencies at the expense of long-term results.
The institutional and socio-economic environment is extremely challenging. However, Butoke was successful in obtaining political support from the governor of the province, and included a number of local chiefs among its founders. The success of Butoke’s work since then has helped to protect it from interference. Military groups in the area – whose members also suffer from hunger – have been included among those that Butoke assists with seeds and basic tools, and this has helped to gain support from this quarter. In the spring of 2006, Butoke was awarded 6.5 ha. of land and supporting infrastructure by the National Commission for the Demobilization of Combatants to use as a nursery and thus expand its range of activities. Good work, combined with pragmatism, diplomacy and tact, seems to have created its own enabling environment.
Butoke has tried hard to avoid dependency on donors that would force it to survive based on project funding and would prevent it from engaging in long-term strategic programming. Access to independent funding has helped to fill some gaps, most notably for humanitarian purposes, while the project funding secured from CIDA has been very broad in nature and respectful of Butoke’s programmatic priorities. Funding from UNICEF and FAO has been much more rigid and demanding to manage for Butoke, partly due to the lack of any intermediation between Butoke and the donor. In the case of CIDA funding, Canadian NGOs provide a buffer between CIDA and Butoke, allowing Canadian NGOs to act as intermediaries, to ensure a certain level of flexibility for Butoke.
North-South collaboration is clearly an important part of Butoke’s success. This has included the role of NGOs from the North in supporting Butoke financially, but also a constant exchange of ideas, and some contributions in kind. Although Butoke’s current project support from CIDA is channelled through a single Canadian partner NGO (now Help the Aged Canada), the project includes contributions from a consortium of Canadian NGOs involved in supporting Butoke’s institutional development. While this approach has required some innovation on the part of these NGOs to work together in this way, the approach has succeeded in shielding Butoke from the demands and particularities of any individual NGO, whose mandate might not have sufficed to support the whole of the Butoke program.
To summarize, Butoke illustrates the best of what a small NGO has to offer. Locally-based, Butoke is well adapted to local conditions and capable of delivering services in a cost-effective way. The institutional culture is values-based, and results-oriented, ensuring that funds provided from the outside are well used for intended purposes. And yet, Butoke maintains a strong attachment to the outside world, which enables it to engage strategically in development and change in a way that draws on experience elsewhere, while tapping into the resources that Northern-based partners can provide.