Buzzwords like empowerment, good governance and accountability are more than often used by NGOs or policy makers.
For people like me – and I suspect many others – these words often don’t reflect what is actually happening. What – please someone tell me- is ‘active stakeholder engagement’ and how do I know if it has actually taken place?
Last month, some of these words came to life as I visited Making All Voices Count partners in Ghana in order to produce a short video on the impact of their funded projects.
During my visit, I traveled to the Volta River in eastern Ghana. The river is used both as a toilet and a water source, while many of the communities living in the river basin have no access to safe drinking water or public toilets.
In the time I was there, I spoke with Enyorwu Akorli, a lady who told me – in tears – about the death of her 18-year-old son. He died of cholera, caused by the public toilets situated next to their family house. The toilets are rarely emptied and, as a result, this disease spreads easily among the community. Mrs Akorli mentioned that she’s thankful for the help she got from Noah, a local journalist from Radio Ada, who broadcasted her story in order to ask the District Assembly to improve sanitation in her neighborhood.
It was the first time somebody listened to what I had to say. Noah’s radio show helped me direct my complaints to the right authority. I actually got to talk to someone responsible.
– Enyorwu Akorli
Bridging the gap between communities and their government
The interaction between the community and the government is key. Our partner, Penplusbytes works with Radio Ada to help – through SMS and community meetings – connect communities with government officials who can, and who want to help. The aim is to create a win-win situation for both sides.
The trip to Ada helped me get a better understanding of why having someone help communities make this connection is important – not least because it is a change to how things have been done in the past.
Although change is not achieved overnight, I did see that people dared to speak out and no longer felt powerless. I also witnessed that government representatives feel their work has more impact. They listen, answer and act on issues raised by people in their district: citizen participation in its true sense.