FAQs: Questioning My Projects is Good!

Elise Pitcairn
Published in
11 min readJul 24, 2017

Since starting the Global Advocate Fellowship with Mama Hope, I have noticed a handful of Facebook friends sharing articles that are either critical of volunteer work/voluntourism or have encouraged volunteers to ask critical questions of what they are actually doing. I have also received many questions about what I am doing and how effective Mama Hope is in actually making a positive impact. THESE ARTICLES AND QUESTIONS ARE SO GOOD! The international development industry and foreign aid regime need to be questioned! The truth is that international development is now a loaded term with many negative connotations. Unfortunately, the foreign aid regime is highly flawed and many development projects — despite good intentions — have left communities in worse conditions than if they were left alone.

I created this FAQs page to help answer questions about Mama Hope, my work as a Global Advocate, and the impacts of our work. If you have been skeptical of my fellowship and/or hesitant to donate, I hope this blogpost will help answer your questions and encourage your support!

How did Mama Hope start?

Before Nyla Rodgers founded Mama Hope, her mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Nyla stopped working to take care of her mother and during that time they talked about one day going to Kenya to visit the orphan, Bernard, that she had sponsored for years. Nyla’s mother believed that if she could beat cancer, she could fly to Kenya. Unfortunately, Nyla’s mother passed away five months after being diagnosed.

While working with the United Nations Development Program, she was offered a job to work in Kisumu, Kenya (the same community that her mom had been helping) just two weeks after her mother passed away. When she arrived at the community, hundreds of people were holding a memorial in honor of her mother. Nyla discovered that her mom had not only sponsored Bernard, but that she had helped start a woman’s bank to help women who either had HIV/AIDS or had lost parents to HIV/AIDS, begin their own businesses. Nyla saw the impact that this project had on the community and was inspired to continue her mother’s work.

“Grief is just love, that’s really what it is… I was struggling with what do you do with that leftover love? It just became clear to me that I wanted to give that leftover love to these people.”

The video below beautifully tells the story of Mama Hope’s founding.

Where does Mama Hope work?

Mama Hope works in Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and the United States.

What does Mama Hope believe?

Mama Hope believes every human has the capacity to become a global leader — regardless of his or her birth. Mama Hope sees communities around the globe rising together, hand-in-hand to identify and address their own needs. Mama Hope also sees a broken “aid” community — built on old infrastructure, biases and approaches — who leave, often quite literally, shells of buildings empty; with hearts and hopes more damaged than had they been left alone.

Mama Hope was formed in direct response to this incredibly abundant moment in human history and is here to help connect human to human, skill to skill, at eye-level. Mama Hope believes that when we connect authentically, we can all transform.

Mama Hope’s manifesto.

What is the Global Advocate Fellowship?

The Global Advocate Fellowship is a rigorous and immersive 9-month professional training program designed for results-oriented individuals with a passion for global impact. Fellows are carefully matched with CBOs and NGOs in one of eight countries, where they’ll support community-directed development initiatives. Advocates work on sustainable projects in the arenas of education, clean water, agriculture, micro-business and healthcare in communities across East Africa, Ghana, Guatemala, India and in the US.

The fellowship is divided into 3 phrases:

Phase One: Fundraising, international development curriculum, project planning, trip preparation

Phase Two: In-country project execution, monitoring and evaluation

Phase Three: Impact evaluation, final project report, mentorship

How long will I be in Kenya?

I will be in Kenya for four months, roughly from mid-October to mid- February.

$20,000 is a lot of money, why do I have to raise that much?

A question that I have frequently received has been along the lines of, “why do you have to raise $20,000? That is so much! When I went to the Dominican Republic with my church, I only had to raise $2,000!”

I agree, $20,000 is a lot of money, but apart from it being a requirement of the Global Advocate Program, there are specific reasons that are very different than the set up of most mission or volunteer trips*.

  1. The projects that global advocates work on are large scale projects such as building homes, clinics, schools, farms, etc.; hiring and training the staff to run these entities; acquiring the necessary materials (computers, medical equipment, seeds, etc.) and/or growing the necessary resources (plants and animals); implementing the initiatives that support the structures; and monitoring and evaluating the progress and impact. These are large and comprehensive projects that just naturally require a lot of money to do in any part of the world.
  2. These projects have a longer timeline. Most mission or volunteer trips are only 1–4 weeks*, whereas I will be working on these projects for 4 months. To work on large scale projects during a long timeframe simply costs a lot of money.
  3. I am the only Global Advocate working on these projects and the partnership with Running Chicken and Tropical Focus. That means that I am the only person from Mama Hope that is fundraising and being trained specifically for these projects and partnerships. The $20,000 is not being split up amongst a team or a group that are going to work on a project, I am solely responsible for fundraising the $20,000.

*The reference to other volunteer and mission trips is only to provide a relatable comparison that is based off of the experience of friends and family and the conversations that I have had with them. My statements are not meant to be an umbrella statement for how every volunteer or mission trip is run.

Do I have to raise the full $20,000 before going to Kenya?

I do not have to raise the full $20,000 before leaving, but I must raise at least $15,000 before I can be cleared to go to Kenya. This requirement is to ensure that there is enough funding to properly carryout the projects that have been planned.

Who am I working with?

I have a unique partnership in that I am working with two partners: Running Chicken and Tropical Focus.

Running Chicken is a San Francisco-based non-profit with the mission “to provide support and resources to on-the-ground development organizations so that grassroots ideas and innovations for community improvement have an opportunity to be developed, tested, implemented, and shared with other organizations and communities.” This mission is lived out through Running Chicken’s partnership with the Kisumu-based grassroots organization, Tropical Focus.

Basically, Running Chicken acts as a U.S.-based fundraising arm and Tropical Focus implements the on-the-ground projects.

Visit my previous blog post “Meet the Dream Team + Projects” for a more detailed explanation of who I am working with and what we will be doing.

What is my training?

All training is done virtually from wherever a Global Advocate lives during the First and Third Phases of the program. The project prep curriculum is structured around reading, reflection, and discussion.

Each week during the First Phase, the Mama Hope staff member that facilitates curriculum sends the Global Advocate cohort a reading and reflection assignment organized around topics ranging from the History of International Development to Servant Leadership or Asset-Based Community Development. The following week, the cohort and staff member get on a group video call together for an hour-long discussion of the topic and readings. Through this seminar-style training, everyone learns from each other and the texts about how to best do this work with humility, respect for community context, and an asset-based outlook.

In the Third Phase, Advocates are led through another curriculum virtually with a focus on their recently-completed time in the field and reflecting on their experience and where they want to go next professionally or academically. Advocates revisit modules from the first phase as a way to synthesize their entire experience into an impact report.

How do we ensure that we are not actually making a harmful impact?

Mama Hope ensures that projects do not result in harm or setbacks by conducting all partnerships and projects through a human centered development framework. This means that before a partnership is formed or project plans are drawn up, the first thing Mama Hope does is to ask our potential partners, “what is your vision? How can we support you in achieving your goals?” By asking these questions and listening, we can understand what the community’s authentic needs are instead of telling them what they need. Only after this discussion and listening period takes place is a partnership formed and project plans are drafted.

When executing projects, Mama Hope aligns their team, a Global Advocate, with local resources and local expertise. To create longterm prosperity instead of longterm harm, it is essential to develop projects with 100% locally sourced resources and labor. This ensures that a partner community will always have access to the resources and the expertise (as long as they remain local) used to develop projects, even after Mama Hope leaves. Locally sourced and community-driven projects are what create self-sustainability and independence of foreign aid.

Pillars of human centered development.

Does Mama Hope have a policy on taking pictures of our partner communities?

There is no official photography policy that we must follow as Global Advocates, but we have been trained to wait until we know the community better before taking pictures, to always ask for permission before taking someone’s photograph, to always be respectful to subjects in a photograph, to always paint an accurate image and not to manipulate subjects or scenarios for a “better” story.

How much of what you raise actually goes to your project?

100% of what I raise goes to the projects on the ground in Kisumu, Kenya.

What I fundraise does not go towards my travel expenses, living expenses, or any staff salaries and it does not get funneled back into Mama Hope in any way.

What happens after I leave?

When I leave I will enter Phase Three of the Global Advocate Program. In this final phase I will complete an impact evaluation and a final project report. I will also help mentor the next class of Global Advocates as they begin their journey in Phase 1.

Running Chicken and Tropical Focus will continue fundraising for and working on the projects that we started together. They will also be preparing for another Global Advocate to join them and help expand on the preexisting projects and develop new ones.

What are the short-term and long-term impacts?

For me and the rest of the Global Advocates, the short-term impacts — or at least the goal for short-term impacts — is to accomplish everything in our project(s) plan to help our communities be a step closer to their envisioned goal of self-sustainability.

The long-term impact is that after a few rounds (however many be appropriate and necessary) of Global Advocates, our partner communities will be strongly rooted in self-sustainability and generating income back into their projects to independently develop and run them.

The long-term goal of impact for each of our partner communities is for Mama Hope to step away and for our partners to be completely self-sustainable and independent of foreign aid.

Mama Hope’s longterm vision for global impact.

Why am I doing work in Kenya when there are so many communities in the US that need help?

I am by no means opposed to working in the US and I agree that there are many communities that need help developing and becoming self-sustainable. However, the opportunity to work in Kenya is the door that opened for me. I truly believe that we are each global citizens and that we can all benefit from helping each other. Right now, my service as a global citizen is to the community in Kisumu, Kenya, but who knows where my service will be once I am finished with the Global Advocate Program. What is important is that what I learn during my time in Kenya will only help improve my ability to serve others no matter the geographic location.

What makes Mama Hope different?

To me, what makes Mama Hope different is its approach to actively change the way international development is carried out by flipping the power structure from top-down to bottom-up. Using a human centered development framework connects the right people to the right resources so that grassroots solutions can be embraced to respond to authentic community needs. This means that power is placed in the hands of the community and remains there, without any conditionality or abandonment.

What also makes Mama Hope so different and special to me is their fight to shift the narratives that surround recipients of aid. A core belief of Mama Hope is that we are all more similar than we are different — and by embracing our similarities we can build a global family. The single story narrative of poverty that has overwhelmed Western media and nonprofit marketing has created an “us vs. them” narrative that only emphasizes our differences: rich vs. poor, developed vs. undeveloped, educated vs. ignorant, happy vs. unhappy, and haves vs. have-nots.

Mama Hope has pledged to tell a different story about its partner communities. Mama Hope tells stories that highlight love instead of fear, laughter instead of tears, connection instead of distrust, power instead of weakness, vision instead of suffering and potential instead of pity. To promote this Mama Hope has created the Stop the Pity — Unlock the Potential campaign to promote a narrative that allows the people to tell their own story.

The video bellow uses irony to illustrate the African stereotype created by Hollywood films in contrast to the actual lives of the men speaking in the video. Totally worth a watch.

I hope that these questions and answers have been helpful and maybe even enlightening. If I have left any important questions out, please let me know and I will answer them!

If you would like to donate to my projects, please visit my fundraising page: https://give.classy.org/EliseRC

A huge thank you for all of the support that I have received!



Elise Pitcairn

The chronicles of a Global Advocate working with sustainable community development in Kenya. https://give.classy.org/EliseRC