The participation of beneficiaries in the design and implementation of intervention is a key priority of the SHE (Secure, Hope, Empower) Project; “Led by the girls in removing barriers to their education.” But what does this really entail and why is it a priority? Participation allows for a scenario whereby the girls’ aspirations and goals dovetail with the vision of Catalyst Foundation. Imposed intervention diminishes beneficiaries’ agency and impinges on their growth and development. Participation has a lot of benefits which include, tailored intervention, strengthening of sustainability, appropriate use of resources, empowerment of beneficiaries.

Being “led by girls” means girls, who are the direct beneficiaries, are experts of their circumstances as they are intimate with the barriers they face in accessing their education and should take a leading role in any intervention design targeting them. This is especially significant in Sub-Saharan Africa where there is a risk of a donor model which is top-down, agenda driven and expert led without grassroots consultation. Beneficiaries should be involved in information sharing, consultation, decision making and initiating action in program activities. Interventions should factor in the power of context – what works well in one setting might be ineffective in another.

In addition, development is not development unless it is considered so by targeted beneficiaries. Real development must involve beneficiaries in their own improvement. Without participation, the girls may benefit but not develop from the project. Participation therefore has an intrinsic value.  Meeting beneficiaries at their level is key to understanding what their felt needs are. Early involvement of the project beneficiaries and other stakeholders not only improves project design but influences the outcome taking into cognizance the concerns of all stakeholders. Through participation, beneficiaries actively pursue identification of their needs, make decisions and contribute to mechanisms to have these needs materialize. Participation elicits actual definition of challenges whilst capturing the beneficiaries’ hopes and aspirations as part of the bottom-up approach.

Furthermore, participation strengthens project sustainability. Inclusion of beneficiaries at every stage of the project fosters a sense of community ownership. Participation in decision-making allows for the capacity building process as nothing is done for beneficiaries but with them.  As beneficiaries participate in making new decisions and solving problems, learning takes place. This learning is internalized because it is accomplished experientially rather than by role. It therefore leads to changes in attitude, behavior, confidence and leadership. An empowered person is one who can take initiative, exert leadership, display confidence, solve new problems, mobilize resources and undertake new actions.     

In the same vein, representation of all stakeholders promotes the inclusion of marginalized and the often under-represented groups such as people living with impairments. When given the opportunity, such beneficiaries have demonstrated the ability to deliberate, negotiate and advocate for their own agenda in meaningful ways. This is critical for the success of inclusive community development projects such as SHE Project which is based on non-discriminatory practice.

On the overall, participation ensures that children and families are empowered through involvement in the processes and decisions that affect their lives. The right of children to have their voices heard has been enshrined in an international treaty, the Convention on the Rights of Children 1991 and there is no better way of implementing the SHE Project other than being led by girls in removing barriers to their education.