Grassroots efforts to effect change: some crucial but often overlooked points


Emmanuel Otoo


Grassroots initiatives are spontaneous and home-grown efforts, usually led by locals with a passion for addressing needs in their communities.

Some grassroots initiatives seek to respond to the needs of people affected by hostile situations such as armed conflict, harmful traditional practices, and unpleasant government policies. Other grassroots efforts help communities and families to be safe by working with issues relating to resisting modern-day slavery and human trafficking, or by providing protection to vulnerable people.

These grassroots efforts are lasting because their design and implementation involve program participants and mobilize stakeholders to find solutions. However, awareness of the following pitfall and opportunities could help these very important agents of change to have even more impact.

Technical capacity versus passion

Though most leaders of grassroots organizations are driven by passion, passion alone is not enough to effect sustainable social change. Responding to issues regarding girls’ education, early childhood development, HIV/AIDS, disabilities, etc., requires and in-depth technical understanding of how to address these issues in a holistic and sustainable way. This creates an opportunity for more learning and on-the-ground exposure by grassroots leaders or for grassroots leaders to build a team of people with sound technical knowledge on the topics which the organization seeks to address.

Struggle to find balance between community needs and donor expectations

Most grassroots organizations are led by local community members who have clarity on the needs of the people they serve. The challenge, however, is meeting these needs and satisfying donor expectations at the same time. In some cases, grassroots organizations allow their initiatives to be guided by donors’ expectation, and the real needs of the community are not fully addressed.

Addressing root causes versus scratching the surface

It is always important to address problems at their roots. If the issue is human trafficking or early forced marriage, how will grassroots efforts get to the root of the problem? Is the root cause poverty, ignorance, outdated traditions, or something else? How can a grassroots organization be more proactive and get to the source of the problem to prevent trafficking in the first place?

Inconsistencies in the flow of resources and support

It is becoming increasingly more challenging to attract funding for grassroots organizations that are ‘hard to reach’ and are riskier to work with, since many of them have little or no internal control systems and have limited external networks. Some organizations dream of resource mobilization efforts such as endowment funds but struggle to find partners to support those ideas. Others have initiated their own internal resource mobilization mechanisms, but the income accrued is inadequate for fully funding their programs.

Poor alignment with major national and international initiatives

To ensure continuity and sustainability, it is important to align grassroots initiatives with national government development plans (where they exist) or key international programs such as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Otherwise, grassroots efforts tend to run in isolation, reducing their chances of sustainability. Most programs could be enriched – and could become more attractive to funders – through conscious efforts to align with some of these major initiatives.

Moving forward, it will be valuable for grassroots organizations to find ways to be attentive to some of the points above. It will also be useful for them to be more proactive and build resilient communities, among other things. These steps are important in ensuring that grassroots organizations have the tools necessary to reach the most vulnerable members of their communities.

Emmanuel Otoo is Regional Program Director of The Global Fund for Children, representing Africa and the Middle East.

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Tagged in: grassroots initiatives The Global Fund for Children

Comments (7)


A great piece you have here Emmanuel! You have painstakingly outlined how grassroots organisations should improve their presentation of issues they are very passionate about in fund raising. I want to crave your indulgence that advocates like you could work with these new grassroots NGOs in capacity building on a regular basis for effective scaling up

Bahati Kanyamanza

Otoo, I'm happy to work with you and the GFC team. Keep up with the good work you are doing. Many blessings.

Pax Sakari

Brother Otoo, you have completely finished me with your insightful text that were speaking to me loudly. Allow me add on the question of fake organizations versus genuine ones. Couple of these have been formed either by the regulators to tape in information from the genuine ones. They leak information, they disorganize a good planned cause.......! Not shy to say some are formed for individual benefits and here the society judges all as one and the same. Hence tainting the image of all including the good work already done on ground. Otherwise thanks for making my day with your thoughts.

Sylvia Ekong

Great job Emmanuel. I couldn't agree with you more. You have certainly touched on the major issues. Allow me to elaborate a little. Building the technical and managerial capacity of grassroot organizations is a first step in ensuring change within communities. Adequate financial resourcing of these organizations is the second and equally most important factor in ensuring sustainable change within communities. Change happens very slowly for all the reasons you've mentioned, mostly the cultural and attitudinal. Often grassroot organizations must address these before they can make any impact. The present short term funding by donors based on project-by-project approach, where grassroot organizations must must execute activities quickly and report on impacts and outcomes within 2 or 3 years must be reviewed to ensure sustainable change. Negative attitudes and cultural practices don't change in 2 or 3 years. Often donors assume that grassroot organizations are receiving funding from multiple sources to address the same issue but this is simply not true. The greatest problem facing most grassroot organizations is funding.


Fantastic Emmanuel u have really detailed how to attract funds and assistance from organizations to assist individual NGO to effect and affect their communities .Glad to have an in-depth of how best ,easier and attractive a grassroot organization can be recognized and be assisted

Prince Ofosu mensah

Hi Emma, this is very insightful. I am equally worried about projects' sustainability at the grassroots especially when its a turnkey. Probably you may also take this issue up and find out about grassroots capacity to sustain projects that are ' bequeathed' by donor organizations. Again, thanks for this submission


Emmanuel, you have certainly given 100% to the grassroot organisations. The world that lives in non grassroot settings has a responsibility of supporting the world beyond them by understanding the importance of advocating for the right policies,share and give opportunities to those in need whenever ,wherever.

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