Lost in Transition: Reassessing Our Systems for Accountability

After nine years of running programs, Operation Groundswell has worked with some incredible organizations on projects that have shaped, changed, and motivated everyone involved. 2015 was no exception; this past year we saw more projects that inspired participants, encouraged partners, and positively impacted communities around the world. We’re excited to highlight partners that truly capture the spirit of OG and show the scope and scale of our projects, while also thinking critically about our impact on the ground.

Our partnerships, like any meaningful relationship, are continually evolving, shifting to better support each other’s needs and cultivate deeper trust. Each one of our partners from the different corners of the world teach us new lessons about ourselves and each other. Each partnership also comes with its own challenges and opportunities for growth.

We recently faced a unique challenge when two of our long-term and alumni-founded partner organizations in Ghana joined forces to better serve the local community in which they were operating in. In 2014, G-Roots, a non-profit providing organizational and financial assistance to self-sustainable poverty alleviation projects, was absorbed by and became a part of Ghana Medical Help (GMH), a non-profit committed to providing medical equipment, supplies, and aid to hospitals in the northernmost regions of Ghana. Although beneficial in the long-run, this amalgamation was a big shake-up that naturally saw some miscommunication and loss in coordination. One of the projects we were working on in collaboration with G-Roots was, unfortunately, something that was lost in transition.

Strengthening Our Systems of Accountability

In the summers of 2013 and 2014, our Global Health teams donated a portion of their community contribution to the community of Kadema through G-Roots to build a borehole. This borehole would become Kadema’s primary source for safe, clean drinking water. When we returned to Kadema with our Global Health teams in 2015, however, there was noticeable tension within the community that we had never experienced before. After some dialogue, we discovered that our community contributions from the previous years were never actually used to deliver on our promise of the borehole. Our head office sent money to our contacts in Ghana, transfers were accepted, but still no borehole exists.

Despite our investigations to find out where or what projects our community contributions were allocated towards, we still have no information. During the amalgamation process of our two partner organizations, GMH only took on some of G-Roots projects, not all. The borehole project was one project that, unfortunately, fell through the cracks. This has highlighted a major gap in our own community contribution structure and systems of accountability.


Kadema borehole in the making. Photo by Ghana Medical Help

Kadema borehole in the making. Photo by Ghana Medical Help

Although we work with our many of our partners year over year, the physical distance between OGHQ and our in-country partners, as well as the temporary four-month placements of our program leaders, makes follow-up especially difficult. We recognize that this is a major gap in our structure, which is why we are currently assessing new models to strengthen our accountability and improve communication with partners post-program. The introduction and hiring of regional directors and coordinators is one major step towards solving this problem. Regional directors will allow us to have year-round presence in-country, giving us the chance to better maintain contact with all of our partners in the regions where we operate and ultimately strengthen our relationships.

Delivering on Our Promises

After several failed attempts to track down how our donated funds were allocated, we shifted our focus to repairing our relationship with the Kadema community. The most pressing issue at hand was still the fact that our partner community did not have a primary source for safe and clean drinking water after years of being promised one. Our priority then was to work closely with GMH to make sure this promise was fulfilled.

Due to the structure and schedule of our programs and community contributions, OG was unable to provide the necessary funding for the immediate construction of the borehole. Ghana Medical Help, also deeply committed to Kadema, worked to receive funding from the Guelph Trillium Rotary Club to make this project happen as swiftly as possible. As a commitment to GMH and the Kadema community, our upcoming summer teams will allocate a portion of community contribution funds to GMH’s Sheep, Health and Economic Empowerment Program (S.H.E.E.P.), a sheep-lending program providing local farmers with income generation opportunities.

After much confusion and miscommunication, we are proud to announce that the borehole project is now complete and the community of Kadema has access to clean and safe drinking water. We have worked to re-establish trust within this community and all parties are excited to collaborate once again to ensure all communication is clear to ensure we create the greatest impact together.

Photo by: Ghana Medical H

Kadema celebrating a clean drinking source. Photo by Ghana Medical Help

Moving Forward

At Operation Groundswell, we are the first to admit that our systems are not perfect. As we continue to grow — and as our partners continue to grow — we will encounter many other issues. But our first priority will always be with our partners and to work towards positively impacting the communities where we work.

We recognize that growing pains are inevitable and though this was a difficult situation to deal with, it forced us to re-examine our own organization, critically assess our practices, and work towards improving our systems. It is this constant feedback loop of learning and collaboration with our partners that will bring us towards greater impact. We look forward to sharing the lessons we learn — both from our failures and successes!