2007.07.27: July 27, 2007: Headlines: Congress: Legislation: Speaking Out: PCOL Exclusive: 16. Testimony of Chuck Ludlam and Paula Hirschoff on S. 732: The Peace Corps Volunteer Empowerment Act: Seed Funding and Fundraising for Demonstrations

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Special Reports: July 27, 2007: Comments on the Peace Corps Volunteer Empowerment Act by two RPCVs now serving their second tour in Senegal: 2007.07.27: July 27, 2007: Headlines: Congress: Legislation: Speaking Out: PCOL Exclusive: 16. Testimony of Chuck Ludlam and Paula Hirschoff on S. 732: The Peace Corps Volunteer Empowerment Act: Seed Funding and Fundraising for Demonstrations

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16. Testimony of Chuck Ludlam and Paula Hirschoff on S. 732: The Peace Corps Volunteer Empowerment Act: Seed Funding and Fundraising for Demonstrations

16. Testimony of Chuck Ludlam and Paula Hirschoff on S. 732: The Peace Corps Volunteer Empowerment Act: Seed Funding and Fundraising for Demonstrations

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. In the Developing World, a live demonstration is worth a million words and is, in fact, the best way—often the only way—to teach a new idea. In our culture, we're used to making decisions based on reports, data, arguments, and pictures. We're willing to take risks based on analogies, corollaries, and propositions. We experiment and we design feasibility studies. With citizens of the Developing World, words are almost never enough. They demand, rightfully, that we show them that something works before they take risks to try it. That something works in America does not mean it will work in the village.

16. Testimony of Chuck Ludlam and Paula Hirschoff on S. 732: The Peace Corps Volunteer Empowerment Act: Seed Funding and Fundraising for Demonstrations

Seed Funding and Fundraising for Demonstrations

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. In the Developing World, a live demonstration is worth a million words and is, in fact, the best way—often the only way—to teach a new idea. In our culture, we're used to making decisions based on reports, data, arguments, and pictures. We're willing to take risks based on analogies, corollaries, and propositions. We experiment and we design feasibility studies. With citizens of the Developing World, words are almost never enough. They demand, rightfully, that we show them that something works before they take risks to try it. That something works in America does not mean it will work in the village.

This conservative approach makes sense in the Developing World. The margins of life there are thin. If poor farmers, for example, try something new and it fails, they or their children might go hungry or even die. Capital is scarce. Micro-lending, touted for decades, is often not available. We come from a culture that is optimistic, embraces risk, trusts in "progress," and loves change, but many in the Developing World are cautious and conservative, and rightfully so.

When a 23-year-old Peace Corps Volunteer meets a farmer in the field and urges him to plant a new hybrid cereal seed and invest in expensive chemical fertilizer, why should the farmer jump to adopt this idea? Has the Volunteer ever planted this seed before in this soil in this climate and what were the results? What about pests and diseases, birds and rats? Essentially the only way for Volunteers to proceed is to mount demonstrations to show local farmers that they do know what they are talking about and that the seeds will work as advertised.

If Volunteers can do no more than talk about an idea, draw pictures and cite studies, they may become frustrated and depressed. With seed funding, however, Volunteers can demonstrate their competence, and prove that they know something of value for the local community.

The key question with any demonstration is whether it can lead to sustainable results. It's easy to bring in money to build something. The Developing World is littered with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of "monuments" to development that lie broken and abandoned. Using a demonstration to teach basic skills and change entrenched attitudes is harder but has more potential to be sustainable.

However, to mount a demonstration often requires an immediate infusion of cash, the kind of financing that is too micro to seek from sources like Peace Corps Partnership or USAID's Small Projects Assistance (SPA) grants, but still enough to ensure that a project gets underway. We have been able to provide these infusions from our own resources, but most young Volunteers do not have a cushion of savings from which to draw. Following are some examples of this type of project:

* We introduced Guinguinéo's first drip irrigation system (donated by Chapin Living Waters Foundation). In a country where drought and desertification are ongoing threats, water conservation is a survival strategy. Mounting the system cost about $100 including labor. (Our host father has since constructed several generations of drip systems using local materials.)

* We worked with a women's group to start a porridge making enterprise. We spent about $25 to help the group launch its first production run and advised them on techniques, recordkeeping, pricing, packaging, and publicity. The porridge—made from millet, black eyed peas, and peanuts—is delicious and far more nutritious than the unenriched white bread that most children eat now.

* We helped a nearby village establish its first vegetable garden. We persuaded a village émigré who lives in Italy to fund the extension of a water line into the garden, and we paid $150 to construct a basin to hold the water. We've also spent about $40 in cell phone calls to persuade the government to bring a solar powered pump to the village.

* We helped a local Koranic school diversify its garden (with collard greens, eggplants, peppers and tomatoes). The demonstration cost about $40. We showed them how to save the open-pollinated, non-hybrid seeds (donated by Larry Sallee at the Seed and Light Foundation and Bob Hargrove at Echonet.)

* We designed and commissioned a solar dryer and launched an experiment in drying mangoes and cashew fruit with a team of community partners. Sunshine is an abundant resource in Senegal. It cost about $150 to construct the dryer and another $20 to buy the mangoes we used in the initial runs.

The distinction between seed funding for a demonstration project and a NGO or government grant is straight forward. For example, an NGO might donate mosquito nets to a village—an outright grant. Then a Peace Corps Volunteer might show how to dip the nets in permethen (a pesticide) to make them more effective—a demonstration. The Volunteer would pay for the initial treatment and the village would have to purchase the permethen every six months to continue the treatments.

Enabling a Volunteer to demonstrate a new idea and test its feasibility is not expensive.22 This is quite different from funding a village's 15th grocery store or the construction of a road. Seed funding enables Volunteers to teach a new idea that has not been previously tested or accepted locally. It's a means of persuading local entrepreneurs to take risks, not simply to generate more economic activity. When the local entrepreneurs decide to take a risk on the new business model, their challenge will be to secure funding from a bank or other source to carry it forward. At that point the Volunteer's role may be to serve as counselor or advisor. The Peace Corps is not and should not serve as a bank or an NGO.

Often the best advice a Volunteer can give entrepreneurs is to fund an enterprise from savings, not loans. In many communities in which Volunteers work, there is sufficient capital but it is not well utilized.23 When entrepreneurs begin to save to invest in a new enterprise, their whole mindset tends to change. They become more optimistic about the future and less vulnerable to unpleasant surprises. They rise above the hand-to-mouth, day-to-day struggle.24

It is not helpful for Volunteers to be viewed as the village Santa Claus. If they assume that role, the demands become an avalanche, making their life intolerable.25 As it is, many Volunteers are hit daily with demands for money. They fight against the culture of dependence on external funding. Their message is "self-help" and "independence." Volunteers explain repeatedly that they offer knowledge, not money. When they do invest money in a demonstration, they need to carefully explain that they are funding only the demonstration, not the ultimate enterprise. Even then, it's always wise to ask that the local partners contribute something for the demonstration; they need to buy into the project at an early stage. But without some funding to launch the demonstration, the Peace Corps Volunteer is left with words, which often are inadequate to make development a reality in the village setting.

In some countries, USAID permits Volunteers to apply for Small Project Assistance grants.26 All Volunteers can apply for reimbursement for their project expenses, but the available funds and the determination of what qualifies for reimbursement vary widely. We know of a case where 95% of requests for reimbursement were routinely denied so that Volunteers had to abandon their projects or fund them from their monthly stipend or personal funds, which is not an option available to many Volunteers. (See following discussion regarding the unreasonable restrictions on charitable fundraising.)

The bill contains provisions regarding seed funding to ensure that Volunteers in all countries have access to adequate funds to mount demonstrations.

a. Seed Money for Volunteer Demonstration Projects: Section 101(a) notes that the Peace Corps is an agency focused on grassroots, bottom up development, not a funding NGO. However, demonstrating is more impressive than just talking. Appropriately, Section 101(b) provides a set-aside for seed funding of 1 percent of total Peace Corps funding. It provides a maximum of $1000 per Volunteer for seed demonstrations. (We propose that it also set a minimum of $250 per Volunteer.) Funds shall be dispensed to Volunteers who submit plans that explain how the proposed demonstration might lead to sustainable development. Volunteers are responsible for ensuring that the funds are utilized for the purposes specified in the plan. Volunteers shall submit a report on the demonstration before their Close of Service.

Support for the seed funding provisions of the legislation was strong with 84% agreeing that "up to one percent of the Peace Corps budget [should] be used as seed money to support volunteer demonstration projects." Only 10% disagreed, while 71% said that the "Peace Corps Director [should] determine the amount of available funding each year" with individual seed fund awards "not to exceed $1,000." Only 21% disagreed. Also, 75% said that "Country Directors [should] play an important role in seed fund supervision and oversight," while 18% disagreed.

In the written comments regarding the seed funding provisions, some respondents expressed concern about Country Directors administering individual seed fund awards. Comments ranged from concern that CDs have other responsibilities to questions on competence or potential bias. A number of respondents expressed support for CD involvement, but within a committee structure. Also a number of respondents suggested other staff (particularly Associate Directors) would be more appropriate liaisons for seed funding awards. As for the seed funding limits, a third stated that the legislation should set a higher level (above $1,000) for funding projects or allow more flexibility in setting funding levels.

Following are a few of the written comments regarding the seed funding provisions:

Easy access to small development funds makes the work of the volunteer more effective since they can concentrate on the project rather then the small funding. There should be a clause to allow for inflation in developing countries that would allow seed funds to exceed a thousand dollars in the future. This amount should vary depending on the region…

RPCV, Cape Verde, 2001-03

Development funding provided to volunteers involved in potentially sustainable projects is the best $$$ spent by the US Govt. Every penny enhances the objectives of the Agency, US Diplomacy and cross cultural understanding. RPCV, Washington, D.C., Namibia, 2004-06

The Peace Corps administration should of course have an important role in supervision and oversight, but committees of peers made of in-country volunteers should take decisions on the allocation and follow up of projects. We had something similar and it worked well.

RPCV, Melrose MA, Mali, 1987-89

If the Peace Corps is listening to Volunteers, it will support this provision.

b. Fundraising from Entities by Volunteers: Section 102 (a) provides that Volunteers are encouraged to partner with government and non-government agencies and may assist host country nationals in applying for grants/loans from NGOs for their projects. The relationship between Volunteers and other development agents is ambiguous as is Volunteers' rights/ability to help host country nationals apply for grants and loans.

One potential source of funds is RPCV "friends" groups. Below we have proposed amending the Third Goal provision of the legislation to permit friends groups (i.e. Friends of Kenya) to apply for money to build their capacity to provide funding to current Volunteers. Building capacity might include securing tax exempt status, setting up or enhancing their websites to solicit contributions, and covering expenses associated with making grants to Volunteers.

c. Volunteer Fundraising from Individuals: Section 102(b) provides that Volunteers may solicit contributions for development projects at their sites from persons personally known to them, including family, friends, members of their U.S. home community, and from government and non-government organizations working through the Peace Corps Partnership Program. (Section 102(b)(1)(A) provides that a Volunteer may fund raise "including by working through the Peace Corps Partnership Program." It might be clearer to say "including but not limited to…" working through this program. We believe this is the intent of the legislation.)

The solicitations shall state the project or projects to which the funds will be applied. The Volunteer shall maintain records and receipts to confirm that the funds have been applied to the projects described in the solicitation. The Volunteer shall ensure that the funds are expended solely for such projects.

Peace Corps currently prohibits Volunteers from fundraising unless the funds are channeled through the Peace Corps Partnership Program. The program is bureaucratic, and the requirements often delay the funding until late in the Volunteer's term of service. Any fear that Volunteers will solicit funds for corrupt purposes is minimized in the legislation by limiting the fundraising to persons known to them or government or non-government agencies who have reason and ability to monitor the expenditure. A greater problem is corruption by host country nationals. This is a limited proposal that would greatly enhance the effectiveness of Volunteers in securing greater funding for demonstrations.27

In the NPCA survey, support for the fundraising reforms proposed in the legislation was strong with 82% in favor of enabling "Peace Corps Volunteers to solicit contributions for demonstration projects from personal acquaintances, and from government and non-government agencies (including the Peace Corps Partnership Program)." Only 15% disagreed. A total of 66% agreed that "such fundraising initiatives [should] require advance approval from the Country Director." At 30%, the proportion who disagreed with this provision was by far the highest in the survey. Apparently, the reason for the opposition to the CD review was a concern that bureaucracy would bog down the process. It's clear that respondents approve of the provision but many oppose the need for the CD's advance approval.

Written comments regarding the fundraising provisions included these:

Allow the PCVs the ability to screen and solicit donations as they see fit. PC/Country Directors can set up a protocol/policy/procedure to follow and allow the PCVs to fundraise according to set standards. Review of solicited funds can be done by a committee of PCVs. Give the power to PCVs, allow them to make decisions. I can't stress this enough. I know that many of the volunteers I served with were infuriated by how babied they felt by PC…

RPCV, (Central America Region), 2002-2004

Allowing volunteers to submit grant proposals is an awesome way of connecting people at home with people in the host country. (Peace Corps Partnership Program) is a great method of fundraising but is full of red tape! Having additional avenues for funding requests could well help increase host country national project sustainability by helping them learn to create proper proposals. Anonymous

If the Peace Corps is listening to the Volunteers, it will support these provisions.

d. Empowerment of Returned Volunteer Groups: Section 103 authorizes the Peace Corps to make grants to returned volunteers pursuant to the Peace Corps' Third Goal to "bring the world back home."

This provision should be amended so that RPCV alumni groups can receive funding to build their capacity to award grants to Volunteers for project funding. These groups are generally referred to as "friends of" groups, such as in Friends of Nepal, which Chuck co-founded, or Friends of Kenya, for which Paula has been a board member. This authorization is not to secure funding for the Volunteer projects themselves, but to enable the friends groups to build capacity to fund these projects. For example, funding might enable a friends group to hire an attorney to secure charitable tax exempt status, set up and enhance a website, and cover expenses associated with making grants to Volunteers. Under this amendment, funding could also be provided to the N.P.C.A., the umbrella group for RCPVs, to establish training programs, lawyer referral services, and "how to" manuals to enhance the alumni groups' capacity to fund Volunteer projects. These country-specific friends groups can be a valuable source of funding for PCV projects and other development projects in country.

The NPCA survey found strong support for the Third Goal provisions in the legislation, with 84% agreeing with $10 million per year beginning in FY 2008 to support “Third Goal” activities for returned Peace Corps Volunteers" and 13% disagreeing. A total of 80% agreed that the Peace Corps Director "would award grants on a competitive basis." Only 14% disagreed. A total of 84% agreed that "eligible programs and projects…[should] include educational programs for elementary and secondary schools; partnership projects with local libraries; and audiovisual projects utilizing materials collected during service." Only 9% disagreed. Some 77% agreed that "grants [should] be eligible to individual RPCVs and non-profit corporations with at least one RPCV with a background in community service, education or health," with 16% disagreeing.

Of those who commented, by far the primary concern was that the eligible projects listed in the legislation were too limited. A smaller—but not insignificant—number of respondents expressed reservations or opposition. Some said that the $10 million funding level was too high, or suggested less funding to begin piloting and building a “Third Goal” program. Others said priority should be given to existing Peace Corps projects, or that funds be directed at overseas development and not domestic-based projects. If the Peace Corps is listening to the Volunteers, it will support this provision.

This is one section from the testimony read into the record on the Peace Corps Volunteer Empowerment Act by Chuck Ludlam and Paula Hirschoff, two RPCVs who are now serving their second tour in Senegal. The rest of the sections can be found by following this link. Their entire report in MS Word format can be downloaded by following this link.

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Headlines: July, 2007; Congress; Legislation; Speaking Out; Peace Corps Bibliography; Peace Corps Countries of Service; Peace Corps History; Peace Corps Message Board; Recent Peace Corps News

When this story was posted in July 2007, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Dodd issues call for National Service Date: June 26 2007 No: 1164 Dodd issues call for National Service
Standing on the steps of the Nashua City Hall where JFK kicked off his campaign in 1960, Presidential Candidate Chris Dodd issued a call for National Service. "Like thousands of others, I heard President Kennedy's words and a short time later joined the Peace Corps." Dodd said his goal is to see 40 million people volunteering in some form or another by 2020. "We have an appetite for service. We like to be asked to roll up our sleeves and make a contribution," he said. "We haven't been asked in a long time."

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Search parties in the Philippines discovered the body of Peace Corps Volunteer Julia Campbell near Barangay Batad, Banaue town on April 17. Director Tschetter expressed his sorrow at learning the news. “Julia was a proud member of the Peace Corps family, and she contributed greatly to the lives of Filipino citizens in Donsol, Sorsogon, where she served,” he said. Latest: Suspect Juan Duntugan admits to killing Campbell. Leave your thoughts and condolences .

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One year ago, Staff Sgt. Robert J. Paul (RPCV Kenya) carried on an ongoing dialog on this website on the military and the peace corps and his role as a member of a Civil Affairs Team in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have just received a report that Sargeant Paul has been killed by a car bomb in Kabul. Words cannot express our feeling of loss for this tremendous injury to the entire RPCV community. Most of us didn't know him personally but we knew him from his words. Our thoughts go out to his family and friends. He was one of ours and he served with honor.

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