Raising Voices is a nonprofit organization based in Kampala, Uganda working toward the prevention of violence against women and violence against children. Their approach focuses on holistic programming that influences the power dynamics shaping relationships between women and men, girls and boys.
Raising Voices’ work is organized around three core pillars – practice, learning and influence:
Practice – Over the past twelve years, Raising Voices has experimented and tested creative approaches to shift harmful social norms and prevent violence. At its core, the practice component is about cultivating an impassioned form of activism—one that can awaken critical thinking and catalyze changes in relationships, homes, schools and communities.
Learning – Their learning component aims to nurture a culture of curiosity, reflection and action that can distill and synthesize lessons to evolve their programming and inspire further innovation in the prevention field.
Influence – Raising Voices understands influencing as the ability to shape perspectives and analysis at various levels – organizational, regional and global. Through their publications, advocacy groups and presence at various forums, they infuse discourse with feminist values and a grounded understanding of what it takes to effectively prevent violence in practice.
The SASA! Activist Kit is a community mobilization approach designed to address a core driver of violence against women and HIV: the imbalance of power between women and men. SASA!’s work is currently being used in more than 20 countries around the world by more than 65 organizations.
Since 2013, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) has partnered with Raising Voices in a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) capacity building project. While Raising Voices has a strong focus on organizational learning and strengthening, and had rigorous monitoring systems for different program-level activities, they wanted to institute an organizational system that pulled together activities and outcomes across all of their areas of work.
We caught of up Raising Voices’ Lori Michau, Co-director and Co-founder, and Sophie Namy, the Learning Coordinator, to ask how the work is going and how it’s impacting the communities they serve.
What have been the greatest challenges you have faced, and how have you overcome them or changed your approach to the work?
For a long time, we struggled to get beyond a superficial dialogue with people about violence, gender and rights. We could see that while our efforts were earnest and landing with some people, we were not able to get deep enough to really spark wide-scale personal change or activism. When we started using the language of power, that changed tremendously. People were sharing profound experiences, identifying with the issues so personally, and they felt compelled to do something. These were not easy or quick conversations to have but working intensely over time in communities in a personal and provocative way can transform the way people think about themselves and their aspirations for themselves and their families.
You have been working with ICRW on developing a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system to improve your programming. Why did you feel you needed to develop an M&E system?
While we were doing fairly well at assessing and reflecting on specific activities, we felt a gap in terms of more systematically monitoring—and learning—from our collective work. The collaboration with ICRW was the perfect opportunity to rigorously think through a holistic system that would strengthen the conceptual basis for our organizational learning and evaluation (L&E, a term used by Raising Voices to emphasize the importance of learning and growth), as well as the practical steps required to routinely track and review a critical set of indicators.
What have you found to be challenging in this process? Have you seen any improvements?
Time! To do this work diligently—with everyone’s input—requires sustained effort and several iterations for tweaking and refinement. It’s a full commitment. And the more people around the table, the longer our list of benchmarks and indicators seemed to grow, with everyone wanting to capture a slightly different perspective on our work. Prioritizing and balancing our ‘wish list’ with practical constraints was a challenge. As our system transitioned from something abstract to more tangible and concrete, we got better at identifying the type of indicators that will generate more meaningful reflection, and scaling back in other areas.
How has the data gathered through M&E helped your staff and informed your work going forward?
This investment in organizational L&E has enhanced our work on many levels. Something that can perhaps get overlooked is simply the improved accountability that comes from knowing that the outputs of your day-to-day work will be presented at a team level. The very act of filling in a tracking sheet, for example, can cue us in to aspects of our workplan we’ve been neglecting, and help us keep better pace throughout the quarter. More importantly, we are all learning the important skill of interrogating data. For instance, during our bi-annual L&E reviews, each member of the team is encouraged to think critically about the results presented. What ‘story’ seems to be emerging from the data? How does it align with other observations and experiences? Our aim is to use this information as a springboard for rich discussions that enable us to celebrate achievements, identify gaps, and plan strategically for the way forward.
What, if anything, have you changed in your approach to the project work as a result of the data you gathered through M&E?
While it’s difficult to attribute programmatic innovations solely to L&E data –having this system in place nurtures our agility as a learning organization, providing a structure to cohesively review progress and pivot based on what we uncover. L&E also helps us to tease out connections across our various portfolios of work. For example, part of our Good School L&E is to capture case management data from partners including the number and type of violence against children cases they handle (or refer). We noted a surprisingly high proportion of child neglect cases, and after hypothesizing about the why, we discovered many such cases originate with violence against the mother. This illustrates a clear intersection between violence against children and violence against women we are coming up against in our practice work, and we plan to integrate this learning within our 2018 media campaign.
What excites you most about the work you do?
The positive changes we see in relationships, families, schools and communities is what excites and inspires us! Our experience working with people has been overwhelmingly positive – women and men, boys and girls are open, aspiring to a better life, willing to make hard changes to realize that and so courageous. Ten years ago, we didn’t know if preventing violence against women and children – was possible, if it would take generations, if it was worth the investment – now see women and children living violence free. It doesn’t get much better than that!
In 2013 Raising Voice, CEDOVIP, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Makerere University conducted a randomized control trial (RCT) to assess the community wide impact of the SASA! approach. The evaluation found that SASA! has not only changed attitudes but also actions. As a result of their efforts, the risk of physical partner violence against women dropped by 52 percent. A few years later, Raising Voices partnered with LSHTM once again, this time to carryout an RCT of the Good School Toolkit, their methodology to prevent violence against children in primary schools. Results were similarly impressive—a 42 percent reduction in children’s recent experience of physical violence by teachers.
One of the most striking things about Raising Voices isn’t what they do, but how they do it. Raising Voices’ work is driven by their core beliefs in feminism, social justice, accountability, respect, and the dignity of all people. This means that all staff are included in trainings and decision-making; there is a striking feeling of equality throughout the organization; all feel welcome and respected; and their efforts are grounded in the evidence of what works.