Our Students With Dreams (SWD) program provides leadership training, mentorship, and seed funding to teams of college students to address challenges they identify in their communities in Malawi. We believe financial skills are critical. We teach our young leaders how to develop cost-effective, high-impact solutions from limited resources. In 2015 and 2016 we gathered feedback to better support them and the communities they serve.
We used several surveys about:
- Dreamers’ experiences in the program.
- Their self-assessment of their leadership and financial skills.
- Their recommendations on how to improve the program. This included a focus group.
Our Dreamers focus group was especially meaningful to our staff. Students offered thoughtful and detailed recommendations on what to amplify in the next year’s cycle. We found that giving the project leaders money in three phases was not aiding in the implementation of their projects. This surprised us. We thought the phase system made it easier for projects to manage money (receipt/book keeping) but it did not. Some projects needed more money at certain points, and others not at all. This either delayed the project, or they had to use their own money at certain points.
They also said our training in project design and implementation was more useful than our training on how to manage finances. Time management was also a highlighted skill.
Leadership: They faced many challenges and frustrations, which helped them grow as leaders. These are the qualities they saw emerging in themselves:
It was a joy to hear our Dreamers take pride in their perseverance and take ownership of their failures and accomplishments.
What we changed
- Added additional sessions on budgeting.
- Added a session on monitoring and evaluation to our SWD program orientation.
- Give the seed money at the beginning, instead of spreading it out.
What we learned
All students reported feeling better prepared for leadership roles.
Soliciting feedback thoughtfully and deliberately is clearly a skill, like any other, that needs to be modeled and taught. Among the experiences our young leaders valued, the ability to “incorporate feedback into your projects” and “engage the community during project implementation” were two areas they saw the least growth in themselves. They still rated these highly overall, but far behind the project design, finance, and time management/implementation skills.
We will continue developing this feedback loop as we grow SWD to best serve Malawi’s outstanding young leaders.
This is an example of a GlobalGiving organization that listens, acts, and learns.