What is Twaweza
Twaweza means 'we can make it happen' in Swahili. It is a ten year citizen-centered initiative, focusing on large-scale change in East Africa. Twaweza believes that lasting change requires bottom-up action. We seek to foster conditions and expand opportunities through which millions of people can get information and make change happen in their own communities directly and by holding government to account.
'Ni Sisi!': The idea that 'It’s us!'
Our tagline 'Ni Sisi' promotes the idea on which Twaweza is founded, namely, that citizens of East Africa can bring about change themselves, rather than waiting for governments, politicians, donors or NGOs to do it for them.
Twaweza works to provide practical information to everyone, to foster quality independent media and citizen monitoring services. By addressing these issues through its partner organizations, Twaweza works to foster what it calls an 'ecosystem of change,' through building on, as well as triggering, the actions of citizens to make a difference. Twaweza has three core areas: brokering partnerships, Uwazi, and learning and communication.
What are our goals?
Real change takes time. We are not keen to just do easy activities and check implementation boxes. That is why the Twaweza initiative has a ten year time frame, with two goals. First, we seek to enhance ‘citizen agency,’ by which we mean the ability of men, women and young people to get better information more quickly, cheaply and reliably; monitor and discuss what’s going on; speak out; and act to make a difference. This is important for its own sake, because every person should feel a sense of empowerment or control over their own lives. It is also important because it contributes to our second goal, which is to enable many more people to enjoy quality basic education, health care and clean water.
How do we work?
We do not believe that sustainable change comes through establishing little projects here and there. Neither do we believe that people in the capital city are best placed to bring change in thousands of communities across the region. Therefore we do not set up lots of Twaweza projects. Instead we find innovative ways to work through what we call the 'five networks,' which already reach millions of citizens across East Africa and are important in their lives– mass media, mobile phones, religion, teachers' unions and fast moving consumer goods. We broker ‘win-win’ partnerships, where each partner can simultaneously achieve its goals and support citizens by doing what it does best. By linking up partners who might not otherwise cooperate – such as teachers’ union with the church or mobile phone companies– we aim to leverage a greater ‘ecosystem effect’ of change on the ground. See our criteria for partnerships.
Why do we make such a big point about learning and evaluation?
Like elsewhere, East Africa is littered with lots of development activities that were well meaning but that achieved little or did not last long. We therefore have a fierce commitment to learning and sharing lessons, so that we don't share this fate.
We are constantly asking ourselves: What is the evidence for impact? Which parts worked well and which did not, and why? What key factors explain success or failure, and under which conditions? Throughout, we foster a culture of learning and self-critique, and document and share lessons in creative and accessible formats. We have commissioned several independent evaluators to undertake a rigorous evaluation of Twaweza over its first five years, and we will use these lessons to inform internal practice and global knowledge.
Where are we so far?
We are in our fourth year of implementation. During 2009 we focused on doing research, establishing the organization, recruiting staff and setting up systems. In 2010 we developed relationships with key partners, often using innovative approaches across Tanzania and Kenya, and established a new office in Uganda. In 2011 we deepened and expanded partnerships, learned from failure of some and made adjustments to make them more effective.
Our Uwazi unit has produced policy briefs on key issues, many of which triggered public debate and in some cases contributed to direct impact. Our ambitious learning and independent evaluation agenda has been firmly established with researchers from MIT/Princeton universities and the Amsterdam Institute of International Development (AIID).
These are still early days in a ten-year vision and plenty remains to be done. There are many signs of success already, as well as indicators of where we have failed or done less well. The commitment is to keep thinking, keep doing, keep learning.