Spark Microgrants, an international organisation that supports communities facing poverty to take action, is collaborating with the government of Rwanda to combat poverty through a community-driven model called the Facilitated Collective Action Process (FCAP). This innovative approach integrates community capacity building, and a grant seed to design and implement their own projects to improve their livelihoods. Since 2010, the organisation has worked with seven districts in Rwanda, bringing its village residents together to choose their priorities and implement change. It is presently active in 249 villages across four districts: Huye, Gicumbi, Gakenke, and Burera, as part of a project initiated in 2021, funded by the World Bank and the Rwandan government, the Advancing Citizen Engagement (ACE) project. The project, valued at approximately $6 billion, aims to assist 76,000 individuals to improve their livelihood with a specific focus on building central, local and villages capacity on citizen engagement through facilitation skills. Spark Microgrants is also working with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund to support 20 Fossey Fund communities in Musanze and five in Nyabihu to graduate from poverty through the green FCAP model, which puts a particular focus on environment conservation as well community climate change resilience and adaptation. Notably, Spark Microgrants has previously conducted operations in Rulindo, and Gisagara districts. With the FCAP model, partner villages take on the role of primary decision-makers throughout the entire process, establishing a novel development paradigm. This empowers them to identify and implement solutions for their specific needs, offering a sustainable approach to poverty alleviation. Engaging citizens with government programmes to improve their livelihood According to Jean-Paul Byukusenge, a Spark Microgrants staff member in Kigoma sector, Huye district, FCAP integrates facilitated meetings, community capacity building, savings groups, and a microgrant to impact individual livelihoods and foster social cohesion within entire communities. He said it is implemented in all 60 villages of the sector, assisting citizens over two years, divided into a six-month planning stage and an implementation phase. Byukusenge noted that each village community receives an $8,000 grant, distributed in two parts: 60 per cent initially and the remaining 40 per cent in the second phase. 5 per cent of the amount is contributed by the district as per a memorandum of understanding signed with Spark Microgrants. During the process,” said Byukusenge, “the village residents choose their leaders, start a project with the microgrant, create savings groups and attend village meetings where they undergo empowerment sessions focusing on building confidence and enhancing public speaking skills. This sets the stage for an annual village planning process, promoting civic engagement, fostering inclusive participation and leadership. In Kigoma sector, citizens are engaged in various projects, including animal husbandry for pigs, cows, and chickens, as well as money lending through saving groups. Byukusenge said that some villages even have motorbike projects where they lend motorcycles to motorists, who, in turn, provide them with monthly payments. Ange Sebutege, the Mayor of Huye district, emphasised the positive impact of the Spark Microgrant project, noting its success in revitalising underperforming sectors like Kigoma and Rucuro. He said the project contributed to a reduction in the stunting rate to 16.4 per cent in 2022 and universal coverage for public health insurance (Mutuelle de Sante) payments of long-term voluntary saving (Ejo Heza), along with 98 per cent in Kigoma through citizens’ saving groups. Sebutege called for an extension of the project to other villages, emphasising its role in enabling residents to implement initiatives aligned with their aspirations and development goals and Rwanda’s national strategy for transformation, as well as its inclusive nature that fosters collaboration and active participation among all village members. “Since they have benefits in the project, the citizens attend the meetings and can save money through their groups. We see that soon, with the collaboration of continuing to follow up on the social life of people, we believe this project can be a trigger for lifting people out of poverty within a particular time frame, as they are also committed to it,” he noted. Impact on school dropout and persons with disabilities Robert Muramira, the Interim Program Manager at Spark Microgrants, highlighted FCAP’s contribution to reducing school dropout rates. Speaking on its layering approach, he said it proactively engages village members in discussing various indicators, including school dropout rates, and evaluating their impact. They convene to discuss the importance of schooling children, assess the reasons behind children not attending school and strategise on ways to facilitate their enrollment. Often, they discover that some lack scholastic materials, face financial constraints related to school fees, or lack proper school uniforms. In response, they pool their savings to address these challenges. In instances where the issues exceed their capacity, they escalate them to the cell level or sector level depending on the magnitude of the issue, he explained. Regarding FCAP's impact on persons with disabilities, Muramira noted a dedicated focus on this vulnerable group within the village. Persons with disabilities are identified and prioritised during the project's planning phase, ensuring their inclusion from the outset of implementation. By involving them early on, they become integral to the process and are among the primary beneficiaries of the generated projects benefits, he said. Beneficiaries speak out Marceline Cyulimpundu, a resident of Gatovu village in Sebeya cell, Kigoma sector, said that when she and fellow residents met Spark Microgrants, they provided training on strategies for their village’s development and residents' prosperity. We realised that engaging in animal husbandry, specifically raising pigs, could be beneficial. In the first phase, I received a pig, and later, I was given a cow in the second phase. This not only provided my family with manure to use in our farm but also enabled me to enhance my home by adding cement and constructing better housing for tenants through my savings,” she said. Cyulimpundu added that the knowledge gained through the programme empowered her family, and she now aspires to further improve housing and excel in farming activities. In the same sector, residents of Kabingo village in Musebeya cell have embraced pig farming and formed a savings group, accumulating a total savings of 1,013,000 Rwandan Francs. The group can now offer loans of up to Rwf 150,000 to members, repayable within six months. Recognising the absence of a local market, they also established a small market in the village to address the need. Cyprien Ntakirutimana is one of the beneficiaries of Spark Microgrants and a trader. He said he received a pig through the initiative, and the subsequent birth of six piglets allowed him to sell them and acquire a cow, enhancing his business. In just five months, the funds from the second phase were invested in my kiosk business. As it flourished, I ventured into constructing my house. The current value of my assets is approximately Rwf 7 million, he said. Another beneficiary, Florence Mukanemeye, highlighted the transformative nature of Spark Microgrants' intervention. Facing challenges in obtaining manure, she received a pig from the project, enabling her to fertilise her farm. Spark came as an inclusive project and benefitted me. My banana plantation has thrived, with each banana now weighing 50 kilogrammes compared to the previous average of below 20 kilogrammes. I anticipate reaching 100 kilogrammes in the future as I continue to apply manure, she explained. With the acquired knowledge and resources, Florence now owns a cow and aspires to produce milk when it delivers, with plans to expand her farming area.