Author: Renee Ho October 6, 2015

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Photo Credit: Brooke Bocast. Students from the Abayudaya community, Uganda.

Feedback Labs recently hosted a LabStorm with Dr. Brooke Bocast, an anthropologist studying the dynamic and co-dependent interplay between a small US-based donor organization, its recipient community, and the individuals within that community.

Bocast describes the emergence of ad-hoc, un-programmed “beneficiary” feedback:

Individual girls from the community began emailing the donors to complain about how the community spends the money.

In a simplified nutshell:

The donor’s purported mission, as found on its website, is “…to support isolated and emerging Jewish communities who wish to learn more about Judaism and (re-)connect with the wider Jewish community.”

It gives to the Abayudaya Jewish community in Uganda for a set of activities including education scholarships and “girls’ empowerment”.

By giving to the community, the donors actually give to an Abayudaya Executive Council (AEC) that, in turn, brokers who receives scholarships.

Both boys and girls receive annual scholarships. Girls, boys too however, have been threatened to have their scholarships not renewed if they are not dating within the community, or if they are not dating at all. Implicitly (and perhaps explicitly) is the community imperative to promote Jewish marriage, procreation, and expansion of the community.

The girls who are complaining don’t want to be dating. They are still teenagers. One girl isn’t dating; others are dating people the AEC doesn’t approve of. Basically they don’t want their romantic activities serving as criteria for academic scholarships

They are forbidden from communicating with the donors without the AEC. They are, yes, but this edict lacks “teeth”.

What is the donor organization supposed to do with the ad-hoc, un-programmed individual feedback?

Whose interests dominate in this tense landscape—the community’s (defined and captured by a few), the individual’s, or the donor’s? And whose interests should matter most? How do we begin to define “community”?

Bocast leaves us with some other provocative questions:

  • What incentives might encourage the NGO to act upon constituent feedback?
  • What incentives might drive AEC members to more fully support female students?
  • In practical terms, how might we design an intervention that would account for all of the complex social relations in this (and other) community?
  • In what terms might this project be considered a success?

Bocast’s full article will be published later this year.

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