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Rebuilding life in Lira: Organisation for Community Action
Based in Lira, Organisation for Community Action (OCA) aims to support peace-building in Northern Uganda. The organisation was founded in 2001, however at the height of the LRA insurgency (where Lira suffered particularly brutal attacks) their work was stalled until they resumed operations in 2009.
Since then, OCA has gained the support of the International Refugee Trust as a donor, and streamlined all of its activities into a long-term holistic development programme called StepUp, designed to help people to recover from war. Before this happened, their activities were not as integrated. However, they now approach peace-building by promoting the active participation of local authorities, community members and development partners in initiatives such as sustainable organic farming, savings and credit schemes, and gender and education projects for girls.
StepUp is comprehensive, targeting complex areas needed to build and maintain a peaceful society such as nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, safe water, HIV/AIDS awareness, family and relationships, and human rights. The impact of this is huge; giving people stable homes, encouraging reduced drinking and developing stronger family relationships are just some of the results. But at its heart, StepUp is based on the premise that enabling people to rebuild something of value will prevent them from going to war in the future. As CEO Richard Adupa explains, sustainability is key:
“I would call it ‘best practice for sustainable development.’ When a beneficiary contributes for inputs and other services to them, they feel the pinch and realise that nothing comes easy therefore they have to work for their own success and wellbeing.”
Driving organisational growth with solid financial management skills
With a desire to continue the growth of their programmes and their team (they now have 17 staff), OCA have enlisted Mango’s support – several team members have attended Mango financial management training courses in Kampala and Lira over the past few years, starting with budgeting and more recently the financial management basics and financial sustainability courses.
Overall, Richard says, the biggest impact of the budgeting training has been an improved relationship with their donors:
“Now our budgets are approved on time because our budgets are activity-based and easily understood by our donors and board.”
This is echoed by Elizabeth Garland, from OCA’s donor organisation, International Refugee Trust:
“IRT has an excellent two-way relationship with OCA which has been built up over the last seven years of working in close partnership with each other.
Since Mango’s training, OCA has been more responsive to our finance-related requests which I get the impression comes from a place of increased knowledge and confidence in financial management.
We strongly believe that all organisations should make the effort to ensure that as many relevant staff and Board members are trained on financial management as is affordable.
We’ve noticed a distinct advantage of empowering entire teams within OCA with Mango training - this way everyone is ‘up to speed’; the workload is more balanced rather than unevenly weighted on one or two individuals and there is a greater rate of implementation of the learning outcomes. It also helps to reduce the risk of financial mismanagement – the greater number of people trained, the more they are able to cross-check each other and identify when something in the organisation’s finances isn’t quite right. Importantly for us, it enables us to give our donors the assurance that the local staff on the ground have the capacity to manage projects effectively,
and fully account for and report on project funds.”
Breaking down the “language barrier” between programme and finance staff
Programme and finance staff are now all ‘speaking the same language’, with everybody involved in OCA’s financial management. Richard notes that staff feel empowered and happier, improving information sharing.
They have also changed the way they prepare budgets, making them easier to manage and increasing transparency. They now engage in the process as a team, applying the activity-based budgeting technique learned on the course. In the past, they prepared budgets as a lump sum, which took a long time to approve as they were harder for the board and donors to understand. Costs are now broken down and communicated clearly, which makes monitoring and reporting easier, with faster approvals. The shift to activity-based budgeting is also a huge timesaver when year-end comes around, as closing off the accounts is much quicker.
It has also been possible to transfer some of the skills learned to people participating in OCA’s schemes, notably those launching small-scale businesses who need a solid grasp of budgeting so that they can better understand and manage costs, set pricing strategies and perform simple profit calculations.
Financial management for sustained impact
When asked about the impact of strengthening OCA’s financial management, Richard explains how it has played a central role in sustaining their growth and impact:
“We have kept growing because of good practice and transparency in all our financial management. Openness to our beneficiaries, the donors and other stakeholders have built our relationships over the years.”
Once more, he echoes the Mango mantra that good financial management depends on everyone, not just the finance team:
“Please do not go alone to attend a Mango training if you want to influence change and introduce good financial practice in your organisation. For everyone to embrace the training it is wise for the management team to attend as this might be a matter of policy which a junior staff may not influence easily! I do not regret having attended Mango training together with my management team because this has made my work easy especially handling programme and financial management. I do not have to drum first for staff to do things right.”
From the basics of financial management to developing a financing strategy, Mango offers a range of best practice courses to meet your needs. Visit us online to see what we can offer, or email our friendly team for advice.