Collective power or impossible dream?


Do you have a favourite TV advert? A memorable one for me is an old UNISON ad. The scene opens with a couple of ants squeaking “excuse me” to a big bear, but he doesn’t hear them. A moment later hundreds of ants shout in unison “get out of the way” and the bear moves!

It’s a powerful image at many levels: ensuring the voice of the unheard is heard, promoting the power of unity and showing that you can overcome the impossible.

I have been fortunate enough to have supported rural communities in trading or buying services together to improve their livelihoods, and to have enabled marginalised communities to co-create solutions, ensuring future generations have access to basic commodities such as food or water. I have seen the power of working together – but it’s not easy.

I believe you need:

  • a core group willing to do the hard work, even when failure looks more likely than success.
  • a shared vision, values or set of principles that keep a group or network working together.
  • a diverse set of skills within the group or network so it is able to innovate and adapt.

The reason I love Viva is because building networks is at the heart of its support for vulnerable children and their families. At a minimum it ensures different churches don’t replicate activities in the same area of work. As they grow, networks also give an answer to the key question that all development specialists ask – how can we reach more people and deepen the impact in people’s lives with the same resources?

Viva supports its partner networks to grow over time, building links with local services and city authorities in order to reach more vulnerable children. Local Viva consultants advise these networks about how they can better tackle crucial issues such as child trafficking in Nepal or domestic violence towards teenagers in Guatemala or gender discrimination in India.

Four Viva partner networks have now matured to a size and influence where they are proactively aiming to deliver city-wide change – all achieved using the same relatively low-cost network model. Crucially, the solutions developed to tackle these hard-to shift issues come from the communities themselves, meaning that they are designed to work in their local, grassroots context.

The dream of bringing hope to children in difficult situations doesn’t feel so impossible when millions of ‘ants’ make some noise and work together.

David Bright is Director of Grants for the Open Society Foundations’ Economic Advancement Programme, which works to ensure economic development supports social justice. David has more than 16 years’ experience in international development, most recently as Head of Economic Justice Programmes at Oxfam, and also had a 12- year commercial career in business development. David serves on Viva’s Board of Trustees.



This article first appeared in Life magazine issue 6.