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Women teaching Burkinabe masons about traditional renders

DW - building on local values, needs and knowledge

From the outset (1973), DW recognized that in a world facing ever more rapid change and emerging needs and problems, local capacity and indigenous knowledge were key to people achieving safer and better living conditions. DW has worked for over 35 years in some of the poorest communities worldwide to help people improve this capacity.

Our actions are defined and owned by the people with whom we work. They are based on adapting and developing both individual and collective skills, and the social, organisational and economic structures needed to address today and tomorrow’s needs in as sustainable a manner possible.

We build on local knowledge and respect for indigenous practice, seeking to optimise what already works well and marry it with the innovation and added capacity that together provide contemporary and future solutions.

DW acts locally and regionally, promoting the use of local human and natural resources; encouraging and advocating for strategies that strengthen the links and cooperation between authorities and civil society and that build on local potential. In doing so, we take the successful example of our work to push for policies that are in the direct interest of the poor and enhance their position in society and the recognition of the contribution that the poor make to meeting today’s challenges.

DW’s formal mission is

‘to contribute to the capacity of communities to provide for their basic needs specifically in human settlements’.

We thus take as our starting point the natural and built environment in which people live.

Our actions reduce vulnerability and risk; improve living conditions; develop new skills, processes and products; create local jobs and income, and access to credit; empower disadvantaged and minority groups and communities; and help to protect and manage the local environment.

DW collaborates with and provides support to other NGOs, CBOs and financial organizations, and collaborates with universities in Asia, Africa, Europe and North and Central America.

With its actions grounded in local reality over the medium to long-term, DW has the opportunity to continually assess and learn from its actions. The results of this action-driven research are published and shared in the development community through various networks and media. DW actions have an award winning reputation for the south-south transfer of lessons, know-how, techniques and strategies, benefiting from exchanges about common issues in different contexts. Examples include transferring traditional earth roofing skills from Iran and Egypt to arid West Africa, and adapting skills, strategies and children’s performances developed in Vietnam to other parts of South East Asia hit by natural disasters.

DW is holistic in its approach: driven by locally defined priorities, these may require respecting the needs of various groups (women, children, working age young men and the aged). Almost invariably, this entails promoting democratic programme participation, strengthening institutions, developing financial mechanisms and engaging real local contribution. Similarly, high emphasis is placed on community driven communication, animation and exchange using traditional arts as well as current media, training artisans and developing products on local markets. Supporting bottom up guidelines for safer planning and building and getting them accepted as official strategy (rather than the other way around) has been a gradual but successful strategy in both Vietnam and Burkina Faso.

DW believes in decentralised responsibility and local decision-making. We place high value on long-term commitment and the prominent role of local staff at all levels. Turnover is exceptionally low, many of our staff have worked with us for well over 15 years. Combined with our long term commitment to the countries in which we work, this is a strength, contributing to DW’s institutional memory and culture and providing a very solid foundation for current and future actions.