[OPINION] We should listen to what our beneficiaries have to say

[OPINION] We should listen to what our beneficiaries have to say
'It is important to listen to the perceptions and sentiments of the people we wish to help.... It is worth involving them in decisions that determine their fate.'

Personal accounts reflect one’s perceptions and sentiments.

“I learn many things. We learn to (go to the) market and cook. We learn about safe and unsafe places. We eat at one table and pray. We are a family.”

This is the personal account of Rebby (not her real name), who lives in ACAY house. ACAY Mission Philippines runs a residential home called School of Life for young female victims of abandonment, negligence, and violence. Sister Sophie, the founder, explained that their goal is to prepare the girls for progressive independence and reintegration to society. The founder expounded that a fundamental aspect of the educational concepts their NGO has developed through the years is beneficiary participation.

Beneficiary participation refers to the involvement and influence of beneficiaries in the operations of a program. It engages beneficiaries in planning, organizing activities, and decision-making. In the Philippines, there are NGOs that deliberately practice beneficiary participation in various forms. 

Dr. Vien Chu highlighted 3 levels of participation: consulting, partnership, and delegated control. 

  • Consulting aims at understanding the beneficiaries and the factors that affect them. This is achieved through surveys, meetings, and formal complaint mechanisms. ACAY, for example, developed a regular feedback mechanism where girls air out difficulties and complaints. Simultaneously, Family Cooperation for Health Service Foundation (FAMCOHSEF) surveys health workers on their evaluation of speakers and topics after attending a module.

  • Partnership occurs when employees and beneficiaries work together to identify areas for development or co-administer a program. This is done through work groups and the beneficiaries’ representative council. For instance, Teacher Meldy from St. Josemaria Day Care said that toddlers’ parents also have responsibilities in running the program. ACAY engages girls to work on a roadmap, wherein they learn to compute how much money they will need until the end of the School of Life program and determine how to earn it progressively. FAMCOHSEF conducts focus group discussions with beneficiaries in order to gather their insights on program development.

  • Delegated control means giving beneficiaries a voice in decision-making. Organizations invite select beneficiaries to sit in the board or advisory committee. Roseanne Gonzalez, FAMCOHSEF President, shared that they formed a committee, composed of the social worker and 3 beneficiaries, that channels feedback and provides advice to management. 

Some organizations hesitate to seek the opinion of beneficiaries due to lack of proficiency. Teacher Meldy, however, imparted that young people can answer surveys for as long as the questions are appropriate to their age and circumstance. Keeping in mind the children who went through day care, she shared, Ang mga sampung taong gulang…matatalino sila. Nakakasagot sila kung ano ang kanilang puwedeng maambag sa pamilya at sa community nila.” (Ten-year old children are smart. They are able to tell us what they can contribute for their families and their communities.) 

Beneficiary participation aids management in executing better services. In the case of ACAY, the roadmap project allowed management to identify the skills that each girl needs and assist her in developing income-generating endeavors. Moreover, the practice of consulting and working with beneficiaries boosts their self-esteem. To wit, FAMCOHSEF’s training program graduates feel that the project is theirs and market the program to potential participants. (READ: ‘BeVolts’: From street dwellers to aid workers)

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a deep financial and health crisis in our country. More Filipinos necessitate economic, emotional, and medical assistance. Bayanihan calls for existing and additional structures to tackle present-day hardships of the marginalized and vulnerable. Are authorities eager to sit down and listen to beneficiaries? Do leaders trust in their capacity to share insights? In the effort to serve, it is propitious for key players to consult, partner with or delegate to beneficiaries. 

Barangay captains can consult underprivileged residents on food, milk, and medicines they need to survive ECQ and post-ECQ. The data can propel LGUs to strategize acquisition and distribution of supply. Corporations can partner with farmers to design a sustainable system for delivery and sale of produce. NGOs for the aged can spot spokespersons who are able to articulate concerns of their community and decide on action plans. Beneficiaries receive but can also give. (READ: ‘Ayuda, hindi bala:’ Filipinos online demand improved gov’t support on Labor Day 2020)

It is important to listen to the perceptions and sentiments of the people we wish to help. It is vital to boost their talent and courage to converse with team leaders. It is worth involving them in decisions that determine their fate. What beneficiaries say matter. Participation is a promising tool in responding accurately to the needs and interests of beneficiaries. – Rappler.com

Adiel H. Aguiling, CPA, was formerly the Director for Educational Management of PAREF Schools Central Office. She is currently a coach at People Engaged in People Projects Foundation Inc. She is pursuing her doctorate in Business Administration at De La Salle University, Manila and does research on NGOs for education and social development. Email: maria_adiel_aguiling@dlsu.edu.ph

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