Movement Matters #14 – Francis Oyat Otoo
Francis Oyat Otoo is committed to strengthening community-led development in Uganda. Working with Family Harvest Foundation, a community-based organization dedicated to providing hands-on skills, and with MCLD Uganda, Francis is inspired by the people he encounters every day. Read more to learn about Francis’ work and his reflections on the path of MCLD Uganda.
Featured Photo: Francis, trainees with friends of Family Harvest Foundation during a visit. Photo Credit: Family Harvest Foundation, Uganda.
Sera Bulbul: Can you give us some information about your background, how you got to where you are?
Francis Oyat Otoo: I am the Project Team Leader for Family Harvest Foundation. I have been in this position since June 2019. Before that, I spent two years volunteering in Laos doing organizational development and project management work with a local organization called Huam Jai Asasamak Association. I also worked in organizational development and project management with the Lao Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU). When I came back to Uganda I started working for Family Harvest Foundation, initially on tasks entrusted to me by the board of trustees and the board of directors, and now I have grown in my position.
In 2015 I worked for Makerere University Distance Learning Centre in Gulu as a Part-time Lecturer and I also taught in Cavendish University – Gulu branch. I taught there until I moved to Laos for two years.
Sera: How did you become involved in Family Harvest Foundation? What is its mission?
Francis: I was involved in the initiation of Family Harvest Foundation in 2014 when a team of nineteen people hailing from the same village that I come from came together to form an organization to support youth in Uganda. For over 20 years Northern Uganda was in a state of civil war, and we were looking for solutions to contribute to the recovery. I sat in that meeting and we built up the documents to form a community-based organization. After the formation in 2014, I went and did volunteer work leaving others to run the organization until I came back.
Our official vision is to contribute to a community where everyone is capable of contributing to national development. Our mission is to provide hands-on skills as a means to community development. That is how it was crafted, but maybe with time this vision and mission will change based on circumstances and upon the development of a revised strategic plan which the board agreed on its revision. You can find out more about our vision and mission on our website.
I feel part of it. When we were developing the organization we looked at research, employment, education, health, livelihoods/empowerment, and agriculture as some of the key areas we wanted to work in. These were the areas that we found important. Family Harvest Foundation was made to empower people and to create innovation. The key thematic areas that we are focused on are what makes us what we are.
I have a Master’s degree and am passionate about education, so the research component of our work particularly excites me, and the education part as well given the fact that the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees owns a private senior secondary school in the same locality and with an idea in his mind that those who do not complete the formal secondary school cycle due to the difficulty in paying school fees join the vocational school and become useful. Our work is on vocational skills training, hands-on skills training in a range of areas such as hairdressing and computer studies, tailoring, weaving, construction, motorcycle repair, electrical installation, and arts and crafts.
All along we have been working towards building skills in the youth of Uganda and are ensuring that the youth have an interest in learning computer skills. There are people from central and southern universities and training institutions in northern Uganda who come and do hands-on practical work with us on an internship or apprenticeship basis thus a service to the community.
Sera: What inspires you?
Francis: I’m inspired by the people I work with. I see so many people build their skills and strengthen their capacities to be able to do something they could not do before. Some even mention to the public how our organization has changed their lives. Even while implementing the advocacy program supported by the Right2Grow program, some of our community members who were not able to talk in public are now proud of themselves for gaining expertise because our team encouraged equal participation by all to develop their own community. These inspire me a lot.
Sera: Would you mind expanding on some of the challenges you face in your work, across founding an organization and collaborating across Uganda?
Francis: One of our big challenges is funding. Other than that, there is the youth. Youth in northern Uganda grew up used to handouts – with the 20-year war, they have been receiving things and food for free. We as a CBO have a training center. For it to operate we need staff and the staff have to earn something, so we require a small financial contribution from the trainees to pay to the tutors who conduct the trainings and our work with the youth, it’s very low pay, but the trainees’ ability to pay for training is a challenge.
We also still do not have a site. We are interested in having a site that is permanent, as we currently rent an office, and it would be easier to have our own.
A final challenge that comes to mind is community attitudes. When you approach them, they are very interested in working with us. They see us as the solution to their problem, but what we actually want is for them to walk hand in hand with us, which has been more of a challenge. The change in attitude is taking some time, but we do see it happening. For example, where we are implementing the Right2Grow Project there has been a remarkable change. People pay attention and they call on us to come see their progress. Reaching the community is another challenge in terms of transport. Even for our community volunteer advocates who are to access every part of the village advocating for no stunting in Koch Goma Sub County.
Sera: When you reflect on your life and work, what are you most proud of?
Francis: We have impacted the lives of at least 104 youth with our work in schools. Out of that number, 25 have graduated to the Ministry of Education. The rest are doing well, some of them participate more intermittently. At least the majority of those who have gone through our school are doing some work.
Remember we are a CBO. When MCLD came with the Right2Grow project, the district was able to allocate us a site. We picked up work there and told the community we are here, we are here to do a project with you. We work with children under the age of five, and in 2021-2022 we did actual field work. I am happy because of the impact that we created in the community in Koch-Goma and in Gulu.
Other than that, I have heard the field staff thanking me for giving them the opportunity to go practice not to remain theoretically as they were when at the university and this makes me proud too. The Community Volunteer Advocates we created and trained in the sub-county equally supplement the efforts of the Village Health Team as mentioned in one of the community meetings.
Sera: How did you learn about the Movement and what inspired you about it?
Francis: Strangely I heard about MCLD on the internet while I was living in Laos. I was reading through information online and I think there was a form to submit for those interested. I got in touch with Family Harvest Foundation to ask if they had heard about the MCLD office in Uganda. We then exchanged a few messages, and when I returned to Uganda in 2019 we were finally able to work together. I was even a bit puzzled. I thought, you don’t know me, I don’t know you, but you’re saying that MCLD can work with Family Harvest Foundation already. I was invited to a meeting in Kampala and I was surprised by this. It was the first time I had heard of a local CBO being invited somewhere like this, and I could not believe we were invited. I do not know about the rest of the world, but in Uganda, it is very difficult for a CBO to work with an International NGO. We couldn’t believe we could join hands.
Right from the time I started seeing it in action, I have been interested in learning more and more about community-led development. A challenge for us has been that the name Movement sounds like a body of the government. We have gone through all those challenges to explain the difference between MCLD and the current sitting government.
I want to continue following the Movement. I have participated in more than 10 workshops organized by MCLD. Even though I am not a marketing person, I still share the ideas of MCLD with other organizations and have made about five CBOs and a local NGO join MCLDU.
Sera: What excites you most about how MCLD-Uganda is working right now?
Francis: I am keenly following the work that MCLD Uganda is doing. I know how much work it took for MCLD to be in Uganda and to be where we are now. Just like a child, I have liked how The Hunger Project has given a home to MCLD, but now we are growing and it is a challenge for the team to grow on its own. I am a member of the regional offices of MCLD Uganda – I am the chairperson of the Northern region with eight organizations (three CBOs and five local NGOs).
This year we have worked to ensure that MCLD Uganda is registered as a legal entity. I participated in the development of policy documents like the finance manual, the membership charter, the five-year strategic plan, and the HR policy manual. It is a known case that MCLD is not a donor agency – it does not give funds. Instead, it works on changing the mind of the community to initiate their own development. To do everything to see that yes, they move from where they are to another level doing everything themselves to ensure that they are developing.
MCLD Uganda is not being funded, so we do not have the money to run activities in the community as much as we would wish to. I am sure as things stabilize we will pick up and raise funds together. I still feel that MCLD Uganda is moving on the right track even though in terms of funding it is not able to support CBOs.
Sera: Has the Movement changed your understanding of community-led development?
Francis: Yes. I am able to understand community-led development well and also work with the community to plan, organize, mobilize and provide training or community engagements that make the community members champion of their development initiatives. Despite the difficulty in settling the community that were used to handouts, with my team we are able to let the community know where CLD wants them to go.
Sera: What advice would you give to someone who is new to working in a community-led way?
Francis: I advise anyone new to working in a community-led way that they need to understand the concept, approaches, and ideologies upon which CLD rests so that they do not deviate from the norms of CLD without mixing up and confusing the community with their other approaches.
Sera: Is there any other information you’d like to share about your journey, Family Harvest Foundation or MCLD Uganda?
Francis: Putting any new idea into practice is not easy but with constant follow-up and more advocacy about the CLD approaches with a clear focus on the Theory of Change developed for implementing any CLD-led development approach, all can turn to reality.
I will submit to the Board of Trustees, Board of Directors and Management that Family Harvest Foundation supports all activities to do with the establishment of CLD at all levels of the organization and with the partners. Being a member of the regional coordination team within the MCLD-Uganda, I will not pull out as I fully see value in the ideology and will continue to contribute all ideas and resources where possible to make membership increase. I will continue to make sure the idea of CLD is well distributed to most organizations I interact with. During the time when I am executing my duties, I can research and support any idea that relates and want to see that the new approach to development is CLD.
More about Francis
- Target audience of Francis’s work: youth, adults, women children, and the vulnerable.
- Holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Management from Uganda Martyrs University Nkozi – BBAM (Hons),
- Master in Business Administration from Gulu University
- Other studies like in Project Management, Computer use, Advanced Postgraduate Diploma in Marketing and Fundraising, among others.
- Work experience as a Quality Control Inspector, Branch Manager, Zonal Manager, with Olam International Limited,
- Personnel Officer and Project Officer with St. Mary’s Hospital Lacor a faith-based not-for-profit hospital in northern Uganda
- HR and Administration Advisor with the President’s International Award, The Gambia.
- Part-time lecturer at Makerere and Cavendish University branches in northern Uganda, Gulu.
- Organisational Development and Project Management Advisor in Huam Jai Asasamak Association in Laos and in Lao Federation of Trade Union.
- Currently working for Family Harvest Foundation, in Uganda as the Project Team Leader since June 2019. Total years of experience 26.