‘Modelling the Change We Want to See’: The SABI Approach to Promoting Equality and Inclusion

Everyone's contribution matters in SABI meetings

By Amy Harrison, Social Development Direct

In December 2018, SABI completed its second ‘Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) Scan’. This annual self-reflection process is a key event in the SABI calendar – a chance to gain insight into how able staff feel to fulfil SABI’s objective of being consistently GESI sensitive, while laying the foundations for GESI transformative change.

The findings from the scan were extremely encouraging, gathered from a combination of self-assessment surveys (completed by 59 SABI staff and partners), interviews, workshops, discussions with communities and document reviews. The scan also shone a light on the extent to which SABI’s policy of ‘looking inward’ – of institutionalising GESI in its own systems and processes – has strengthened SABI’s ability and credibility to ‘implement outward’. It has been fascinating to explore why embedding GESI internally has helped to strengthen SABI’s implementation, and why a policy of ‘modelling the change you want to see’ could be a good starting point for any accountability programme.

GESI Engagement in Komrabai Nyollah Community, PortLoko District

‘Modelling the Change We Want to See’

Promoting gender equality and social inclusion is one of SABI’s four overarching objectives, so it isn’t surprising that this is taken seriously in its activities. But SABI’s efforts around GESI are not limited to a single workstream, nor do SABI’s efforts to mainstream GESI end with its activities. SABI recognises that being GESI sensitive in its programmes can only go so far without an organisational and programme structure and culture that is itself GESI sensitive.

GESI is integrated across all SABI internal policies, systems and structures, from job descriptions to HR policies. It is reflected in SABI’s resources – the SABI programme team and all implementing partners have a GESI focal person, all partners receive regular training on how to integrate GESI into their work, and the SABI consortium includes two dedicated GESI advisers. Spaces are also created for regular reflection on GESI, and on how SABI is performing on GESI. The GESI scan is an important tool in this regard, with findings from the scan being used to create action plans for improving performance on GESI over the coming year.

SABI’s internal emphasis on GESI has helped to create a project-wide commitment to equality and inclusion. In the recent scan self-assessment survey, 78% of respondents stated that they feel clear about how GESI relates to their work; this figure has increased from 57% in 2017, with the majority of respondents describing how training on GESI has improved their knowledge and skills around GESI mainstreaming. Three-quarters of staff also believe that SABI’s senior leadership demonstrates a commitment to GESI ‘to a great extent’.


While inclusivity should be at the heart of all development projects, the reality is that SABI is setting itself apart from more traditional development programming – and in doing so, is encouraging the GESI transformative change it aspires to achieve. SABI has developed a set of tools to ensure that it delivers on its commitment to meaningfully engage women, men, young people, people with disabilities and other marginalised groups; these include a key word document that translates core GESI terms and concepts into local languages, and an activity checklist to ensure all field activities are designed and implemented to be inclusive. The impact of this has not been lost on community members: as one person interviewed commented, ‘when SABI call us for meetings, they ask for all of us to join, this is different to other NGOs who just ask for 12 community members not caring who they are, now because of SABI youth are talking to elders and women are becoming bolder’. Multiple community members expressed how SABI was helping to challenge the social norms that drive exclusion, from the woman who said ‘before I believed that men had to do everything’, to the person with a disability who said that ‘before I thought only about my issues, but now I have learnt to think about others’.

Everyone’s contribution matters in SABI meetings

It is the process by which SABI implements and facilitates that allows it to drive change that is inclusive and locally owned. Communities described being accustomed to NGOs telling them what their own community priorities are, implementing those ‘priorities’, and then leaving. By contrast, they characterised SABI as a ‘flashlight’, ‘making the way for people to go out and do development themselves’.

‘The team is a listening team’

Of course, SABI’s work on GESI is just that – a work in progress. Respondents mentioned wanting SABI to do more to promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities, and on creating feedback channels. The majority of staff feel ownership over the GESI strategy, but until all staff feel ownership there is still more to do. What is critical is that SABI has created a culture that both surfaces and seeks to address these kinds of issues. GESI is a standing agenda item in all meetings: as one staff member commented, ‘I have not witnessed a meeting without GESI being mentioned’. 86% of staff respondents agree or strongly agree that their opinions are valued and that they are respected.

The SABI Team

This culture of open discussion means SABI can continually go further in its commitment to be GESI sensitive at a minimum, GESI transformative where possible. For example, in its work with persons with disabilities, SABI has now committed to actively engage with disabled persons organisations, who have the networks and skills to engage persons with disabilities that SABI itself lacks. SABI has also now integrated the Washington Group questions into its Community Perception Survey questions. And, following the GESI scan, SABI has committed to establish a sustainable feedback mechanism by which communities – including community members with low literacy – can share feedback.

Conclusion: Looking Inward, Looking Outward

It is easy to take for granted that everyone on a project is on the same page on issues like GESI. Yet good development inherently requires bringing together people of different identities, from different backgrounds, and with (likely) different attitudes to gender and inclusion. Holding ourselves to the standards we promote to others should be the norm in development programming – arguably more so in accountability programming – and yet the competing pressures of project design and implementation can quickly turn good intentions into afterthoughts. By viewing the process of engagement on an equal level with the outcomes of that engagement, and by embedding mechanisms for continual self-reflection from the programme design phase, SABI has created a shared vision of what equality and inclusion could look like in Sierra Leone – and a commitment to achieving that vision allows the team to be flexible and responsive to local contexts and needs.

SABI GESI Scan Report 2018

The final report is now ready for sharing. To access the final report, click here

One Response to “‘Modelling the Change We Want to See’: The SABI Approach to Promoting Equality and Inclusion”

  1. Chris McWilliams says:

    Thanks for this great blog Amy. It’s great to see that GESI is such an integral part of the SABI programme.

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