Sandra Golding is the Chief Executive Officer of Feed the Minds, an international development organization based in the UK, which runs practical education projects with an emphasis on adult literacy. She has worked in this sector for over 15 years as a business consultant and director. She has extensive experience working with INGOs in the UK and the USA, having worked in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. She has worked with several INGOs such as International HIV and Aids Alliance, ADRA International and Care International UK among others. Nepal Live Today caught up with her to discuss her experience of working in the education and literacy sector on the eve of the International Day of Education.
Feed the Minds has been running practical education projects in low and mid-income countries for over 50 years. Could you tell us how people have benefited from these projects?
As for our projects in general, they equip people, especially women, with literacy skills, health knowledge, vocational skills, peacebuilding and advocacy expertise, agricultural skills and more to overcome challenges in their lives. Because our projects are locally-led, the organizations we partner with know the needs of the communities firsthand and therefore the communities are part of the engagement and implementation strategies for our projects. This allows us to have a diverse range of projects from enabling small-scale farmers to adopt climate-smart agriculture, to supporting women to know their rights through life-saving reproductive health knowledge.
Over the last 50 years, we have worked globally in more than 50 countries. Due to the resilience of our global partnership network, we have been able to make a lasting impact in these countries. Because Feed the Minds has always had a localization approach to work, I believe that this has been a unique aspect of our work that makes us stand out among the many international development organizations as we have the trust of the local communities through our partner-led approach.
Seeing the joy on the face of a mother, who can now understand and read the homework that her child has brought home because she received literacy skills through one of our projects speaks volumes about the difference that our work has made and is making. Our literacy projects have benefitted many people. For example, 407 coffee farmers in Uganda project can now increase their incomes and reduce the risks of being underpaid because they had practical literacy and numeracy classes to give them the educational tools that they needed to have a productive life.
In India, our economic empowerment project enabled 80 young people to gain vocational skills such as embroidery and mobile phone servicing, along with literacy skills and 90 percent of the trainees increased their earnings as a result, indirectly helping their families and networks.
‘Because Feed the Minds has always had a localization approach to work, I believe that this has been a unique aspect of our work that makes us stand out among the many international development organizations as we have the trust of the local communities through our partner-led approach.’
Covid-19 in South Sudan exacerbated the biggest food crisis in decades. Flooding along with the pandemic increased food prices and damaged livelihoods. Alongside our longstanding local partner organization, Sudan Evangelical Mission, we were able to deliver our first humanitarian aid project. A UK Aid Direct grant was given to South Sudan to respond to the impact of Covid-19. We provided around 1,500 households with eight weeks’ worth of food and quick-growing seeds for food crops along with some soap. We conducted distance agricultural training to help people build their longer-term resilience while providing inclusive and accessible information on Covid-19 prevention measures. These are only a few examples of the difference we have been able to make in the lives of the communities that we work with and the people who have been excluded.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many children were deprived of the opportunities of learning. Many others dropped out. What should be done to overcome this situation?
Whilst Feed the Minds does not directly work with children, children are considered part of our project’s indirect participants and therefore are an integral part of our work and impact. We have worked with young people, and we have run various projects ranging from vocational training to ensuring that they have the necessary literacy and work skills needed for them to become employed. We recently finished an ICT project in Sierra Leone with the Craftshare Vocational Training Center. This project integrated ICT training and vocational education for 193 young people to improve their prospects, with 140 people being reached indirectly.
It has been a challenging time for children globally throughout the pandemic but especially for children living in low and low-middle-income countries as they have not had access to education and do not have the remote access that other children in more affluent countries have. As countries start to open up, we should be pushing for these children to be given the support that they need financially and otherwise.
‘We are also looking to deliver new projects in Nepal. We are currently working with some partners on projects that hopefully will be starting in the not too distant future.’
Education is a fundamental human right and children and young people should have access to education. We all need to be a part of helping to remedy the problem. Donors such as the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and Education Cannot Wait are doing a good job at helping to address these needs by working with organizations like Save the Children and UNICEF. However, more needs to be done by governments and other donors to ensure that all children and young people have fair and equal access to education.
On the World Day of Education, how do you reflect on Feed the Minds’ work in terms of achieving sustainable development goals?
The UN Sustainable Development Goal 4 promises to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. I would say that this sums up our approach at Feed the Minds as well. The theme for this year’s World Day of Education is “Changing Course, Transforming Education”. I would say that Feed the Minds has done this over the years within the projects that we have run.
We will continue to work towards this goal by ensuring that the educational projects we run are underpinned with literacy, and the skills and the knowledge that individuals living in marginalized communities need to not only transform their lives, but the lives of their families and the communities where they live.
What is your organizational approach in terms of tackling gender disparity in education?
At Feed the Minds, gender disparity is very much at the forefront of our work. Our emphasis is on women and girls as two thirds of the world’s adult population who have no literacy skills are women.
Through the knowledge, learning and insights that women and adolescents gain during our projects we want to ensure that they can have equal access to resources, health care, income, and savings that will not only make a difference in their lives but the entire family.
‘Education is a fundamental human right and children and young people should have access to education.’
We believe that the engagement of men and boys is important to help change the social norms and the cultural barriers to gender equality and especially when it comes to girls who most likely will drop out of school for many different reasons. It is only by working together, step by step, that we can help to close the gender disparity in education.
What strategies and approaches do you use at Feed the Minds to provide the most effective learning environment?
I am an advocate for monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) within projects. As part of our 2021-2024 strategy, we will continue to encourage the whole learning agenda. There is so much that we as an organization can learn from our current and past projects that will help to inform better program delivery and decision making. The work that Feed the Minds undertakes aims to deliver key literacy indicators set in UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4. By building good indicators into our projects, that are achievable and measurable using good quantitative and qualitative methodologies and research, will help to measure the true impact of our work. The whole MEL agenda within the international development sector is constantly changing. So we have to ensure that as an organization that we keep pace with the changes and that our projects and approaches are adaptive to ensure the best outcomes for our project participants.
‘We will continue to develop areas of our learning agenda by partnering with academics, think tanks and research organizations, to address the ever-changing environment of adult literacy to improve our evidence base and the programs that we run.’
We will continue to develop areas of our learning agenda by partnering with academics, think tanks and research organizations, to address the ever-changing environment of adult literacy to improve our evidence base and the programs that we run.
As the head of the organization, where do you see Feed the Minds in the next ten years?
I would like to see Feed the Minds making an even greater impact globally. I would like to see us developing and implementing more multi-year sustainable projects that can be scaled up and replicated in different regions and countries. I would also like us to be leading on innovative ways of delivering adult literacy programs that not only have synergy but scalability and be the ‘go-to’ organization for adult literacy international development work.
Finally, what is your impression of Nepal?
I visited Nepal in March 2015 just prior to the earthquake. I was working for the US-based ADRA International at the time. I was visiting our ADRA Nepal office which was running health-related projects in Janakpur and Palpa. I really enjoyed my time in Nepal. I stayed in Kathmandu and Thamel areas when I was not visiting the projects and enjoyed visiting different cultural heritage sites.
I found the people to be friendly and hospitable and willing to help you out. I have to admit that I am a foodie, and so I enjoyed eating the different styles of Dal Bhat and Momos. I fell in love with the cashmere products that are produced in Nepal. I would like to recommend people to go and visit Nepal.
We are also looking to deliver new projects in Nepal. We are currently working with some partners on projects that hopefully will be starting in the not too distant future.