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What Is Human-Centered Development?


By Contributing Author

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Human-centered development is…

…sitting down for a meal with Pastor James (co-founder and director of St. Timothy’s School) even though you just ate a full breakfast.

…talking business while brushing your teeth, because that’s when Mukisa Bernard Nadhomi (co-founder and director of Suubi Health Center) likes to reflect on the day’s lessons.

…following Anastasia Juma Sinawa (founder and director of Our Lady of Perpetual Support (OLPS)) into the regional prison as she extends her program’s medical services to the vulnerable in every corner of her community.

global advocate program community leaders

This type of human-centered development is what makes Mama Hope’s fundraising campaigns so successful. In the field with Mama Hope’s East Africa partners, there are no moving dramatizations of suffering, no capitalization on tearful images. There is no first world versus third world, no haves versus have-nots, no happy versus unhappy, no single-story narrative of poverty bombarding the Western world.

There ARE moments between equals, conversations that lead to understanding, and stronger bonds that lead to greater impact. These are the core elements of human-centered development.

Moments Between Equals

Human-centered development hinges on a personal connection with the very people you serve. The idea is to build this connection by spending meaningful, face-to-face time with your constituents.

Mama Hope makes this possible through their Global Advocate Program, a nine-month professional training program for emerging social entrepreneurs. These Global Advocates are carefully selected and matched with global community-based organizations and NGOs whose projects meet fundamental needs. Advocates undergo rigorous training on project development, fundraising, storytelling, marketing, and maybe most importantly, human-centered development.

This training helps support Advocates during their three months living and working alongside their partner communities. Here, Global Advocates take perhaps the biggest step in the practice of human-centered development—immersing themselves in a cross-cultural experience. They bridge the physical distance between them and the people they serve. It’s in those unassuming moments, living and working alongside global leaders, that you realize we are more similar than we are different.

Global Advocate Ash and host family
Global Advocate Ash and her Ugandan host family

Conversations That Lead to Understanding

Another pillar of human-centered development is ensuring that the people you serve are the focal point of your entire initiative. Tap into their knowledge, perspective, and experience every step of the way.

By listening and seeking to understand the dreams and needs of their community partners, Global Advocates ensure that their partners stay at the center of every step of the project’s progress. Holistic solutions require this collaboration. Each time an Advocate opens her ears to the people who know best, she is taking a step in the right direction.

Advocates take it one step further when they return home and share their partners’ stories with a wider, often Western, audience. They tell stories that highlight love instead of fear, potential instead of pity, and connection instead of distrust. They help their community gain a greater understanding of people across the globe.

Stronger Bonds That Lead to Greater Impact

When you stay connected to the people you’re serving, you’re ultimately able to create a bigger impact. The power structures of development start to shift from top down to eye level. This establishes trust and impact to last beyond a community’s immediate needs.

The impact of an Advocate’s support is evident in each partner project’s successes.

St. Timothy’s School has grown from a rented unit with 72 students, to 13 classrooms with nearly 400 students. It has been ranked fifth out of 927 schools in the Kilimanjaro Region. Pastor James, the school’s director, says,

“The presence of the Advocates in my community does not cost us much, but it adds value to the community we work with. If International people work at our site, it builds trust in the community in which we work.

St. Timothy's school

The Rita Rose Garden in Kisumu, Kenya, used to be an expansive piece of land with no management. Today it hosts a multitude of projects, including a dairy goat unit, poultry unit, fish farming, greenhouse farming, bee farming, and a drip irrigation system. It is on its way to sustaining the Kisumu Children’s Rescue Center, a home for vulnerable children. Erick Aluru, director of the garden, says,

“We place a lot of value in the work being performed by the Advocates, and particularly in the relationships they create and leave behind.

Rita Rose Garden

The Necessary Perspective

Jane Body, a Global Advocate from Australia, recently spent three months in Kisumu, Kenya, with the Akili Girls’ Preparatory School. This is what she walked away with after her time in country:

“Connection and context are what we need to find our common humanity. It’s always there but to find it we just have to open ourselves up, be vulnerable, and let the light in and out! Context is what gives us that connection, so ask questions, learn from each other and be empowered by the knowledge you gain.

Global Advocate Jane
Jane with her Kenyan family and community partners


Human-centered development happens when we work to see the world through a lens like Jane’s.


This is a guest post by Kyla Rathjen, who completed Mama Hope’s Global Advocate Program in 2015. Kyla currently works for Mama Hope as East Africa Field Coordinator, supporting Global Advocates during the three months they spend alongside their community partners.

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