Sri Lanka has applied the idea of a community committee to create a return of $42 for every $1 they put in. Find out how below. Thanks to Emily Janoch for sharing the below in 5 Minutes of Inspiration.

The humble committee wins again.  It’s one of our fundamental (and often overlooked) answers to how to solve development problems: ask the community! (Then listen to their answer!) Sri Lanka has applied the idea of a community committee to create a return of $42 for every $1 they put in.

In this case, Sri Lanka calls them “Community Development Forums,” (CDFs) and creates them as spaces for disadvantaged workers—especially women—on tea estates to raise their voice about issues that affect their lives and interact with the owners of the estates. According to a report by the New Economics Foundation, that simple mechanism could revolutionize the tea system in Sri Lanka.

What have we accomplished?

  • Increased productivity: the study found that estates with CDFs were able to produce 10-20% more tea compared to those without.
  • Reduced conflict between workers and estates: managers on estates with CDFs spent 16 fewer hours resolving disputes than their counterparts. They also usually avoided strikes, which saved up to $13,300 per estate per day.
  • Return for companies: Analysis shows that companies get a little more than $26 in benefits for every $1 they put into creating a CDF.
  • Made workers happier: 90% of workers on estates said that their economic and social opportunities in life had gotten better as a result of the CDF.
  • Increased quality of life: It’s not just companies who win. Analysis shows that workers get an estimated $11 for every dollar that goes into CDFs, in terms of better access to services, better gender equality, and higher quality of life.
  • Made it easier for governments: By making it easier and more efficient to get services to hard-to-reach populations, CDFs save the government nearly $5 for every $1 invested.

How did we get there?

  • Create space for negotiation: CDFs give communities space and time to raise their issues, and a platform for finding solutions and negotiating with other actors. CDFs have representatives from management, communities, unions, and community leaders.
  • Focusing on women: CDFs have to have at least half of the representatives be women, and make sure that the largely-female workforce has a chance to participate.
  • Make the business case: Instead of focusing on how tea estates should do this as philanthropy, CARE showed that it makes better business sense. It’s not just about money, but also better relationships, more market opportunities, and a better brand. Take it from one of our partners: “When I came to this estate, I was used to the conventional way of management where we dealt with the workers very formally and kept them at arm’s length. The CDF had already been established. Because of my conventional training, I did not initially like the idea, and was reluctant to participate. But soon I was struck by the way people were solving their problems. Now if I am transferred to another estate, I would like to replicate this process there.” -Prasanna Premachandra, Deputy Manager, Carolina Estate, Watawala Plantations

Want to learn more? 
Check out the business case CARE published with the New Economics Foundation.  Read more about a Different Cup of Tea!

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