Sahakarmi Samaj uses the FEST (Facilitation for Empowerment and Social Transformation) approach which is based on a belief that people themselves can bring real change to their lives and that the role of a supporting NGO is to create an enabling environment. Within this approach, communities independently analyse problems, make plans, and implement responses appropriate to their situations.
As mentioned earlier Sahakarmi Samaj’s founders had experience working with the Surkhet Project, operated by the United Mission to Nepal (UMN). The FEST (Facilitation for Empowerment and Social Transformation) model that was first developed by UMN ran counter to the development approaches that were current in Nepal at the time of its inception and sought to address specific weaknesses in those approaches: namely a) a failure to reach and benefit those who were most marginalised, and b) a failure to ensure that developmental change would be sustained following the disengagement of external development actors.
The FEST approach recognised as a key problem the fact that mainstream development interventions often serve to ‘disempower’ and create dependency through their emphasis on externally controlled resources and technical expertise. It therefore set out to give marginalised people experiences of achieving constructive change through collective processes over which they themselves have control. Originally conceived as the Surkhet Project Awareness Raising Cycle (SPARC), the FEST approach drew on and blended a number of methodological traditions including structured experiential group work, Knowles’ principles of adult education, Freirean dialogical pedagogy, Rogerian group counselling, participatory project planning and the organisational development theory of the Human Relations School. The Training for Transformation community education manuals served as a training resource (Hope, Timmel and Hodzi, 1984), whilst Chamber’s Rural Development, Putting the Last First and Norberg-Hodge’s Ancient Futures provided important grounding for an approach which assumed and affirmed local capacity and potential. The key contribution of FEST was the synthesis of critical elements from this complex array of methodological influences into a clear process that could be understood and operationalised by those without extensive prior education.
FEST encompasses a distinctive range of strategic commitments, as follows:
1. Prioritising the marginalised and disadvantaged
2. Combating dis-empowerment
3. Building deliberative capacity
4. Building organisational capacity
5. Developing an enabling environment
6. Promoting sustainability
FEST does not provide a blueprint to be directly replicated in all situations. Instead it suggests a range of understandings, values, and principles that must be respected in the design and implementation of programmes designed to bring about empowerment of the marginalised and wider transformation in society. Related approaches have been used by other organisations in other settings