UK Country Director, Nick Carroll explores the importance of resilience in our lives and the lessons Send a Cow UK has learnt from farmers in Africa.

Imagine working for years to lift yourself out of poverty. After doing countless odd jobs and farming your land, you’re finally able to make a living and provide for your family. But then disaster strikes – a flood washes away your only crops; or perhaps your child gets ill and you have to sell everything to pay for their medicine. Suddenly you’re struggling to feed or clothe your family once again, anxiously wondering how you’ll survive the coming days.
The scenario is frighteningly common. An astonishing 60% of people who escape poverty find that, sooner or later, they return to it again. The numbers are particularly high in Africa, where farming families are increasingly met with the effects of climate change. The solution lies in building resilience – an approach we strongly believe in at Send a Cow.

We work closely with farmers to increase their capacity to deal with setbacks, helping them to anticipate issues, to maximise their resources and minimise the risks. And yet building resilience isn’t just important for African farmers – it’s important for us all. Talking to our colleagues in Africa we’ve learnt a lot from their experiences in the field that we can apply to our work in the Send a Cow UK office, where we often focus on fundraising and finance.

They suggested to me that strong resilience comes about in three ways:

Diversification – for example, we encourage our farmers to avoid relying on one crop in case it fails. Applying that to our UK office, five years ago we took the decision to broaden our fundraising channels. Today we raise nearly £7million a year from a multitude of sources, ranging from schools to churches and overseas grants. If one of these fails, we can continue to fund our work. And by respecting and ensuring best practice in our supporter charter, we’re doing our best to build long-term relationships.

Collaboration – our projects encourage peer-to-peer learning between farmers, which amounts to communities sharing their knowledge, skills and experiences for the greater good. In the UK we know the answers won’t always be found within the four walls of our office. We actively seek collaboration, whether through working with ambassadors and supporters in the community, partnering with other NGOs who can bring expertise to the table, such as Brooke, or working with companies like XL vets who share their veterinary knowledge with us.

Anticipation – our farmers know they will have ‘hungry months’, times when their crops won’t grow. To combat this we encourage them to bulk and store food. In a similar way that’s why we operate in the UK with a sensible amount of reserves, and keep one eye on the future to anticipate any challenges. We regularly review organisational risks and anticipated the ‘Brexit’ effect on the currency markets, by transferring relevant project funds to Africa while the exchange rate was still favourable.

The good news is, this approach is working. With your help, in the last year we were able to work with 379,000 people – more than ever before. And the impact of that work remains strong. When we return to the communities who’ve graduated from Send a Cow programmes, we find our farmers are becoming increasingly resilient.

55% of groups now emerge from climate shocks, such as droughts or floods, stronger than they were even before the disruptive event while 41% bounce back to the same level as they were before.  It’s a lasting difference that helps people lift themselves, and keep themselves, out of poverty for good.