holistic development

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Our Model

Holistic Development

Holistic Development is the system of collectively implementing health, economic, and education initiatives to strategically meet a community's development goals. For Global Brigades, it includes the preparation, delivery, and follow-up of nine unique programs conducted in collaboration with community members, student volunteers, and local technicians. It is a global development theory and methodology that suggests that sustainable change can be accomplished when a community's health, economic, and educational systems are collectively developed or improved together.



We are often asked: "How can a one-week brigade with just university students be sustainable?"  Our answer: In and of itself, it is certainly not.


It is Global Brigades' size (thousands of students), scale (nine programs with local technicians), and focus (one community at a time) that has created a model for sustainability. Each brigade works off of a previous group's work to accomplish a larger health or development goal. For instance, it may take up to 15 Water Brigades, made up of chapters across the world, to complete a full-scale water system to nearly 1,000 Honduran community members. Even then, the brigades alone aren't enough. Projects need community members and local technicians to design and perpetuate them outside of brigades. This is why Global Brigades employs nearly a hundred in-country staff and local technicians to work with community-based committees throughout the year. While the in-country teams are working year-round, the brigades bring energy and resources to take a project from point "b" to "c."  All of projects are dependent on each volunteer's participation on the brigade. Without volunteers contributing time and donations, the in-country teams and community members would not have the resources to perpetuate the projects and the community's request for extra hands and perspective would not be met.


Approach with Humility and Ethics

Volunteers who believe they are going down to "save" need not apply. Community members have a joy and life perspective that is difficult to find in the developed world. Global Brigades only creates an opportunity for a mutually beneficial relationship where community members and volunteers work together to accomplish a common goal on equal ground. The concept of "service" may imply that the person providing service is in somehow above the beneficiary of that service. This is not the culture of Global Brigades. Each program is so completely dependent on a successful bi-lateral relationship between community members and volunteers. Our slogan reads "Students Empowering Communities," but it is to also read the other way: "Communities Empowering Students." 


Ethically, volunteers are not to conduct any activities on a brigade that they would not be licensed to do in their home country. There are disciplinary actions and ethics committees that intervene when these instances are reported. To read our entire ethics policy, click here.


Transitioning Brigades out of Communities

In 2012, Global Brigades "Sustainably Transitioned" out of its first community in Zurzular, Honduras with the plans of transitioning two more communities in 2013. To "Transition" a community, means that that student-led Brigades are no longer needed in the community and the core project goals have been completed. The projects at that point are perpetuated with the support of the community committees and local GB technicians and staff. So ultimately, the relationship "transitions" from brigades to one of follow-up. 


A community is not transitioned until Global Brigades and the community has met their collective objectives. In Zurzular's case, Global Brigades worked with community members to established an entire water system piped into every home, built public health infrastructure (concrete floors, latrines, showers, eco-stoves and water storage units), developed a banking system with the ability to take out micro loans and create savings accounts, trained full-time community health workers to deliver primary medical care year-round, and built a secondary school for their children through Architecture Brigades. The "Sustainable Transition" methodology is also in development in Panama and Ghana, but the projected transition dates are not expected to happen until 2015.


In addition, to accelerate transitions, GB Campus Chairpersons (with feedback from local teams and community leaders) have voted on two complementary initiatives that perpetuate the health and economic goals of the community beyond brigades:  

  1. Clean Water Initiatives to finish current water projects faster or build wells in communities where the Water Brigades gravity system is not possible

  2. Microfinance Initiatives to provide seed money in community-owned banks so that families have access to loans for public health projects (latrines, eco-stoves, etc.) and invest in their economic goals


Selecting Communities

Each country has a slightly different methodology for selecting communities depending on relations with local government and community leaders. However, in all instances, each meets the following criteria:


 • Community Buy-In: The community's enthusiasm to work with student volunteers absolutely necessary. Global Brigades will not work where volunteers are not invited, welcomed, and where community members are not willing to put their own time and resources into a project.


• A Balance of Needs and Assets: A community has to have the right mix of strengths and challenges for Global Brigades' programs to be successful. Global Brigades does not claim to or set out to meet every need within a community. Global Brigades has to identify communities who have needs that align to Global Brigades' programmatic strengths. Our research and evaluation team picks communities whose needs align with our programs' ability to be successful and whose community members are passionate about working collaboratively to solve the challenges.


• Safety and Road Access: Global Brigades can only work in communities that have an outstanding record of safety and are accessible within a few hours drive of a major international airport.


• Relations with Local Government: Communities must have good ties with the local government as it is often they that will perpetuate programs in conjunction with community committees and local technicians. Global Brigades will take the advice of government health departments on which communities need the most support and which are ready for specific development projects. Additionally, many of the Global Brigades programs are even aligned to local government's capacity to serve and collaborate. For instance, we would never build a school that the government did not have a desire or budget to staff with teachers.