Budget Trailblazers: Crystal West

Each month, we shine a spotlight on partners who are using budget advocacy to bring transformational change to their communities. This month, we’re highlighting Crystal West, program manager at South Africa’s Development Action Group (DAG) and head of Asivikelane’s Western Cape project. 


How did you get involved in the Asivikelane project to bring better sanitation services to people in informal settlements? 

Since 2017 I’ve been working at IBP partner the Development Action Group around municipal budget finance. We help strengthen the capacity of community leaders to engage with the local government. When Covid hit and Asivikelane was formed, IBP asked if I wanted to get involved since I was already working in informal settlements. Working and strengthening communities and building capacity is my passion, so I said, “Absolutely!”  

What communities did you start working with and how has it evolved? 

Since Asivikelane was already working in the metro areas, we decided to work outside the metros, in smaller, remote municipalities. The intention was to try and scale up into as many municipalities as possible and eventually we were working in seven municipalities. But funding that was verbally committed to the provisional government never translated into a financial commitment, so we rebooted our strategy. Instead of trying to focus on scale, we focused on impact and zoomed into two municipalities where there was already social capital and good relationships between ourselves, the local politicians and the local people. We have been focusing on just two of the settlements, Stellenbosch and Knysna, for the past two years. 

Tell me about how you’re going deeper in these two settlements and what you’ve accomplished so far. 

We wanted to have representation of Asivikelane in all informal settlements in these two areas, so we did a lot of work identifying the right community facilitators. All ward councilors want employment in their wards, so we went to them and said, “Please work with us to find people.” They helped us recruit facilitators and find residents who would answer monthly survey questions related to the delivery of basic services like sanitation, water and refuse removal. The intention was to collect the data and, once it’s analyzed, to use it as a tool for advocacy so residents could engage with ward councilors and officials with evidence-based information.  

During the process, we discovered there was a huge need for addressing safety concerns– especially for women and children (going back and forth to public toilets). The community facilitators said, “Let’s look at this as a genuine project” and decided to have gender-separate chemical toilets. That’s never been done before and the community’s response has been awesome. Women are now saying they are using the toilets again and are not afraid when their daughters use them, too. 

What other budget advocacy work are you involved in with these informal settlements? 

We are also focusing on helping our community facilitators understand budgets. There are very few public platforms available, and the municipalities are not advertising for people to participate. It is important for (the informal settlement dwellers) to participate and put in their input. To that end, we’ve held many workshops using analysis of Asivikelane reports and have made (official) budget submissions into municipal budgets for both districts. 

What motivates you most about your work with Asivikelane and IBP? 

When you have a community in a conflictual relationship (with local government) because they lack a toolbox to engage, they get stuck on one tool, and (when that no longer works) they get frustrated and angry. So, for me it’s really fantastic to see parties that were at odds, not speaking to each other, now sitting around the table and collaborating. The voices of the grassroots are (now) influencing the outcome.  Facilitators know who to contact when things are broken and we now have monthly meetings with the community so they can report response rates and identify when problems are not addressed. Problems are now being fixed in days and hours, where it used to be weeks or months. 

IBP has been fantastic in terms of our partnership. The staffing, the resources, the training and willingness to offer advice. We would not have been able to achieve what we’ve done without the resources that IBP has brought. 


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