Doing the hard stuff in tough places: please help us find the ‘seemingly impossible’ stories of success

March 28, 2019

     By Duncan Green     

Guest post from Grace Lyn Higdon, Irene Guijt and Ruth Mayne

The list of reasons to feel depressed is long and growing. Recent elections ushering in sexist and violent heads of states; climate change even worse than predicted; backlash to #MeToo and, if you’re in the UK, the political swamp known as ‘Brexit’. Depressing – and urgent. When it comes to climate change, it’s now or never. Gender oppression? Time’s up. Economic inequality? We’ll never end poverty without reducing those ever-widening gaps.

For inspiration, we can draw on the amazing stuff happening in all parts of the globe. Female genital mutilation (FGM) levels are plummeting, off-grid renewable energy systems have seen energy poverty levels nosedive in Afghanistan and Nepal, and £300 millions of public revenues have been recouped in Nigeria through forensic audits in the petroleum sector. We need many more such examples that show how to tackle systemic causes of injustice and poverty. We can stretch our sense of the possible by learning from recent examples, hidden gems that may not have been shared or documented widely.

So thinking about success at scale, which top three examples of development – with or without external ‘aid’ – would you nominate? What inspiring efforts have you been part of, worked with or know about?  We will be looking across a couple of dozen examples to inspire, challenge and inform Oxfam’s future work. We’ll ask if we need to update our understanding of poverty, how rapid change at scale takes place, and the role of influencing efforts or practical support in driving such change.

We’re looking for examples that reduce poverty at scale by tackling (1) economic inequalities; (2) climate change and resource depletion; or (3) gender injustices. Or a mix.  Each example should have information on:

  • its contribution to rapid poverty reduction at scale, improving the lives of tens of thousands of people or more
  • the positive impact has emerged within the last 10 years
  • be located in a challenging context – fragile governance, conflict affected; restricted civic freedoms; in places with very low income and human development indicators; or a mix.

Examples involving Oxfam and partners include the Raise Her Voice campaign in Pakistan that trained women leaders in 30 districts and drove advocacy efforts for the introduction of a Domestic Violence Bill in Sindh Province, as well as the Africa Climate Change Resilience Alliance in Uganda that supported the Ugandan government to produce seasonal forecasts in 35 local languages for smallholder farmers nationwide. Examples further from home include the proliferation of more equitable business structures and relationships with workers in the food supply chain; changing social norms around childhood marriage in West Africa; and international fossil fuel divestment campaigns.

All ears

Examples can come from evaluations, case studies, news articles and even blogs. But any example has to have been taken successfully to scale. ‘Going to scale’ is pretty tough to define –different routes, contexts and scales. But we’re thinking of efforts that have accelerated and multiplied small impacts, possibly leading to policy change, substantially increased the population served or broadening the scope of impact. We’re also interested to hear about how you understand scale.

As Walt Disney said: ‘It’s kind of fun to do the impossible’. We’d just love to hear more about it. We’ll share what we find – selecting the best of the best for blogs. But first, we’re all ears (see right).

You can tell us in the comments section (with your email contact, please), or email us at or