When Do Something Awards  Semi-Finalist Sasha Fisher was in South Sudan she realized the country still healing from a civil war and still struggling with crippling poverty was being rebuilt by outsiders, not the people of South Sudan. She beleived the people of South Sudan themselves were best equipped to tackle community building and planning, and that they should be given the resources to achieve those goals rather than outside organizations taking over. Her organization Spark Microgrants  offers funding to community groups that are able to work together to idenify a problem in their community and create a plan to address it.
1. How did you feel when your first learned of the problem you are addressing?
Millions of people had died in Sudan’s civil war and finally there was a moment of peace after the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement where progress was possible. What I saw on the ground however was that South Sudanese were barely involved with project planning and implementing of the aid intended to build South Sudan’s future. The end of poverty has been promised to my generation over and over again, yet we still have not been able to provide the world with a system for aid that can help everyone meet their basic needs.
2. How do you feel about it now?
I still feel how large the problem of externally-led aid is, yet I am starting to see how my generation will be able to mobilize for a new future. I do believe that we have the power and are designing the right approaches for supporting people living in poverty. In the past two years Spark MicroGrants has already worked with 24 communities in two countries and impacted over 11,000 lives.
3. Who or what is your inspiration to keep going?
My work is continuously inspiring. I regularly get updates from Spark facilitators who report on the exciting progress of each village. Seeing the impact in each community, and knowing that Spark can impact new communities keeps me inspired at every moment.
4. Can you describe the moment you knew that you were actually making a difference?
When I showed up in Wanteete Village, Uganda in June 2011 I was greeted by a group of singing children attending a school built and managed by their parents, and initiated by a microgrant. The mothers are not only active and accomplished after organizing the school to be built, they are also proactive in seeking out new resources for their school and they hold new power in their village. Today over 300 students attend the school and it is constantly growing and improving.
5. What was the most difficult roadblock you faced when you tried to start your project? When you were growing it?
When I was planning to go to Rwanda in 2010 and test out the idea of microgranting and trusting people in poverty to drive their own development, many people thought it was a terrible idea. As we started testing the model out however, I realized the immense power that communities have in solving their own challenges, and that the model does work. We want to reach hundreds of new communities in the coming years, but we can only grow according to the resources we have.
6. What’s been the biggest lesson through the process?
People want to help and are ready to take action when given the right opportunity and support. I didn’t know it would be possible to grow our organization and find the funding and support for our work in east Africa, but I now recognize that there are opportunities all around us.
7. What has surprised you the most about the journey that has taken you here today?
Scalable impact is possible. After working intimately with over 24 communities and seeing them take control of complex and abandoned situations enabling change and a better future, people’s resilience and adaptability has shown through. We can no longer be cynical about the potential for change, we just need to make the moves to initiate it to happen.
8. What advice do you have for other young leaders who are having a tough time getting their ideas off of the ground?
A lot of learning has already happened in the non-profit world. It can be incredibly beneficial to learn about other organizations work and seek advice from people doing similar work to learn how to improve your own work, and what context your work should be in. There are many resources available for people who want to generate impact. Perseverance and continuous reflection on your values, objectives and plan are critical.
9. If you could have done one thing differently based on what you know now, what would it be and why?
What I have realized is that the learning process and risks I have taken have been the most beneficial for the organization. Each problem that arises teaches us more about our work and if I could go back and do something differently, it would be to take more risks and fail a little bit more so that we could learn more as well.
10. What’s next for your project?
Spark MicroGrants provide a critical opportunity for people facing poverty. We enable communities to design, implement and manage their own impact projects. Spark MicroGrants will continue working in Rwanda and Uganda but seeks to grow into Burundi, one of the poorest countries in our world. If Spark wins the Do Something Award we’ll be about to work in Burundi and start the first microgrants in the country.
11. If you could have any celebrity film a PSA for your organization, who would it be and why?
Michelle Obama! Our first lady is incredibly inspiring and a powerful women who can inspire my generation and women internationally to start caring about our global community and generating impact abroad. She has inspired youth in America, Rwanda and more countries to hope for a better future.
What Can You Do?
Learn more about all of the Do Something Awards  Semi-Finalists.