A Conversation with Lilian Looloitai

This month, Lilian Looloitai, the Executive Managing Director of our partner Community Research and Development Services (CORDS) took the time to share her childhood memories, insight into her role at CORDS, and the history and work of the organisation, before concluding with some warm comments about her 2017 UK trip in aid of promoting and celebrating African Initiatives’ 20th anniversary.

Lilian Looloitai: Childhood and Education

Lilian is the second born in her family, and her father is a polygamy man which meant her family was quite large; she had seven step sisters and brothers. Lilian grew up in a village in Monduli district and recollected, with fondness, her communal upbringing:

“My community was full of love and communal interaction. Everyone was very close and you could rely on any member of the village as you would a mother or father.”

Lilian was very fortunate with her experience of the education system in Tanzania. She came from a family who supported her education from start to finish, and her parents did not need to contribute much financially to her journey from primary school through to the completion of secondary school.

“I went to a special, government-funded primary school for pastoralist children. It was a boarding school and the services was good; all was provided for, from accommodation to food and learning equipment such as exercise books.”

Lilian’s secondary school, although not a government-funded school, was also a specialist school for pastoralist children. In this case, just for girls.

“The Tanzanian government in the past put significant funding and resources into supporting pastoralist parents to educate their children as pastoralist communities tend not to recognise the value of an education, particularly for daughters. This was a special governmental objective, and boarding schools were established to help ease the pressure on parents to financially provide for their child’s education.”

When Lilian was in Form Three in 1998 she was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up: “I knew I wanted to work with people; I was never interested in teaching or law. My dream was to work with the community, to interact with people, and to bring about positive change and influence impact.”

Lilian went on to study a BA in Sociology and Anthropology at The Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Kenya. She has since completed a Master’s degree in Development Studies. Just a few years after graduating, in 2008 Lilian secured a role as Executive Managing Director of CORDS.

“My day-to-day role involves managing staff and ensuring there is a conducive working environment so that CORDS’s vision and mission is both protected and implemented. I also keep a look out for resources, monitor funding and oversee the assessment of our projects.”

CORDS: Overview

CORDS is a non-governmental organisation that covers four traditional Maasai pastoralist districts of Kiteto, Monduli, Longido and Simanjiro in Arusha region, northern Tanzania. Its work focusses on the fundamental issues, approaches, challenges and changes that are needed to ensure the achievement of sustainable pastoral development, and curb the trend of further marginalisation and impoverishment of pastoralists. CORDS programmes cover land demarcation and certification, land use planning, livestock development, health, education and women’s rights.

CORDS’ mission is to help realise a ‘society in which people are governing, self-defining, self-developing, and self-determining; […] a society in which its members have the right to development and live long, healthy, productive and dignified lives and sustaining livelihoods of their own choice.’

Lilian recollected how, “CORDS started in 1998 with an intensive and community-centred land rights programme. The issues CORDS has addressed over the years continues to evolve and one significant issue is women’s rights; this involves community participation to ensure women are involved and part of the discussion.”

I asked Lilian about a project that has stood out for her and she told me about a female economic empowerment programme that provided geographically accessible milling machines to assist women with the laborious task of producing flour from maize.

“To help Maasai women, CORDS had to find different ways of positively approaching pastoralist communities in Arusha region. We assessed the key challenges of roles played by women and then designed projects in response.”

A Memorable Project

This particular exercise highlighted the problem of maize flour production in Longido, Kiteto and Simanjiro districts. Traditionally regarded as a female task, it is very time-consuming and tiring. For one week per month, women would have to walk miles to get maize flour meaning they were often absent from the village, and not involved as much in community discussions and decisions.

“CORDS funded the installation of a milling machine in the village with the requirement that it was to be management by women; a service to raise income.”

Read more about our partner here

Partnership with African Initiatives

In 2013, African Initiatives was looking for new partnerships in northern Tanzania. Our long-standing partner Community Aid and Small Enterprises Consultancy (CASEC) recommended CORDS, and so former Chief Executive Rosie Martin visited Lilian to discuss how the two organisations could collaborate.

“I told Rosie about what CORDS does and she informed me that her project interest was education. At that time, we did not have an education programme, but we set about developing it ahead of the start of our Equal Rights to Quality Education project in 2014.

There is value and significance in having different partners with varying programmes interests such as education, livelihoods and land rights. CORDS is always happy to work in new areas if it is something that is recognised as a need in the communities we work in.”

UK Trip in 2017

In 2017 African Initiatives was fortunate enough to receive a visit from Lilian. During her time with us, Lilian lectured on global development and land rights at Bath Spa University, she spoke at our anniversary gala dinner, met with Trusts and Foundations, and was interviewed about Maasai land issues by The Guardian. Read Lilian’s interview here

“I had a great time while visiting the UK and I enjoyed interacting with all of African Initiatives’ Bristol-based staff. The organisation felt very interlinked – each member of the team seemed to understand their colleague’s responsibilities, and although the projects are managed across the team, I got the sense of a clear programme understanding.”

During her stay, Lilian was accommodated by two members of the African Initiatives team. “My accommodation set up helped me get to know more people beyond African Initiatives’ staff and it made me feel more involved in UK culture. It was much better than staying in a hotel which would have been more isolating!”

Our anniversary gala dinner was held at Circomedia on Portland Square. It was a night of celebration, featuring a photographic exhibition, an aerial silks performance and inspiring after-dinner speeches from BBC broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby and Lilian. For Lilian, it was a highlight:

“The gala dinner was a special event and a great moment of my trip. I appreciated the planning that went into making it happen, and the talk by Jonathan Dimbleby was especially memorable. He came across as very knowledgeable about Tanzania, my people and culture.”

Partner blog written by Holly Burchett, Fundraising & Communications Officer.