How the LIGHT Wheel is helping us reap a bigger harvest

In my garden at home we have a mulberry tree. It is about 25 feet high with multiple branches going into the ground, yet when it bears fruit we only ever harvest a couple of handfuls.

Edna Mudenda in Zambia with her new goat. Photo: Mark Lang/Tearfund

This is mainly because the only fruit we get comes from the branches that are hanging low enough for us to reach. Around 95 per cent of the fruit is eaten by the squirrels and birds, who are too scared to feed on these low branches because our dogs will be able to reach them. While this is great for my bird-loving wife, it frustrates me and my sons a great deal. We want a bigger harvest! 

Recently I read this article about women’s empowerment and it really resonated with my mulberry struggles. So often we start off with ambitious multi-sector proposals but eventually our partners go after the easy win of a goat project and call it ‘empowerment’. We can count the number of goats donated to women in order to provide the basis for an economic livelihood, and it makes an easy photo for our supporters. But beyond that, do we ever look at how people’s lives have really been empowered? Or do we not want to look because we know that after ten years the goat owner is still pretty much struggling to survive? 

I think I am starting to see why applying the LIGHT Wheel (Tearfund’s Learning and Impact Guide to Holistic Transformation) throughout our project cycle can take us deeper into the issues that often go unspoken in project design. For example, the wheel spokes entitled ‘mental and emotional well-being’ and ‘participation and influence’ have caused the greatest discussion in all seven countries where I have now introduced the LIGHT Wheel.

The LIGHT Wheel provides a framework – or underlying set of principles – that form Tearfund’s definition of ‘whole-life transformation’.

Let us push for the harder fruit to reach a greater harvest – it will be worth it.

Even Church and Community Transformation projects, which are supposed to be holistic in nature, often become narrowed down in their implementation to just two or three tangible outcomes. When we introduce the LIGHT Wheel spokes and explain how they contribute to the holistic development of a community, we see pastors and those working in the field engage with important issues they had never considered before. 

This has only ever really happened in our region (East and Southern Africa) when pastors and communities have been able to converse about the LIGHT Wheel in a language they are comfortable with and which makes sense to them. No matter how great our models are, and no matter how ‘holistic’ our theory of change might be, if we do not provide communities on the ground with tangible knowledge and resources, they will always only see half of the picture. 

If we at Tearfund want to follow Jesus where the need is greatest, we need to look beyond the low-hanging fruit of a goat project. Instead, we need to continue to pursue the deeper issues at play in communities. Tackling the root causes of such issues is often significantly harder and more expensive, but there are some examples of this happening. 

Across Africa we continue to have millions of people living in hunger and poverty. The majority of the time, I believe, it is as much due to poor governance and planning on the part of their governments as it is to poor farming methods or irregular weather patterns. By focusing our attention on, say, climate change, do we focus on a donor-friendly ‘safe’ enemy, and in the process keep corrupt governments neutrally engaged in our work? 

We need to continue to test our assumptions about the sectors we work in and and how we work if we truly want to go where the need is greatest. Let us push for the harder fruit to reach a greater harvest – it will be worth it. 

To find out more about the LIGHT Wheel, email

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Jonathan Simpson
Jonathan Simpson is Tearfund’s East and Southern Africa Monitoring, Evaluation and Impact Advisor. Email: