We all want people to be able to feed themselves, be healthy and for communities to thrive. Most development projects help people – but how sustainably?
Valuing Voices of those at the center of development means creating opportunities to listen to what our 'participants' – the women, men, youth and elders we serve – feel they could self-sustain after projects closed. It means learning from the past successes and failures to design anew for sustainability, in a transparent and accountable way that builds country-led development. Valuing Voices was founded to advocate for and provide data around the sustainability of project results. 99% of the time, donors and implementers do not return to international development projects after they close to assess and learn from what partners and participants could sustain themselves.
$5 trillion has been spent on foreign aid since 1945 and $137 billion was spent in 2014 on development projects yet shockingly, hundreds of thousands of projects are unevaluated for what 'development' has been 'sustainable'. New policies, partnerships and funding are needed to learn about what we did right to do more of it and for country-led development leadership and sustainability to grow.
At Valuing Voices, we value data, real people, and sustainable solutions.
International development is a group effort, from individual households longing for great livelihoods and committed intermediary organizations self-tasked to help them to donors and national governments that provide the means and support national growth and welfare. It is a complex process, one that must start with the needs of those whose lives we most want to improve – those living in communities-supported by our possible solutions.
* Imagine projects designed for community needs and evaluated by country nationals, fuelled by clever solutions and donor funding. Currently, requests-for international development projects proposals are drafted by donors and international implementers in capitol cities. While they are informed by industry trends and some field lessons learned, they are rarely designed alongside the communities we serve who will live them.
* Doors are opening to have project implementation/ management be flexible enough to widely revise implementation based on what we learn from communities during implementation about success and how conditions are changing. Currently most projects are contracted to be implemented for 2, 3, 5 years based on fixed plans that were based on requests-for-proposals (RFPs) drafted one to two years earlier with very limited ability to change much, irrespective of what is happening on the ground.
* Imagine ongoing feedback loops from communities to implementers to donors to national governments and back, on how implementation is going, how they believe projects could be re-designed for maximum self-sustainability of activities, outcomes and impacts. Currently design tends to be fixed by implementers that won the contract, and while they are key to implementation participants are mainly asked for feedback only at midterm and final evaluations, in answer to only questions we want to know.
* Envision how much better our Return on Investment (ROI) could be were we to go back to projects 3, 5, 10 years later and learn from what communities were able to self-sustain, what local NGOs were able to replicate, what national governments could fund themselves?
* Did you know that since 2000 the US alone has spent $277 billion on bilateral and multilateral assistance? EU has spent $1.4 trillion. Just in 2002, US Foundations, US businesses and US NGOs spent over $34 billion overseas Imagine what we'd learn if we go back and evaluate for self-sustainability…
* That in 2014 alone the US and the EU are generously spending $100 billion on international development? Imagine planning community-led design and evaluation into these projects, and how many (un)expected impacts they could tell us we catalyzed?
* While some of our project activities are likely to be sustainable, which ones?
* How effective did communities perceive them to be for the long-term, why, and what we should replicate?
*Only a handful of international non-profits and multilaterals have gone back to ask communities and local implementers about impact. These catalytic mavericks must grow!
* We can do something about this.
At Valuing Voices, we're leading the charge for a better way to do development.
We're not saying the system is broken. We've just found more sustainable solutions.
Valuing Voices means creating opportunities to listen to what the women, men, youth and elders we serve want 'development' to be in their lives. They are our true clients. They must participate with us in our joint goal of sustained development and we need to create better ways to listen and learn from them, to design with them, fix implementation together, Enable them to evaluate Us! Imagine their Development Consumer Reports on the best development assistance they received and why.
While we’ve spent billions on development projects for decades, much good has been done during implementation, yet without knowing the sustained impact, have we maximized learning and impact? Have we really designed the best projects to empower our clients to self-sustain the activities and reap the long-term benefits from all this effort? Have we empowered national non-profits to take over? Are national-level evaluators ready to take over impact monitoring? Is data even retained (as my partner Siobhan at Sonjara.com notes)?
Participants have so much know-how about what will work for them, what they can sustain, what they need. We have much to learn from them! This is what Valuing Voices is about.
A Kenyan expert development colleague told me: "It will be sustainable development if the people at community level are involved in designing and delivering their own dreams of development, and it can only be development if the current state of affairs involve the local people to identify where they are at with development, and when fully developed what the situation will be like, and finally [you all must] identify priorities to get to that 'developed status' with the people.
You cannot set your own examination, take the examination and mark it. Then you cry out success or failure. The community will just 'look at you' and wonder what is the issue." Peter Kimeu, Catholic Relief Services’ Senior Technical Advisor for Partnership/ Solidarity, East Africa
We know how. We can do it. So why aren’t we?
How Can You Bring Valuing Voices Into Your Next Project?
A Valuing Voices approach empowers effective and sustainable solutions through:
* We can gather a wide range of stakeholders together to facilitate country-led development.
* We can help you create feedback loops between communities and implementers during project design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Participants are supported in informing current and future self-sustainability linked to their national non-profits, international non-profits and policy makers;
* We can help you create low-cost participatory methods of post-project evaluation led by communities and the national non-profits using national evaluators and to gather, distill and share lessons learned about what activities are most sustainable, and create data repositories to analyze lessons learned, best practices and failures;
* We can help advocate to donors to fund post-project 'ex-post' evaluation and learning repositories, ask 'request for proposal' designers and implementers to feed those lessons into future programming;
* We can help advocate to national governments and civil society organizations to request their own citizens voices be prioritized, especially the youth whose future we are helping create.
Help Voices be Valued!
· Are you an advocate for improved international development (including you ordinary citizens) who wants to get this word out?
Email me, tweet a message, share this in blogs, join my Valuing Voices Facebook page, invite me to speak.
· Are you a donor wishing to fund more of such work including research, fieldwork and lesson-sharing?
We have a research plan, data repository and several field sites to propose.
· Are you an internationally funded 'implementing partner' with projects being implemented now? If yes, which ones promise the most sustainability that we can track 1, 3 and 5 years from now to learn from?
Let’s collaborate on doing such evaluation, or let’s write up lessons for what projects have been the most sustainable and why!
· Are you a developing country ministry or university expert who wants to track sustainability of projects funded by international donors?
Hire me to customize the methods and database repository in your country with your evaluators and communities– for them to continue themselves.
· Is there something else you want to offer to further Valuing Voices?
Contact me and let's make it happen NOW!