What to consider for sustainability….

What to consider for sustainability….

Recently I read an article on “how to make a computer lab sustainable”. I read it with interest because I find the question about sustainability in international development fascinating. What do we mean by sustainability? Every project has a requirement to be sustainable, but the definition seems to vary based on the project or the donor. Does it mean “continue to exist beyond the period of performance?” “Positive impacts continue beyond the period of performance?”, “Not just continue to exist but grow and scale?”

Do we mean sustainability of operations? Of financial independence? Impact? Involvement of local populations? All of the above?

In the article I mentioned, sustainability really meant the hardware and software would continue beyond the funding cycle and that they were looking at fee for service opportunities/integration into an existing organization. But they didn’t mention any details about the business model –would the fee for service cover the increased costs for internet, hardware/software support and purchases, salaries of staff, electricity? Would they need to find additional sponsorship from donors or partner organizations? Do they have a management team which is capable of managing the budget, of ensuring high quality of services to customers, of finding new sponsors? What about growth and changes in technology infrastructure?

Now, the project may well have included these aspects in their design, but the article didn’t mention any of these things. And for me, sustainability starts with thinking about treating the seed funding you get as an initial investment, which should lead to a self-sustaining model that won’t require more investment (at least not for the same types of activities). If the model involves transitioning to local staff or partner organization, that needs to be both explicit and planned from the start, with explicit assumptions and expectations on what sustainability means.

Because otherwise sustainability is kind of a meaningless term.

Who should decide what sustainability is unless we Value all Voices to discuss and decide? What are your thoughts?



Transparency and Accountability via open [Cambodian] data that ValuesVoices

Transparency and Accountability via open [Cambodian] data that ValuesVoices

My colleague pointed out this fascinating article about a new transparency program for garment factories, using data collected meticulously by the International Labor Organization (ILO) on working conditions in Cambodia in a publically accessible searchable database: http://betterfactories.org/transparency/. and this story about it:


The key elements I want to point out about this great example are the following:

  • The data was already being collected by the ILO-thorough interviews and investigations of different factories, at a presumably high cost. But this information was not being widely shared, because the format the data was in (PDF), was not easily accessible by those who could use it, resulting in these reports not having the “shame” impact that is important for voluntary compliance.
  • The BFC was able to partner with the ILO to open their data, making it easier for anyone to search and use the outcomes of the ILO reports. This increased access has already made an impact in making Cambodian factory owners more focused on compliance.
  • This pattern is very similar to what we see occurring throughout international development, where evaluation data is being captured and collected, but not shared in formats that would make transparency and accountability easy to access.
  • The article hinted at the two main challenges to making this data open:



    • The need for a robust back end to support and maintain it – something that requires investment and thoughtfulness; and
    • “very public debates between the garment producer’s association and Better Factories Cambodia that ensued for months” – i.e. political concerns about transparency and what the data means.

When we unlock the data that is currently being collected (and paid for) in international development, especially during project evaluations, we find opportunities for increased transparency and accountability, as well as making the data captured more likely to provide insight for those not directly involved in the project.

This effort will take time, effort, and money, and there will be political obstacles to overcome. But the result is information to help us make better decisions on where we spend our money, invest our time, or highlight those who need to improve.  The combination of ValuingVoices' debates and data work!


Siobhan Green is a partner company to ValuingVoices and can be found at Sonjara.