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Learning from a river of ex-post project evaluations, tools and guidance… Thanks USAID!

Posted by on Nov 10, 2019 in Aid effectiveness, civil society, ex-post evaluation, Ghana, Impact, impact evaluation, Indonesia, Maternal Child Health, MCHN, NGOs, post-project evaluation, sanitation & hygiene, Senegal, Sustainable development, USAID, water/ sanitation | 0 comments

Learning from a river of ex-post project evaluations and tools… Thanks USAID!

Dear ex-post aficionados. It’s raining ex-post project evaluations. Here’s hoping learning from such evaluations in water/ sanitation, maternal/child health and even capacity building/ peacekeeping, and their number increases!

 

1. WATER/ SANITATION & HYGIENE:

USAID has a series of six ex-post evaluations of the water/ sanitation and hygiene sectors since 2017! What is exciting is that they are also looking to the future. These evaluations will “provide insight into what happens after an activity ends, and how to mitigate challenges in future programming, potentially. The series will inform USAID’s WASH activity design and implementation and contribute to a larger sector discussion on achieving sustainability.”

The E3 water division (Water CKM ) took sustainability on as their strategy and have made great strides these last two years. They have done five ex-post project evaluations, cited below, and MSI has completed one more wat/san/ hygiene ex-post evaluations, specifically:

Madagascar Rural Access to New Opportunities for Health and Prosperity (RANO-HP) – Published June 2017
The first evaluation in the series explores the sustainability of the sanitation and hygiene components of the RANO-HP activity, implemented in 26 communes from 2009–2013.

Indonesia Environmental Services Program (ESP) – Published August 2017
The second evaluation in the series examines the sustainability of water utility capacity building, microcredit, and financial outcomes associated with the ESP activity, which was implemented from 2004–2010.

Ethiopia Millennium Water Alliance (MWA-EP) – Published May 2018
The third evaluation in the series examines the long-term sustainability of outcomes related to rural water point construction, rehabilitation, and management, as well as participatory sanitation and hygiene education and construction related to the MWA-EP activity, implemented in 24 rural districts between 2004–2009.

Financial Institutions Reform and Expansion–Debt and Infrastructure (FIRE-D) – Published September 2018
This evaluation is the fourth in the series. It examines how urban water and sanitation services in India have changed since FIRE-D closed and to what extent policies, practices, and financing mechanisms introduced through FIRE-D have been sustained.

Millennium Water and Sanitation Program in Senegal (PEPAM/USAID) – Published July 2019
The fifth ex-post evaluation in the series looks at the PEPAM project (Programme d’Eau Potable et d’Assainissement du Millénaire au Sénégal), implemented from 2009–2014 to improve sustainable access to WASH in four regions of Senegal.

 

USAID-funded by MSI: USAID/Ghana’s Water Access, Sanitation, and Hygiene for Urban Poor (WASH-UP)– published Nov 2018

Also USAID and Rotary International developed a WASH Sustainability Index Tool, “to assess a WASH activity’s likelihood to be sustainable according to the following factors: availability of finance for sanitation; local capacity for construction and maintenance of latrines; the influence of social norms; and governance.” This is similar to what we learned from USAID/ FFP/ Tufts/ FHI360 12 ex-posts that resources, capacities, motivation and linkages (aka partnerships, including governance) are vital to sustaining outcomes and impacts.

 

It will be interesting to see whether they examine the other ex-posts for excellent lessons, as they have the Senegalese evaluation:

  • “Whether or not to subsidize sanitation access …Based on this evaluation’s findings and exploration of the literature, subsidies can help improve the quality of household latrines, but increasing use of those latrines remains a challenge.
  • In contrast, CLTS (a nonsubsidized approach) is often credited with increasing use of unimproved latrines, but serious questions linger about quality and long-term sustainability of the latrines built after CLTS triggering, particularly as it relates to moving up the sanitation ladder. This evaluation… provides the opportunity to examine the potential value of a hybrid approach….
  • The handwashing results suggest that low-cost, low-quality handwashing stations such as tippy taps do not lead to sustained behavior change. It may be worth considering hygiene investments that reduce the behavior change burden on targeted beneficiaries.

2. MATERNAL/ CHILD HEALTH & NUTRITION:

 “Sustainability of a Community-Based CHOICE Program to Improve the Health and Nutrition Status of Mothers and Infants in Indonesia,” The report focused on whether the USAID-funded CHOICE program had left sustainable impacts: improving the health and nutrition status of children under the age of five, as well as the health status of pregnant and lactating women and mothers or caretakers of young children in the Pandeglang District of Indonesia. “After examining the data collected from the PSS, the researchers found that there were significant improvements in many indicators—such as births attended by skilled personnel, the treatment of diarrhea, and the nutritional quality of food fed to infants—in the six years after the CHOICE program ended. However, despite these improvements, the researchers found no significant statistical differences between villages that received the CHOICE program interventions and comparison villages, which did not. This speaks to using such a comparison methodology to focus on actual contribution and rule out the “rising tide lifts all boats” phenomenon.

 

3. CAPACITY DEVELOPMENT & PEACEBUILDING:

USAID’s Regional Office in Thailand evaluated its capacity building and peacebuilding program 1.5 years ex-post.  While civil society was strengthened and there were inroads made on peacebuilding,many interventions initiated during Sapan did not continue post-Sapan, although some did remain. For example, “stakeholders cite evidence of continuing to use some governance tools in local governance related to service delivery [although] because of limited financial resources after Sapan ended, they had to change some of their interventions and reduce the range of people they could include. There are lessons for whose capacities are built, two-way feedback loops with local partners, using local organizations such as universities to sustain training, planning sufficient time for partners to internalize training lessons, etc.

 

4. USAID FUNDED GUIDANCE:

‘Impact Evaluations’ have a new focus on long-term impact, rather than effectiveness during implementation (which was at least the original intent of impact evaluation in the 1980s)! In September 2018, USAID and Notre Dame issued a Guide for Planning Long-term Impact Evaluations as part of the Utilizing the Expertise of the ERIE Program Consortium. The guide covers the difference between traditional impact evaluation designs and data collection methods and how to apply them to long-term impact evaluations (LTIE). It also shares examples across a range of sectors, including later evaluating past impact evaluations, which ended before final evaluation.

Finally, in new 2018 USAID guidance, ex-post evaluation is clarified as the source of the sustainability of services and benefits. USAID clarifies that “questions about the sustainability of project services and benefits can be asked at any stage, but must usually be adjusted to take evaluation timing into account. Thus, for example, in a mid-term evaluation, a question about the existence of a sustainability plan and early action on that plan might be appropriate. An end-of-project evaluation could address questions about how effective a sustainability plan seems to be, and early evidence concerning the likely continuation of project services and benefits after project funding ends. Only an ex-post evaluation, however, can provide empirical data about whether a project’s services and benefits were sustained.”

Such richness that we can learn from. Keep the momentum going on the 99% of all global projects yet unevaluated ex-post, and change how we fund, design, implement, monitor and evaluate global development projects!

Our Accountability for the SDGs

Posted by on Sep 24, 2019 in Uncategorized | 11 comments

Accountability: Are we responsible for meeting the SDGs? Yes, personally and by programming for more sustainability

In a 2014 article about mutual accountability for the SDGs, Dr. Paul Zeitz states that “Sustainable development is the most urgent challenge facing humanity. The fundamental question is how the world economy can continue to develop in a way that is socially inclusive, advances human rights, and ensures environmental sustainability.” Today, the UN Secretary General’s report on SDG Progress on progress to meeting them is unveiled. As many of us work in global development, we need to consider our accountability for its findings.

First, Dr. Zeitz points to key aspects to such accountability, of which three are most relevant to sustainability:

  • Universal, Voluntary and Commitment-Based Approach

For the SDG agenda to be successful, “Shared and joint commitments by partners from governments, civil society and the private sector can inspire faster and bolder action, can garner enhanced citizen and media attention; and can contribute to the mobilization of resources from internal and external sources.”

Our industry has pushed for greater investments for decades.

  • Broad-Based Youth and Citizen Engagement

Local youth- and citizen-driven monitoring and accountability mechanisms are essential for improving budget transparency and service delivery outcomes. If citizens are enabled to pay attention, respond and engage, and then take responsibility and action, then everyone can be empowered to foster an enabling environment for “mutual accountability” and measurable results.”

While most of our work does M&E and listen to ciitzens, even foster voice through civic engagement and feedback loops, we are far from done.

  • Call for a Multi-Stakeholder SDG Monitoring and Accountability Mechanism

“… it is more challenging and more complex to ensure ‘mutual accountability’ for results. Given the advances in human cooperation and technology, we know that the SDG era can usher in and foster a new culture of ‘mutual accountability.’

It is here where we fail quite badly in global aid. We rarely talk about our reciprocal accountability with our participants and partners, with the countries themselves.  Too often we push money, extract data, claim success and leave abruptly. These SDGs push us to think about “global accountability” and how our actions at work and home need to change to (un)affect others. In a piece on mutual accountability, “Accountability for Development Cooperation under the 2030 Agenda” by Timo Mahn Jones explores “global accountability”, based on “mutual accountability, by which two partners agree to be held responsible for the commitments they voluntarily made.”

  • He warns of the danger that “development cooperation stakeholders do not follow through with their commitments, and are not held accountable.
  • He suggests that existing donors need to honor ODA/aid targets and new partners, especially the private sector are vital for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, “to move from billions to trillions” in funding.
  • Equally in need of revision is the roles of ‘donor’ and ‘recipient’ as we have entered a new world of “sharing of risk and ‘mutual pain’ where all of us are affected if we do not reach the SDG targets – although unequally.

How do those of us in our industry foster such accountability? We can say, rightly that we have played a role in sectors like health, agriculture, natural resource management through many projects over the last century or more. Absolutely but we know, our projects are piecemeal and often scattered, more short than long in implementation (typically 5 years) and as we rarely return after clcose-out, we do not know how long will results will be sustained. Yet we have tried to do good and there are many public and private players. Is it adding up? .

The Sept 2019 UN report shows promising if mixed results.  

Immunizations are increasing, thereby saving millions of lives (SDG3).


There is also good news from investments in
renewable energy growth.

However, while those living below minimum living wage is falling on every continent, still, “one child in five lives in extreme poverty” (SDG1).


Hunger
, unfortunately, is rising (SDG2), partly due to a 150% increase in “direct economic losses from disasters… over the past 20 years, with losses disproportionately borne by vulnerable developing countries” and 68.5 million people have been forcibly displaced, sometimes from wars donor governments supply arms to or refugees are forced to remain in other developing countries, the UN report tells us, with shrinking refugee funds.


C
limate is the most worrisome of the UN reports. Reversing CO2 emissions and fostering the sustainability of climate adaptation and mitigation projects is imperative given today’s UNEP report that includes this graph. Collective accountability is key to reining in CO2, for our emissions are leading to unprecedented ice melt, sea-level rise, and high pollution, not globally sustainable. 

While we in ‘development’ could say we affect the earlier SDGs, climate is a global problem, one that each one of us affects with our consumptive actions… or aren’t all of them? Don’t we affect hunger through our food waste and food purchases from afar? Don’t we affect child survival and immunization through our advocacy for aid and even private donations to other health and food security charities?

Some of us disproportionally affect emissions by our wealth, population, or both. The Global Carbon Atlas from 2017 shows how wealthier and more populous countries emit far more than the poor ones. As CO2 rises, climate is affected, storms are more severe, yet the poorest countries have the fewest means to prepare or respond. In their World Disasters Report, The International Federation of the Red Cross found that “Between 1991 and 2010, the impact of recorded disaster events in poor countries resulted in over $840 billion of financial losses. Yet, over the same period, only 0.4% of the $3.3 trillion spent on aid was dedicated to prevention or risk reduction“. Our industry does some Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) but why have we not advocated to prevent more suffering?

Thinking about “collective accountability” makes this graphic from the UN SDG report uncomfortable, as the burden of climate change falls disproportionately on the poor through economic losses from disasters.

The UN Secretary General states: “The world will soon enter a decade that will be decisive for both current and future generations and for all life on this planet. It is the world’s responsibility and within its power to make it a decade of action and delivery for sustainable development.”

This will require both a clear accountability to them – not just us and ‘our’ projects. This will require us seeing such projects as our continued responsibility to sustain, namely, to design them collaboratively enough, led by local partners ranging from governments and private sector to communities, with the means to sustain what they value. As we return to evaluate sustainability less than 1% of the time, learning opportunities have been scarce to improve current and future projects.

USAID has talked about long-term transparent and accountable investments in “local solutions” partners. Has it worked? Not yet. While President Obama and former United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Raj Shah promised up to 30% of all contracts would go to ‘local solutions’ that “promote sustainable development through high-impact partnerships and local solutions”, little of that was met, given bureaucracy and the need for fast success, rather than investing more in long-term capacity development of partners. While there seem to be good examples such as HaitiAfghanistan is a poorer example. While most international non-profits implement projects through local sub-contractors, certainly building their capacity to manage and account for foreign taxpayer dollars spent, like this MSI in Lebanon example, is important. But if we extend the measure of ‘success’ beyond our project implementation, then policies and programming needs to change to sustain capacity and implementation post-exit (INTRAC report). Too often we still exit when funds are spent. USAID’s new Journey to Self-Reliance does promise to listen, to “ support partners to become self-reliant and capable of leading their own development journeys.“

It requires listening to those whom our aid, aids. Time to Listen talks movingly of a desire for collaboration during design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. It requires we take the time to listen, have an openness to learn from our partners and participants about what they could – and could not- sustain and why. We need to do so before, during and well-after projects close, learn quickly and do better and be collectively accountable for longer. It requires seeing such people as real experts, not abstractions. How? Listening to those living with hunger and climate change is vital. While we read about Amazonian fires threatening over 2 million acres of rainforest, contextualizing statistics with stories that illustrate that those whose Development Goals donors are ‘sustaining’ know best what works there.  In this case, understanding the range of why the Amazon rainforest reserves are endangered is important for design, so that better approaches to achieving SDGs become a driving force to change all our lives. We need to be  accountable to them.

Let me know your thoughts on bringing the SDGs to our work and lives…

Implementing, Scaling and Planning for Aid Exit and Sustainability

Posted by on Jun 18, 2019 in ex-post evaluation, Exit strategies, foreign aid, impact investing, international development, Sustainability | 0 comments

Implementing, Scaling and Planning for Aid Exit and Sustainability

Reposted from: https://medium.com/@jindracekan/implementing-scaling-and-planning-for-aid-exit-and-sustainability-b1b92e70fb36?postPublishedType=initial

Rarely do funders return to evaluate (ex-post) what lasts after aid projects end, but when they do, we can find myriad pleasures:

1) sustainability of activities we launched and nurtured together and hoped would last as is, even 15 years later, or

2) new ways local participants or partners made old activities last which we would have never imagined, or

3) wholly new activities or collaborations that emerged which we could not have foreseen but which meet the evolving needs of participating country nationals.

All three elicit two questions: a) ‘what did we (funders, designers, implementers, evaluators) do right during design, implementation, and exit?’ and b) ‘what did they do so well after we left?’ There are rich answers for this, which involves how we co-funded, co-designed, co-implemented, and co-evaluated all along the program cycle, and how we exited.

Did we make enough time and measurement to foster sustainability, as we phased-down and phased-over an array of activities, alongside those remaining (white paper forthcoming)? Did we abruptly phase-out leaving partners and participants at a loss? Sharing power over all these decisions will influence what lasts.


There is an amazing breadth of local, ongoing resources, skills & capacities, linkages, motivation (thanks to Tufts FHI360’s work for USAID’s Food For Peace) that we can explore and learn from. There are local innovations and an array of unplanned collaborations (e.g., funding for health staff (Niger), training in small enterprise from the national government (Bangladesh), or private sector markets (Ethiopia) that can be accessed when partnerships are transparent and created one or more years pre-exit to collaborate on post-exit.

Ideally, we design and implement for exit from the onset. When we jointly set the timeframe and jointly assess risks to sustainability and adaptively manage exit, rather than exit based on pre-set timeframes, all sides win, with partners and participants able to foster sustainability. As USAID/ GIIN wrote about Responsible Exits for Impact Investors (2018), “the foundations for a responsible exit are laid even before an investment is made. To increase the likelihood of continued impact after exit, investors often select investees based on whether impact is embedded in their business model or inextricably linked to financial success. They also seek to understand the likely growth trajectory of the business, which has implications for which exit paths and options will become available.” They also note that a “growth strategy’ is needed throughout and at (investment) exit is “a company’s continued access to the right resources, networks, and knowledge” for sustained impact.

The need for a thoughtful approach to sustainability is shown by Hiller, Guthrie, and Jones in “Overcoming Ex-Post Development Stagnation“ (2016). The authors cite “limited evidence of program efficacies coupled with government and agency preference for planning, approval, and implementation processes rather than sustainment of outputs, outcomes, and impacts means that ex-post performance, scaling, and sustainability is not well understood or well pursued…. [There is a] lack of willingness to commit time and resources to rigorous evaluation of post-project effectiveness“. This affects a vast number of projects. For instance, they found 63,000 projects in 2003 alone, and “relative to the number of development projects undertaken, ex-post project [evaluations] are not commonly carried out, meaning that rates of success are often unknown and the complexity of causalities and ex-post dynamics of interactions and processes are not well understood.“ This limits our learning from what has (not) worked and what to do more (or less) of, including those that could not be sustained with only local resources.

We make sustainability assumptions are participants long for them, as Valuing Voices also found. Hiller et al. state that “whilst project documentation commonly conveys an expectation that some process of spread will occur ex-post, it rarely does, despite strong ex-post case-study evidence of stakeholder requests for further development opportunities.” This cautionary feedback could mean some project activities could be so resource-intensive that they could not feasibly be sustained or spread without long-term support, and retaining results may be limited to less costly activities. Valuing Voices found that other activities could be remunerative enough (financially, in health or education outcomes, for instance), as to be locally demanded and continued to be pursued. We have found in our Valuing Voices research and the Tufts research that activities where incentives did not continue, tended to die ex-post, while those which continued to bring benefits, such as cash crops and credit, water supply, and health, were prioritized ex-post, even in the absence of external funding continuing.

Hiller et al. outline that there are multiple ways in which scaling-up environmental sustainability over time, over area and, interestingly, scaling-within projects. The Ex-post Development Stagnation authors are clear that “creating conditions to support longer-term sustainability beyond project completion represents a recurring challenge, and it is not uncommon for activities and institutions to become inactive ex-post or for stakeholders to revert to previously unsustainable practices.” They note that some watershed studies have even found that participants actively destroy project measures in some cases. Certainly, the inability of locals to sustain often expensive activities without a project or larger organization’s support is common. “If it is assumed that development needs remain outstanding, then there may be merit in ensuring that development projects do not just remain “isolated, one-time interventions, like unconnected dots on a white page” or “islands of salvation.” The authors concur, “based on project subsidiarity and participatory principles, scaling-within management should be devolved to the local level (local authorities and local communities) to allow communities and individuals to filter out irrelevant practices and encourage adaptation and evolution of activities which are of greatest perceived livelihood benefit”.

As Valuing Voices research on exit has shown, it is a process, not an event(forthcoming, with thanks to I. Davies). The Hiller article notes that sustainability is best enhanced by capacity-building during implementation and with time for handover where “organizations adopt modes of functioning that allow local communities and organizations to build conceptual, operational, and institutional capacities. While scaling-down does not mean that governments disengage from processes such as community-driven development — it does, however, require it to be more flexible and responsive to locally generated demand to ensure the terrain is fertile for community organizations to emerge, learn, and grow.“

Let’s work together to extend the sustainability of impacts. Would love to hear your thoughts…

“Impactful” Investments? Will investments change lives or just bottom lines?

Posted by on Mar 20, 2019 in Sustainable development | 0 comments

Needs are growing in the developing world and blended finance[1], including Impact Investing[2], with the “intention to generate positive, measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return” could help amid pressures on philanthropy. Investments look to fill the $4 trillion annual funding gap to fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, as current donations to aid programs can only meet so much need. Such investment is rising. In 2018, investors interviewed by GIIN, an industry thinktank, managed over $228 billion in impact investing assets and more are aimed at SDGs. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are “a call for action by all countries – poor, rich and middle-income – to promote prosperity while protecting the planet. They recognize that ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that build economic growth and address a range of social needs including education, health, social protection, and job opportunities, while tackling climate change and environmental protection.”  SDGS are to improve basic needs, natural capital, address climate change improve peace, equity and sustainability through a range of governance and empowerment interventions.

Source: ESG_Sustainable_Impact_Metrics_-_MSCI

Impact Investing comes from a decade of ESG investments[3] reorientation, based on these assumptions: “If environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors are ingrained in investors’ thinking, then a triple-win will follow – more valuable companies, more value for end-investors and, ultimately, a more sustainable system.“ While there is a new focus on the 17 SDGoals by investing in enterprises in sectors such as agriculture, microenterprise, health and environment, investing broadly into sectors does not mean intended grassroots results are achieved (e.g. no poverty, no malnutrition). Far more tracking of the effects on the lives and livelihoods of those the SDGs aim to help is needed.

There is so much good business news, from companies investing in their own ‘circular economy’ in Asia[4] to decrease waste, and carbon-neutral or forest-positive or health & justice initiatives and incubators in the USA,[5] Europe[6] and Africa[7]. There are positive clean energy examples such as large global investors in solar power[8] which seem to have local effects. A range of grassroots for-profit social businesses such as Greenlight Planet[9] and Solar Sister,[10] tangibly help address ‘energy poverty’ of two billion people with scarce access to basic and reliable electricity in developing markets. Some crowdfunding[11] is emerging through outlets such as Trine where micro-investors get a return for loan investing in poor communities’ solar projects which have proof of at least access to electricity. Unfortunately, the depth of coverage is not sufficiently growing to reach the two billion given the climate change needs. Forbes reported[12] that Toniic impact investor members have “$2.8 billion of impact investments, which are up from $1.65 billion in 2016 but the hype can be louder than proof of lives changed.

The funding is not yet living up to its promise as most investors are unwilling to sacrifice immediate profits for later returns, and what is called ‘patient capital’ with below-market returns may be needed to nurture those businesses in Asia, Africa and Latin America incurring some early losses while business models mature. GIIN in 2016,[13] an industry tracker, notes that many investors lament risks being too high and businesses not having enough of a track record to justify investments. Expertise from (I)NGOs working in global development can help. There is a growing risk of impact investment funds being more willing to invest in safe markets in North America and Europe, compared to higher risk emerging markets like Africa.[14]

More perniciously, investments sold as being ‘impactful’ and addressing environmental sustainability, can include some wolves in sheep’s clothing (see italics): Axios 2019 revealed the following about “Green bonds” and an investment aimed at funding to help Ebola ravages:

  • “A recent World Bank bond was ostensibly designed “to raise awareness for the importance of investing in women and girls.” There’s no obvious way in which it does that, and it’s a minuscule $4 million in size — a drop in the bucket, compared to the Bank’s annual $50 billion in bond issuance….
  • US municipal green bond issuance fell to $4.9 billion in 2018, per S&P Global Ratings, down more than 50% from $10 billion in 2017. Development banks also saw their green bond issuance fall. But for-profit banks, largely in China, took up a lot of the slack. They issued $48 billion of green bonds in 2018, up from $23 billion the previous year. The real impact: A lot of people who think that they’re making socially responsible investments are really just buying Chinese bank debt.
  • The World Bank’s Ebola bond was, it said, “a momentous step” that would “serve the world’s poorest people.” The idea: Were Ebola to flare up again in west Africa, investors’ money would be used to address it. Investors so far haven’t lost a penny, despite the outbreak of the 2nd-largest outbreak of Ebola on record.”[15]

What are the aims of impact investing if not tangibly having a social and environmental impact? Instead, a 2018 finance article,[16] the drivers for investors are 1) risk management, 2) return potential, 3) mission alignment and 4) constituent/ stakeholder demand. Much of the focus is on funding ‘checking the box’ of the 17 goals rather than showing results that funding changes people’s lives. While 76% of GIIN’s[17] investors claim to “track their investment performance to the SDGs or plan to do so in the future,“ there is little data on how much their investments have decreased poverty, hunger, or increased literacy. Sites like B-Analytics[18] ‘track impact’ but actual changes to lives are assumed; Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) focus on business performance not on grassroots improvements.

I wanted to be delighted by Rockefeller Foundation’s Impact Investment Management (IIM)’s[19] asset management platform that “aims to tap into mainstream markets and investors, scaling up investments into promising new finance vehicles that help to close the (SDG) funding gap.” Yet they typify how impact investors misuse terms like ‘impact’. It is not synonymous with generic ‘results’, especially surprising given the strength of their M&E. IMM touts “Impact: The Rockefeller Foundation’s investment is expected to directly support 2,500+ loans to students“. As any monitoring & evaluation person knows, giving a loan is an input into their lives and is not an indicator of success. Recipients could drop out of school or fail to graduate, default on the loan, or conversely wildly succeed. We do not know ‘impact[20] if we do not measure properly.


For those of us who care about results on the ground, among people in the ‘developing world’, so far ‘impact investing’ is still miles from outcomes and impacts that meet the aims of the SDGs, and more than ‘intent’ is needed in the 11 years until 2030. One think tank GALI[21] screens results by headquarters location and “Impact Orientation: Indicates whether the organizations have the explicit intent of supporting ventures with social or environmental objectives. ” As a new Impact Investor Network Map[22]  notes, “a primary characteristic of “impact” is intentionality – the explicit pursuit of social impact“ and similar to the loan example above, ‘Access to Financial Services’ is the most frequently reported impact objective by investors.“ Another source found that financial accelerator projects tracked are funded only 1-12 months, so those of us in global development wonder how much sustained impact could be generated in such a short time.  Instead, some celebrate intermediate steps such as (good) new principles to foster environmental sustainability such as in the wild fisheries sector,[23] and funding for U.S. forest restoration bond[24] which focuses on inputs/outputs only and principles are voluntary.

We at Impact Guild believe international and national non-profits and experts like us can fill this measurement expertise gap were funders interested.  A recent report by Amplify,[25] an international non-profit (INGO) consortium shows how these two communities can help each other to change lives.

While some impact investors are saying there aren’t enough viable investments with returns and track records, the INGOs are looking for that funding for the projects they know do work that affect lives on the ground. Challenges were: “identifying and acquiring funding’, ‘legal (and regulatory) barriers’, ‘communicating strategy’ and ‘organizational staff capacity’ to work in a for-profit manner to show ‘impact measurement’. As over 40 INGOs involved all indicated that delivering technical assistance was their favored approach, with ecosystem building and establishing social enterprises also considered by a majority, tracking results on the ground to fill this significant gap in current impact investor expertise is a logical bridge.  As Mercy Corps Ventures said: “Early-stage businesses need more than just capital to grow and scale up their impact — they also need business and technical support to realize their vision. INGOs have unique assets that make them well-placed to provide such support. In fact, the real value INGOs add to investees comes through their post-investment engagement” as well as M&E expertise. So too do national research institutes, building real, national capacity for sustaining results.

Impact investors will need to create funding vehicles that have more ‘patient’ and smaller infusions of capital, and INGOs will need to focus assistance on enterprises and projects that are remunerative to investors. Further, INGOs noted the absorptive capacity of local ‘impact’ investments, as a median of only $37,000. Is this cost-effective for the for-profits to lend so little, even when ‘bundling’ investments into funds? Time will tell. While Development Impact Bonds[26] supported by bilateral donors can fill a gap in confidence in more local, even riskier investments, the industry needs to focus on results on the ground before making claims of impact.  Such funders, e.g.  DFID and the new US government Development Finance Corporation[27] (DFC) launching late 2019 can be the key.  Sorting out how much the investments will focus on poor countries, what will “development assessments” include, and how will USAID M&E expertise be used to look at actual, not just intended, “development impact” is vital.

Impact Guild remains hopeful that the for-profit sector, even aided by INGOs, can have actual grassroots impact. As Exponent Philanthropy[28] said in 2016, “So much time and effort is focused on getting an impact investment closed and the funds disbursed. However, executing an agreement isn’t the finish line and, in fact, it may not even be the halfway point. Post-closing, there is still a lot of work to do in monitoring the performance of an investment to ensure financial health and intended impact.” An array of metrics are being collected but often only to inform front-end due diligence on the investment bottom line rather than sustainable development results of lives changed. That gaping hole must be acknowledged and filled to start to meet the SDGs.

Do you agree?


[1] http://www.oecd.org/dac/financing-sustainable-development/development-finance-topics/Infographic%20-%20The%20Private%20Sector%20-%20Missing%20Piece%20of%20the%20SDG%20puzzle.pdf

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jpdallmann/2018/12/31/impact-investing-just-a-trend-or-the-best-strategy-to-help-save-our-world/#2956676075d1

[3] https://www.raconteur.net/finance/esg-investing-enter-mainstream

[4] https://www.eco-business.com/news/rise-circular-economy-asia/

[5] https://www.edie.net/news/5/HP-pledges-to-make-all-printed-pages–forest-positive-/?utm_source=Edie%20Weekly%20Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=abd3fb9342-weeklynewsletter_COPY_05

[6] https://www.edie.net/news/6/Energy-Catapult-launches-support-for-low-carbon-heating-and-cooling/?utm_source=dailynewsletter,%20edie%20daily%20newsletter&utm_medium=email,%20email&utm_content=news&utm_campaign=dailynewsletter,%209174655074-dailynewsletter_COPY_509

[7] http://ventureburn.com/2019/01/accelerators-incubators-african-startups/

[8] https://www.cbinsights.com/research/most-active-solar-startup-investors/

[9] https://www.greenlightplanet.com/about/

[10] https://solarsister.org/

[11] https://www.undispatch.com/crowdfunding-the-sustainable-development-goals/?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=email_this&utm_source=email

[12] “https://www.forbes.com/sites/jpdallmann/2018/12/31/impact-investing-just-a-trend-or-the-best-strategy-to-help-save-our-world/#2956676075d1

[13] https://thegiin.org/assets/GIIN_Impact%20InvestingTrends%20Report.pdf

[14] https://www.sgggroup.com/blog/impact-investing-africa

[15] https://www.axios.com/tpg-capital-bill-mcglashan-impact-invsting-06828a4f-7390-46d8-b7e4-c6d3f7fbc7c7.html

[16] https://www.raconteur.net/finance/sdgs-financial-centres-sustainability

[17] https://thegiin.org/assets/2018%20Annual%20Impact%20Investor%20Survey_Press%20Release.pdf

[18] http://b-analytics.net/giirs-funds

[19] https://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/our-work/initiatives/impact-investment-management/

[20] https://www.intrac.org/wpcms/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Monitoring-and-Evaluation-Series-Outcomes-Outputs-and-Impact-7.pdf

[21] https://www.galidata.org/accelerators/methodology/

[22] https://impactinvestingmap.com/insights/

[23] http://www.fisheriesprinciples.org/

[24] https://www.forestresiliencebond.com/

[25] https://humentum.org/blog-news/press-releases/amplify-impact-investing-next-mile-impact-investing-ingos

[26] https://www.cgdev.org/topics/development-impact-bonds

[27] https://www.devex.com/news/new-us-development-finance-institution-edges-toward-launch-94497

[28] https://www.exponentphilanthropy.org/blog/impact-investing-impact-measures-and-monitoring-tools/

Holiday Hallelujahs and my Wish List for Sustained Impact(s)

Posted by on Dec 18, 2018 in Sustainable development | 0 comments

There are six bright Hallelujahs on the sustained impact journey this Holiday. I’ve paired each of them by a wish, so appropriate this Holiday Season.

1. Netherlands Greatness! The government of theNetherlands has recently started talking with their implementing agencies about how to track and prove sustainability six years after exit, as one Dutch colleague told me at the European Evaluation Society Conference this Oct.

WOW.

As we know, demanding evaluation of sustainability after project closure is rarer than vegan turkey on Thanksgiving, and the Dutch Ministry of ForeignAffairs is tacking the issues of a) how will they pay for it after project funding has ended (hint: see 3ie), b) how will the data disseminated and influence which decision-makers? Note: Japan’s development agency JICA is the only other bilateral to have this as a mandated aspect of their ongoing evaluations. We congratulate the Dutch for joining Japan in sustained impact evaluation leadership!

My Wish: For the other bilaterals and multilaterals for whom such evaluations are exotically occasional learnings to see the value from learning about the successes and failures of how(un)sustained your results are. Also to fund such evaluations for at least 10% of all programming per year, and do better programming focused on helping locals sustain the results they want. See, that wasn’t such a huge wish was it?

2. USAID Transformation to Self-Resilience is a promising analysis USAID is doing under the leadership of AdministratorMark Green. This Transformation “Journey to Self-Reliance” is “reorienting the way it does business to focus on supporting our partner countries… to solve their own development challenges.” It consists of a variety of policies, from using more private sector money for development to two exit-related initiatives including Financing Self-Reliance “to strengthen support for our host country partners in their efforts to finance their own development journey”and includes continuing to build local capacity and Partnering and Procurement such as using adaptive approaches and “principles of supporting locally-led development and long-term sustainability.”

Will USAID really follow the SDG aim to Leave No one Behind in terms of focusing on the poor? Metrics of USAID’s Country Roadmaps, range from national economic growth and democracy/governance to sectoral measures in health, food security etc. Maybe this is not just a way to use national data to justify exit of aid programs due to shrinking funding, but instead is a way for USAID to determine who is actually self-reliant among their recipient countries and focus more resources on those who aren’t on more needs-based criteria than politically strategic bases than in the past.Maybe it will look hard at assumptions rather than Uganda’s CDCS which projects sustainability in 30 years but will program on until then. OXFAM’sAid Localization may be a better, faster route.

My Wish: that bilateral donors like USAID test how well their current aid projects support self-reliance and how well they’re furthering sustainability. This includes learning what has been self-sustained and not renewing what hasn’t. We offer our database of 25 catalytic organizations’ ex-post project evaluations at Valuing Voices which were informed by local voices of our participants and partners. These fascinating evaluations need to inform new programming as sustainability is only high occasionally, unlike what we assume. We ask commissioners of such evaluations to tell us what they have learned and how they have done things differently (e.g. have they funding differently, chosen what projects are selected as implementers differently, and while adaptive monitoring is a terrific addition, how has evaluation changed -other than pending OECD DAC Criteria and Ofir’s blog commentary plus the WorldBank’s sustainability blog) and how has exit, sustainability planning and handover to national government using data about sustainability and impact changed and people really can sustain themselves? NOTE: this may lead to less money being spent over a longer time, more flexibly and locally-directed. We donor nations may benefit less as locals take their own ‘development’ in hand. Hallelujah.

3. Recently I did a webinar for InterAction webinar with dear sustained impact aficionados from Catholic Relief Services and World Vision on “How Sustained and Resilient are our Impacts?” Lessons about accountability for locally sustainable development was front and center. We all shared that ex-posts project evaluations have, shall we say, mixed results of success and failure. This can be difficult for agencies to absorb as the projects selected are not only typically selected to showcase success, but normally these are selected to be showcased as the best projects. Also, unsustained results can question the quality of funder’s design the agency’s and implementation, risking reputation and funding for both. But hiding failure is worse. A recent Evidence Action statement admitting failure of a promising intervention, promising to evaluate why and learn from it only gained kudos. Conversely, great results can show where future focus could be, or much can be (rightly?) attributed to unexpected new conditions which led it in very different directions.

My Wish: My CRS colleague was challenged by a younger American colleague who asked him “are we liable if we don’t deliver sustainable development?” Astonished, he answered “yes.”. Let’s get over our infallibility and inclination to promise something only the countries themselves can deliver. Yes, we are liable for wasting money and locals time and hopes. Yes, we can claim success when partnerships go well. May we all learn from failures, celebrate successes –especially those locals consider successes, and replicate only those.

4. Impact Investment is slowing inching forward in helping move more of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) toward fruition.  The pressure on many global funders and countries alike to meet the 17 SDG targets set in 2015 is rising.  Funding needs to accomplish the goals is $4 trillion a year, yes, trillion, compared to $150 billion available now in foreign aid. Accessing private capital is a wise investment if such development could unleash up to $12 trillion in growth. Repeatedly people like myself and Impact Guild read that “demand for SDG-aligned investment products outstrips supply“ which is true not in terms of the actual business and civil society non-profits trying to generate Social, Environmental, Governmental and financial Return on Investment (SROI and ESG), but in terms of profitable and stable investments.  Investors tend to be risk-averse yet there are a range instruments that cover the range of development to humanitarian needs. It is not a mechanism to ignore as for-profit funding will sharply increase in coming years with up to $8 trillion of impact investments moving into global disasters recovery alone and vital “climate finance” investments only going to grow, as $100 billion are year is being raised for poor countries to stem the rising effects of climate change. Combined with a $10.3 billion private Green Climate Fund that privately funds climate resilience projects all over the world to meet SDG13, we can no longer rely on diminishing foreign aid alone.

While patient pessimism is needed to overcome the hype that now private capital can replace philanthropy, INGOs are – cautiously innovating. As this month’s Amplify report from 40 international NGOs dipping their toes into impact investment collaborations notes, there are a wide array of collaborations. Some are investing their own private donors funds – or those leveraging other donors’ and investors’ funds in Development Impact Bonds (DIBs) or Social Impact Bonds (SIBs), and other instruments to the tune of $545.1million in assets. These are mainly in profit-low-hanging fruit development sectors of agriculture, livelihoods, and financial inclusion. Yet some of the INGO’s greatest strengths are least appreciated and what the relatively risk-averse and ‘due-diligence-focused’ impact investors do not yet know they need: ”their deep knowledge of local environments, programs, and technical solutions; their long-standing networks and sophistication in partnering with multiple actors; their financial sophistication from their wide-ranging donor relationships; and their experience in complex, multi-year measurement of impact.“

My Wish: that these two industries listen to one another. Non-profits can be mired in a can’t spend-can’t-risk mindset while being queasy about generating revenue, while impact investors can be torn between profits being king and claims of ‘impact’ from just investing in a sector without monitoring actual effects on the ground. There is simply too much good to be done.

5. Brazil/ France’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – The French renewable energy company Voltalia has created their first CSR-funded Social Projects for Social Responsibility. It is using some excellent sustainability principles as well as leveraging Brazilian Bank BNDES social sub-credit seed financing. I met Voltalia’s small CSR team at the EES conference. They started working in impoverished northeast Brazil, using great non-profit processes of communities identifying needed projects and processes that overlapped with what CSR could offer, over half of which were in education, health and ‘social responsibility’ (aka livelihoods linked to water access and use such as fisheries etc). They invested substantial funds into these grassroots projects, alongside interesting Social Management Tools that included cost management tracking of local co-investment, great collaborative communications plans, sustainability reporting, including Social Return on Investment (SROI). Like many non-profits before them, it has been hard, but also enormously rewarding and their work has led to greater employee engagement and was recognized by global headquarters – kudos! – interested? Contact them.

My Wish: Walking in the shoes of our partners and participants teaches us about their capacities and needs, and how to adapt what we can offer to be of greatest use. We need more companies with ‘dust on their shoes’, as my PhD advisor called my fieldwork. This epitomizes the Sidekick Manifesto approach where we offer local leaders help, rather than ‘solving’ poverty, hunger, ill-health, un-representation for them (which our efforts only accomplish for a short-term anyway, see #1, 2).

6. Climate Conference COP24 corralled nearly 200 nations to create technical targets and measurements to try to keep us below IPCC’s dire projections that we are not on target to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C degrees, and that it will cost billions to the economies of the world, not to mention jeopardize past development gains. You may wonder why this is a Hallelujah. It is because for those I most care about – my children and future generations-especially those in the ‘less developed countries’ who have least-caused yet are least able to mitigate climate change effects- are finally starting to be seen and heard. Conferences such as COP24, as well as a huge range of ‘non-state actors’, including corporations, non-profits, philanthropies, tribes, even individuals like you and me.  Whether it is our self-interest or expenditure-avoidance which propels us to decrease our emissions and increase our use of clean technologies, or our altruism toward the millions of species on earth, we have globally begun turning to sustainability of the ecological kind. Scientists are proposing remarkable inventiveness to capture already present CO2, studies are showing how we can be more energy efficient, buy more sustainable fashion, to eat more kindly, etc.

My Wish: We have begun changing our consumption and carbon emission and our youth are pushing us to conserve our planet. I am hopeful that we will come together to address this threat to all species. Is it far enough? Is it fast enough? Santa – help! So since it’s my holiday hallelujah, read Hans Rosling on how it’s all getting better anyway.

Happy Holidays and New Year everyone!

Assuming Sustainability and Impact is Dangerous to Development (+ OECD/DAC evaluation criteria)

Posted by on Oct 19, 2018 in Doing Development Differently, Ethiopian Red Cross, European Evaluation Society (EES), ex-post evaluation, Exit strategies, foreign aid, Impact, impact evaluation, International aid, international development, NGOs, OECD, OXFAM, Participants, post-project evaluation, SDGs, Sustainability, Sustainable development, Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluation, Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluations (SEIE) | 0 comments

Assuming Sustainability and Impact is Dangerous to Development (+ OECD/ DAC evaluation criteria)

We all do it; well, I used to do it too. I used to assume that if I helped my field staff and partners target and design funded projects well enough, and try to ensure a high quality of implementation and M&E, then it would result in sustainable programming. I assumed we would have moved our participants and partners toward projected long-term, top-of-logical-framework’s aspirational impact such as “vibrant agriculture leading to no hunger”, “locally sustained maternal child health and nutrition”, “self-sustained ecosystems”.

INTRAC nicely differentiates between what is typically measured (“outputs can only ever be the deliverables of a project or programme…that are largely within the control of an agency”) and what is not: “impact as the lasting or significant changes in people’s lives brought about by an intervention or interventions”.  They continue: “as few organisations are really judged on their impact, the OECD DAC impact definition (“positive and negative, primary and secondary long-term effects produced by a development intervention, directly or indirectly, intended or unintended“) allows for long-term changes in institutional capacity or policy change to be classed as impact.”  Do we do this? Virtually never. 99% of the time we only evaluate what happened while the project and its results is under the control of the aid implementer.  Yet the five OECD/DAC evaluation criteria asks us to evaluate relevance, effectiveness, efficiency (fair enough, this is important to know if a project was good) and also impact and sustainability. So in addition to the prescription to evaluate ‘long-term effects’ (impact), evaluators are to measure “whether the benefits of an activity are likely to continue after donor funding has been withdrawn… [including being] environmentally as well as financially sustainable.” 

How do we know we are getting to sustained outcomes and impacts? We ask people on the receiving end ideally after projects end. It is dangerous to assume sustainability and impact, and assume positive development trajectories (Sridharan) unless we consistently do “ex-post” project evaluations such as these from our research or catalytic organizations that have done at least one ex-post. At very minimum we should evaluate projected sustainability at end of project with those tasked to sustain it before the same project is repeated. Unfortunately we rarely do so and the assumed sustainability is so often not borne out, as I presented at the European Evaluation Society conference Sustainability panel two weeks ago along with AusAid’s DFAT, the World Bank, University College London and UNFEM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will we ever know if we have gotten to sustained impacts? Not unless the OECD/DAC criteria are drastically updated and organizations evaluate most projects ex-post (not just good ones :)), learn from the results and fund and implement for country-led sustainability with the country nationals. We must, as Sanjeev Sridharan tells us in a forthcoming paper embed sustainability into our Theories of Change from the onset (“Till time (and poor planning) do us part: Programs as dynamic systems — Incorporating planning of sustainability into theories of change” (Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation, 2018).

There are remarkable assumptions routinely made. Many projects put sustainability into the proposal, yet most close out projects in the last 6 months. Rarely do projects take the time to properly phase down or phase over (unlike CRS Niger); many exit ceremonially ‘handing over’ projects to country-nationals, disposing project assets, and leaving only a final report behind. Alternatively, this USAID Uganda CDCS Country Transition Plan which looks over 20 years in the future by when it assumes to have accomplished sustained impact for exit. Maybe they will measure progress towards that goal and orient programs toward handover, as in the new USAID “Journey to Self-Reliance” – we hope! Truly, we can plan to exit, but only when data bears out our sustained impact, not when the money or political will runs out.

As OXFAM’s blog today on the evaluation criteria says, “Sustainability is often treated as an assessment of whether an output is likely to be sustained after the end of the project. No one, well, hardly anyone, ever measures sustainability in terms of understanding whether we are meeting the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own need” and “too often in development we evaluate a project or programme and claim impact in a very narrow sense rather than the broader ecology beyond project or programme parameters.”  In fact, most ‘impact evaluations’ actually test effectiveness rather than long-term impact. Too rarely do we test impact assumptions by returning 2-10 years later and gather proof of what impacted locals’ lives sustainably, much less – importantly – what emerged from their own efforts once we left (SEIEs)! Oh, our hubris.

if you’re interested in the European Evaluation Society’s DAC criteria update discussion, see flagship discussion and Zenda Offir’s blog which stresses the need for better design that include ownership, inclusivity, empowerment. These new evaluation criteria need to be updated, including Florence Etta’s and AGDEN‘s additional criteria participation, non-discrimination and accountability!

We can no longer afford to spend resources without listening to our true clients – those tasked with sustaining the impacts after we pack up – our partners and participants.  We can no longer fund what cannot be proven to be sustained that is impactful. We talk about effectiveness and country ownership (which is paramount for sustainability and long-term impact), with an OECD report (2018) found “increases [in[ aid effectiveness by reducing transaction costs and improving recipient countries ownership.” Yet donor governments who ‘tie’ aid to their own country national’s contracts benefit a staggering amount from ‘aid’ given. “Australia and the United Kingdom both reported … 93 percent and 90 percent of the value of their contracts respectively went to their own firms.”  It is not so different in the USA where aid is becoming bureaucratically centralized in the hands of a few for-profit contractors and centralized hundreds of millions in a handful of contracts. We must Do Development Differently. We can’t be the prime beneficiaries of our own aid; accountability must be to our participants; is it their countries, not our projects, and we cannot keep dangerously assuming sustained impact. Please let us know what you think…

Public and Private paths to Sustained Global Development Impacts

Posted by on Sep 10, 2018 in Aid effectiveness, ex-post evaluation, Failure, Funding, Impact, Impact Guild, impact investing, International aid, Learning, M&E, SDGs, Sustainability, Sustainable development, Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluations (SEIE), Valuing Voices | 0 comments

Public and Private paths to Sustained Global

Development Impacts

(Reposted from: https://medium.com/@jindracekan/public-and-private-paths-to-sustained-global-development-impacts-9b7523891fce)

Six years. That’s how long ago I began researching proof of sustained impact(s) through its ex-post project evaluation. Until now Valuing Voices has focused on aid donors. We are expanding to the private sector.

 

In my PhD I was sure it was a lack of researched and shared proof of successful prevention of famine that led to inaction. In Valuing Voices’ research on ex-post project evaluation, I again felt “if only they knew, they would act”. I pulled together a variety of researchers and consultants who (often pro-bono, or for limited fees) researched the shockingly rare field evaluations of what was sustained after projects closed, why, and what participants and partners did themselves to sustain impacts.

 

Sustaining the outcomes and achieving impacts, are, after all, what global development projects promise. These ‘sustainable development’ results are at the top (or far-right, below) of our ‘logical frameworks’. We promise the country-level partners, our taxpayers and donors, that we will achieve them, yet…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have done six post-project Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluations. We have created checklists on ex-post project evaluability thanks to a Faster Forward Fund grant by esteemed evaluator Michael Scriven. We have created preliminary guidance on Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluations (SEIE) and shared 25 such ex-post closure evaluations that we found returned to ask participants 2-15 years after close-out in (one of?) the only database on such evaluations in the world. We have drawn valuable lessons from the evaluations throughout nearly 60 blogs and presented at 10 conferences. We have found that results at the end of project are dynamic, that there can be greater failure – or sometimes greater success – than we would ever expect in our project assumptions. We have found that communities can create ‘emerging’ outcomes, adapting the activities to succeed onward with no further donor funding, and that when we design for long-term sustainability with our partners, then remarkable success can ensue.  So many lessons for programming that we need to learn from, including partnering with country-nationals, focusing on youth, questioning assumptions at exit, etc.

 

We have applied to many grants for support, unsuccessfully, and have applied to evaluate a handful more ex-post sustainability evaluations which other consultants have won – while we were disappointed, in equal measure we are happy others are learning to do this, as we share our resources freely to promote exactly such practices across hundreds of thousands unevaluated projects! We are currently doing an ex-post project evaluation of an agriculture value chain in Tanzania, yet there are a handful done per year. At one conference, our discussant Michael Bamberger joked we were lucky not to be found dead under a bridge for taking on such a dangerous topic. We remain undeterred, and delight in colleagues we promote such work and thanking us for ours.

 

At the same time, several things have become apparent:

 

 

 

  • Vital lessons for how aid can do better remain unexplored, and true accountability to our country-national participants and partners ends when fixed-time, fixed deliverable project resources are spent and proof of accountability for money and results that donors want are filed away. Sadly, while capacity building is done throughout implementation, knowledge management about results is abysmal as ‘our projects’ data almost always dies quietly in donor and implementer computer hard drives after close-out, rather than being accessible in-country for further learning. Go partner!

 

  • We hardly ever return after all our evaluations to share with communities which speaks to ‘partnerships’ not being with the participants, and we often ‘exit’ without giving ample time to handover so that things can be sustained, e.g. local partners found, local and other international funding harnessed, etc. Learn together!

 

  • There is a real need to fund systematized methods for such evaluations, mandate access to quality baseline, midterm and final evaluations, and mandate that all projects above a certain funding level (e.g. $1mil) include funding for such evaluation and learning 2-10 years later. Many so-called ex-post evaluations are in fact either delayed final evaluations, desk studies without any fieldwork, rather methodologically flawed comparisons or with fieldwork which doesn’t talk to the intended ‘beneficiaries’ for such pivotal ground-level feedback. Innovate by listening!

 

  • It is unclear to us how any organization that has done an ex-post sustainability evaluation has learned from it and changed their systems, although we have been told some are ‘looking for a successful project to evaluate’, and that after a failed one, they are discontinued. We know of some (I)NGOs who are putting ex-posts into their new strategies, and two INGOs who are researching exits more – good. Be brave!

 

  • Recently, we are delighted some new NGOs are dipping their feet into their first evaluations of sustainability, they do so bravely. The tension between accountability and learning is heightened at the prospect that implementers and donors have failed to create sustained impact. But why judge them when all the design and systems in place are to reward success while projects are running (and even those don’t always show much) so that they all get congratulations and more funding for very similar projects? Who knows who is focused on sustaining impacts with funding capacities, partnerships and country-led design, implementing with feedback loops and adjusting for the long-term, helping communities evaluate us rather than how well they are fulfilling our targets, etc. Sustaining impacts will win you funding!

 

  • Logically, here are many indications among ex-post sustainability evaluations that profitable, but low-risk and diversified agriculture, microenterprise/ business projects are better sustained (Niger, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nepal, etc.). This does not mean that all projects need to be profitable, but cost-covering projects even in the health and education/ vocational training/ sectors is important as many of us know. Self-funding!

 

So rather than giving up on sustained impacts, we are adding another branch to the Valuing Voices tree.

 

My partners and I have extensively researched the need for and co-founded Impact Guild. We will work alongside NGOs and impact investors to foster:

 

  1. FUNDING: The money available from development aid donors is shrinking in volume + value, while development financing is scaling up exponentially.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The SDGs and the Paris Agreement are prompting a massive scale-up of development financing from billions to trillions of dollars into ‘sustainable development’, yet with rare Scandinavian and Foundation exceptions, donors appear to be switching from longer-term development to humanitarian aid. Further, despite decades of experience, international and national nonprofit development implementers are mostly absent in the conversation around scaling-up the flow of capital to achieve and sustain development goals. Exceptions are some in the International NGO Impact Investing Network (AMPLIFY)

2. RESULTS: Funding for projects that can show great results (e.g. Social Impact Bonds/ Development Impact Bonds, which are in fact pay-for-performance instruments), even sustained impacts from partnering with local small and medium enterprises, national level ministries, and local NGOs. Far too long, implementers have been able to get funding for projects with mediocre results; impact investors are raising the bar and even donors are helping hedge risk. This includes M&E ‘impact’ value that rigorously tracks results (savvy private-sector donors require counterfactual/ control group data, isolating results from that intervention).

3. LEARNING: Impact Investors have a lot to learn from non-profits and aid donors as well.

 

  • They talk about impact but too often that is synonymous with generic results, while International and National nonprofits (NGOs) have detailed, grassroots systems in place;
  • Most seem to be content – for now – to invest in the 17 Sustainable Development Goal areas (e.g. vetting investable projects by screening criteria of not only getting a financial return, but also by broad sectoral investments, e.g. poverty, hunger, climate etc.). Many claim they have affected change, without data to prove it. The SDGs are slowly creating indicators to address this, and investors also need to be brought along to differentiate between corporate efficiency activities for their operations and those that affect change at the output, outcome and impact levels in communities;
  • There are still large leaps of logic and claims among investors and some know that data is lacking to claim good grassroots targeting and actual results that prove they are changing hunger, poverty and other sectors in Africa, Asia, Latin Americ. Good development professionals would see that the very design would make results accessible only to the elite of that country (e.g. $1 nutrition bars are inaccessible to most of a country’s population living on income of $2.00 a day)
  • We will bring with us all we know about great potential sustained impacts programming, such as Theory of Sustainability, looking for emerging results alongside planned early onlearning from failure for success, partnering successfully for country-led development, etc.

    So keep watching these ‘spaces’: www.ValuingVoices.com and www.ImpactGuild.org for updates on bridging these worlds, hopefully for ever-greater sustained impacts. Let us know if you would like to partner!

Setting a higher bar: Sustained Impacts are about All of us

Posted by on May 16, 2018 in Accountability, Aid effectiveness, CGDev, Evaluation, ex-post evaluation, Feed the Future, Feedback Labs, foreign aid, impact investing, Impact Investors, International aid, international development, Local Participants, Participants, Participation, post project evaluation, post-project evaluation, Return on Investment (ROI), SALT, Sidekick Manifesto, SUSRoi, Sustainability, Sustainable development, Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluation, Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluations (SEIE), USAID, Valuing Voices | 1 comment

Setting a higher bar: Sustained Impacts are about All of us
Global development aid has a problem which may already affect impact investing as well.

It is that we think it’s really all about us (individuals, wealthy donors and INGO implementers) not all of us (you, me, and project participants, their partners and governments). It’s also about us for a short time.

 

All too often, the measurable results we in global development aid and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funded projects that last 1-5 years track and report data for two reasons:

1) Donors have Compliance for grantees to meet (money spent, not lost, and results met by fixed deadlines of 1-5 years – look at some of the European Commission Contracting rules) and

2) Fund recipients and the participants they serve are accountable to ‘our’ donors and implementers who take what happened through their philanthropic grants as ‘their’ results.

Both can skew how sustainably we get to create impacts. An example of such strictures on sustainability from USAID.  As respected CGDev Elliot and Dunning researchers found in 2016 when assessing the ‘US Feed the Future Initiative: A New Approach to Food Security?‘ the $10.15 billion leveraged $20 billion from other funders for disbursement over three years (2013-16). “We are concerned that pressure to demonstrate results in the short term may undermine efforts to ensure any impact is sustainable…. Unfortunately, the pressure to show immediate results can encourage pursuit of agricultural investments unlikely to be sustained. For example, a common response to low productivity is to subsidize or facilitate access to improved inputs… it can deliver a quick payoff… however, if the subsidies become too expensive and are eliminated or reduced, fertilizer use and yields often fall…..

With so much focus on reporting early and often about the progress in implementing the initiative, there is a risk that it increases the pressure to disburse quickly and in ways that may not produce sustainable results. For example, for 2014, Feed the Future reports that nearly 7 million farmers applied “improved technologies or management practices as a result of U.S. Government assistance,” but only 1,300 received “long-term agricultural sector productivity.” Are the millions of others that are using improved inputs or management practices because of subsidies likely to have these practices sustained? And how likely are they to continue using improved practices once the project ends?”

 

3) Impact investors stick to the same two paths-to-results and add a new objective: market-competitive financial  returns. They also need to show short-term results to their investors, albeit with social, environmental and governance results like non-profits (future blog).

4) Altruists create things we want ‘beneficiaries’ (our participants) to have. For instance a plethora of apps for refugees cropped up in recent years, over 5,000 it is estimated, which can be appropriate, nor not so helpful. Much like #2 above, ‘we’re’ helping ‘them’ but again, it seems to be a ‘give a man a fish’… and my fish is cool sort of solution… but do our participants want/ need this?

 

How often is our work-for-change mostly about us/by us/ for us... when ideally it is mostly about ‘them’ (OK, given human self-interest, shouldn’t changes we want at least be about all of us?).

All too often we want to be the solution but really, our ‘grassroots’ clients who are our true customers need to generate their own solution. Best if we listen and we design for long-term sustainability together?

 

As the Brilliant Sidekick Manifesto stated in two of its ten steps:
a)I will step out of the spotlight: Sustainable solutions to poverty come from within are bottom-up, and flow from local leaders who are taking the risks of holding their politicians accountable and challenging the status quo.”

b)I will read “To Hell with Good Intentions” again and again: Politicians, celebrities and billionaire philanthropists will tell me that I can be a hero. I cannot. The poor are not powerless or waiting to be saved. Illich will check my delusions of grandeur.”

 

We have examples of where we have stepped away and participants had to fend for themselves. At Valuing Voices, we’ve done post project-exit evaluations 2-15 years afterward. What did participants value so much that they sustained it themselves (all about them, literally)? These Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluations (SEIE) also give us indications of Sustained ROI (Sustained Return on Investment (SusROI) is a key missing metric. As respected evaluator Ricardo Wilson-Grau said in an email, “I think calculating cost-effectiveness of an intervention’s outcomes would be a wonderful challenge for a financial officer searching for new challenges — if not a Nobel prize in economics!”)

Most of these evaluations are pretty bad news mixed with some good news about what folks could sustain after we left, couldn’t and why not. (These are the ones folks expect to have great results, otherwise they wouldn’t share them!)  While most clients are understandably interested in what of ‘theirs’ was still standing, and it was interesting disentangling where the results were attributable by implementation or design or partnership flaws or something else, what was mesmerizing was what came from ‘them’.

The key is looking beyond ‘unexpected’ results to look at emerging impacts that are about ‘them’ (aka what we didn’t expect that was a direct result of our project, e.g. spare parts were no longer available to fix the water well pump once we left or a drought rehabilitation water project that decreased violence against women), to what emerging results are attributable not to use but only to our participants and partners who took over after our projects closed.  One example is a Nepalese project ended yet the credit groups of empowered women spawned groups of support groups for battered women. Another is a child maternal health project changed how it worked as women reverted to birthing at home after NGOs left; community leaders punished both parents with incarceration in the health clinic for a week if they didn’t given birth there (wow did that work to sustain behavior change of both parents!).

Many of us at Valuing Voices are shocked that funders don’t seem that interested in this, as this is where they not only take over (viz picture, sustaining the project themselves), but they are making it theirs, not oursImagine assuming the point of development is to BE SUSTAINABLE.

Source: Community Life Competence

Our participants and national stakeholder partners are our true clients, yet… Feedback Labs tell us Americans alone gave $358 billion to charities (equivalent to the 2014 GDP of 20 countries) – in 2014 but how much of this was determined by what ‘beneficiaries’ want? Josh Woodard, a development expert, suggests a vouchers approach where our true clients, our participants, who would “purchase services from those competing organizations… [such an] approach to development would enable us all to see what services people actually value and want. And when we asked ourselves what our clients want, we would really mean the individuals in the communities we are in the business of working with and serving. Otherwise we’d be out of business pretty quickly.”

This opens the door to client feedback – imagine if participants could use social media to rate the sustained impacts on them of the projects they benefited from? A customer support expert wrote in Forbes, “Today, every customer has, or feels she has, a vote in how companies do business and treat customers. This is part of a new set of expectations among customers today that will only grow ... you can’t control product ratings, product discussions or much else in the way of reviews, except by providing the best customer experience possible and by being proactive in responding to negative trends that come to the surface in your reviews and ratings stronger.”

So how well are we working with our participants for ‘development’ to be about them?

What do you think?

Investing in Youth for Project Effectiveness and Sustainability

Posted by on Apr 12, 2018 in Accountability, Aid effectiveness, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Demographics, ex-post evaluation, Feedback Labs, Mercy Corps, PCI, post-project evaluation, SDGs, Sustainability, Sustainable development, Youth, youth employment | 0 comments

Investing in Youth for Project Effectiveness and Sustainability

One out of every six people on earth is between the ages of 15-24, says the UN. That is 1.2 billion youth.  As one young leader says, “if the world’s problems are to be solved, it’s not going to happen without us.” Yet in 2015, the International Labor Organization said 73.3 million youth between 15 and 24 were unemployed. Not only do and an estimated 169 million young workers lived on less than $2 a day, 75 percent of youth workers are only informally employed.  In Africa alone, the UN estimates 200 million are such youth; not only does Africa have the youngest population in the world, this figure will double by 2045, but the largest numbers remain in Asia (IMF 2015). The World Bank has striking African and Asian demographics:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How often do we fund projects that are designed and run  by youth? How engaged are youth in sustaining the projects we have funded, designed, implemented, monitored and evaluated?  What have we in global development, including corporate social responsibility and investing spheres done to ensure that youth are both engaged in our projects, but are in the leadership to direct how they are done now, and sustaining them beyond donor departure? Further, how well are we collaboratively developing technology with them for them to use to thrive in this sped-up, high-tech world?

 

Valuing Voices youth blogs covered the barriers to youth success in the ‘developing world’ which included a lack of access to sufficient numbers of jobs, compounded by a lack of job-appropriate skills, access to capital, decision-making etc.  We heartily agree with the IMF that “youth have a huge stake in bringing about a political and economic system that heeds their aspirations, addresses their need for a decent standard of living, and offers them hope for the future…. [Also] that communities, cities, provinces, and countries can set up forums for the purpose of listening to the concerns and ideas of adolescents and young adults and stimulating change. Young people could be offered a voice in decision-making bodies…Inclusion can benefit all.”   

 

Why should we make this happen? Taking inclusive steps fosters sustained impacts long after we grow old.

 

As CRS Niger’s otherwise very successful Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluation of the food security project shows us, there is much room to grow in inclusion of ‘youth’ (up to age 35 in Niger), both by including youth:

  • The exodus of youth diminished during and after the project [by] using the same land to train 100 new vegetable farmers and trainers. Youth seasonal outmigration decreased due to increased food production, especially due to vegetable gardening even during the dry season, and increased knowledge of practices such as rainfed agricultural [practices] which kept youth locally employed.“
  • Youth, too, having learned [agricultural water-conservation] techniques, and generated income [even] while seasonally working outside the village.

Versus not engaging youth:

  • Although most committees are still functioning, there are no processes in place to engage and train youth and new inhabitants of the villages [in project activities after close-out]… … there are serious questions about how well they will be engaged and train youth and new members of the communities and how much will be transferred cross-generationally. This is pivotal given that 50% of Nigeriens are under the age of 15;
  • The [sustainability] problem was that [youth] were not elected or chosen for the [management] committees. This is another issue to flag in other projects interested in sustainability: the implications of selecting a limited number of elders to staff multiple committees than a broad array of young committee members that could grow into leadership positions. Given the youth’s overall dissatisfaction with group leadership, other projects need to be aware of “elite capture” and its potential threat to sustainability

 

Investing in youth is a terrific investment in sustainability. How often do we consider it?

A post-project example from Mercy Corps/ PCI’s early ex-post evaluation in Central Asia showed that such investments are not easy but can pay off after the project closed. “72% of youth report that they continue to use at least one skill they learned during the [infrastructure] program”… including teamwork and communication, sewing, construction, roofing, journalism and cooking.”  This may have been in part due to the project’s youth summer camps, organized each year to promote youth leadership and participation in community decision-making, which were supported by [some of] the adult population. While the project “encouraged communities to elect young people as representatives…within the cultural context this was not met enthusiastically by the communities because young people were not felt to be ‘qualified’ as leaders.” Yet inter-generational collaboration was fostered by the project by establishing mentoring programs where older people with technical skills mentored [some] young people during the infrastructural construction activities.”

 

Raj Kumar, Founder of Devex and chair for the World Economic Forum said this about what to do post-Davos: “With a dozen years to go before the finish line of the Sustainable Development Goals, we need to get the underlying plumbing right in order to have a chance to reach those goals. That plumbing includes everything from having the country-level data to track progress against the goals to having the project-level data to know what’s working and what’s not…. Most importantly, it’s about the development leaders of today building out the best systems so the development leaders of tomorrow can focus on delivery.”

What we at Valuing Voices are most encouraged by is the prospect of overtly considering sustained impacts to inform the funding, designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating of projects today for the adult millennials of tomorrow. Regarding youth, we will need a mix of focused initiatives such as longstanding work by the International Youth Foundation, and new investments funds such as the Global Youth Empowerment Fund and integrating youth into projects at all stages of the projects and beyond, as we showed regarding CRS and Mercy Corps/PCI, above.

That is one way to get SusROI (Sustainable Return on Investment).

As mother who has worked in 26 countries, I feel the great urge to harness youths’ yearning to succeed through their love of technology. The growth of mobile money in Africa is one example of technology use in daily life. Who is supporting youth employment in technology?  Mercy Corps’ 2017 Social Ventures Fund that supports “positive trends offered by technology. Trends in micro-work, micro-manufacturing, digital livelihoods and mobile-enabled agent networks are paving the way for the acceleration of a distributed and digitally enabled workforce and the reinvention of manufacturing, sales and distribution. Their investments related to youth employment are:

  • NewLight Africa – network of rural sales and customer service agents
  • Wobe – anyone with an Android phone in Indonesia can be a micro-entrepreneur
  • Lynk – job-matching platform
  • Sokowatch – network of urban sales and customer service agents

I dream of youth crowd-sourcing post-project sustained impact results.  Feedback Labs has a lot of really interesting tools for… feedback from people on the ground in-country. I searched high and low and found only this crowdsourcing data collection overview of three aid research tools for ICT4D (information and communications technology for development), the best of which appears to be Findyr. (FYI here is feedback on the limitations of crowdsourcing in emergencies.)

Also, the ‘impact tracking’ platform by Makerble looked good but who among you have a wider perspective to advise us what’s best?

Finding technologies and funding to hear youth’s voices and feedback on what they could sustain or could not after our projects closed, and why is unbelievably valuable to inform funding, design, implementation, M&E, and of course foster youth empowerment.  Good listening to participants comes first. As an impact evaluation in Uganda found that “when villagers and teachers, instead of school officials, are allowed to set their own priorities for improving schools and directly monitor performance, the results can be priceless. In Uganda, World Vision knew that community-based monitoring of school performance could help sustain improvements in education that building schools, supplying textbooks, and training teachers alone could not. They tried two approaches: the use of a standard scorecard with performance questions identified by education officials and development partners, and a participatory scorecard, where community members defined the issues they would monitor. A randomized controlled trial [RCT] revealed that the participatory scorecard delivered more than the standard scorecards. The participatory approach prompted higher efforts by teachers, as expected. But it also prompted higher efforts from villagers— local politicians learned more about their country’s education policies and what they could advocate for on behalf of their constituents, parents increased their support of schools by contributing to midday meals, and children found a forum to report teacher absenteeism and other factors that hurt their education. In the end, while the standard scorecard made little difference in school performance, the participatory approach improved attendance by teachers and students and helped raise student test scores.’”

By accessing mobile technology, ground-truthing project sustainability, given youth’s familiarity with technology and network-interconnected habits, I believe together we can cost-effectively democratize evaluations and help ‘development’ be ‘sustainable’. Collaborate with us!

Reblog: The Name of the Game is “Sustainability” but Does the Last Player Count?

Posted by on Mar 6, 2018 in Accountability, cambodia, civil society, disabled, international development, NGOs, Sustainability, Sustainable development, Youth | 1 comment

The Name of the Game is “Sustainability” but Does the Last Player Count?

by John Lowrie, Reblog from https://www.scribd.com/document/11621086/The-Name-of-the-Game-is-Sustainability-but-Does-the-Last-Player-Count-by-John-Lowrie

Today, it is obligatory to answer the question “how will your proposed activities be sustainable after the project?” Most of us dutifully play the game and repeat various sentences that describe the measures that “should” bring sustainability about. Then it is usually left at that. We all move on to the next project and donor. Seldom does anyone look back over the passing of many years to check to see if promise has turned in to reality. At best there may be an end-project evaluation which will say that planned outcomes are achieved and “likely” to be sustained. It would be a very brave evaluator to be more committed beyond that.

My question is why do we play this game? (I should add: apart from the obvious answer we need the donors’ money!) Sustainability is much more than a ruse in a game. It goes to the very essence of what kind of organisation we belong to; plus all the others with us whether staff, supporters or beneficiaries; how we originated and what are our real long- term plans?

Many NGOs are artificially created groupings of people, unlike the first ones last century that emerged as people on a mission to address specific issues that they felt strongly about. Latterly, NGOs are now lumped in to “Civil Society” which is another recent fashionable label in development jargon. This is despite many officials and even NGO workers in Cambodia having no idea that it is supposed to encompass more than NGOs, to embrace other groups such as the press, trade unions, etc.

Many NGOs have actually been started by or for charismatic individuals, tapping in to somebody else’s cause or source of funding, rather than part of a collective if not mass movement in its own right towards a common end. Sometimes, international departing NGOs promote them, as part of “exit-strategies” to demonstrate that they leave something behind to show for their good work and all the money spent. They may have even included a plan for it in their sustainability proposal write-up. In Cambodia the “gravy train” that accompanied

UNTAC, the massive international effort to bring lasting peace and democracy in the early 90s, spawned many. Some of these NGOs have been good and stood the test of time. Many have fallen by the wayside. Others have been co-opted by political interests. Few have proper accountable self-governance structures.

◄“It’s the money that matters”, but will these NGO beneficiaries, the final players, get what they need to be sustainable?

So how can they be really sustainable? What is driving them – apart that is from the obvious – money? It is true that many do good work. They often do work that local authorities should be doing. But, I ask, towards what end? For example “poverty alleviation” is not an end in itself; for it to be sustained it needs much more than the usual 1-3 year time-frames that donors favour for their projects. Yet the usual pattern is –identify your target groups, go there, pass on whatever to them, then move on (to the next ones). There are exceptions. Lutheran World Federation (LWF) expect to work for 10 or more years in their target communities before they “graduate” and begin a systematic staged withdrawal. Mostly, however, the projects end on time or soon after, the files are closed, and that is that, at least until next time.

Meanwhile NGOs try to source repeat funding or new funding, and the game rules dictate where and how they proceed. It is only by luck rather than design that there will be a true match between what they want to do and what the donor is willing to give the money for. Usually there is accommodation, most likely on the part of the NGO; indeed some big donors explicitly rule out comments, queries, and changes to their guidelines which become grails of holiness. The most desperate NGOs have to re-invent themselves; depart from their original mission, suddenly acquire new skills in often far removed fields to stay in the game.  I have seen an election-monitoring organisation become an agency to consult displaced families affected by a road-widening. I know of one local rural development NGO in one province become a pro-citizen governance campaigner in another. Adaptability and learning to diversify are good qualities, but when they cause such radical changes within an NGO, it cannot be re-assuring for sustainability.

The nature of what an NGO does and its underlying philosophy is therefore key to sustainability. Those NGOs created to work in the immediate post-conflict or disaster emergency relief periods are prone to short-term visions, and sometimes they leave legacies which handicap development such as “dependency” and even “easy-come-easy- go” attitudes when foreign money seems plentiful. Those NGOs born in the next phase, i.e., after emergency relief, the start of infrastructure reconstruction and restoring public services and the economy, can also be equally short-term in their vision. In fact they have an inherent flaw. If they succeed, they do themselves out of a job and few want that as it would mean no future jobs and income! Even the Cambodian Government, despite an addiction to foreign aid, now maintains that some have overstayed their welcome.

These NGOs tend to be “welfare” or “service-provision” providers. They are confident in their abilities “we know best” but are they committed to passing their best skills and knowledge on and to the right people to take progress forward without them?

Cambodia is not alone in that politics plays a big part. The ruling party now has a 73% majority in the National Assembly, holds 98% of the 1,629 Commune Council Chiefdoms and 70% of Councillors. As the national and commune members form the constituency for the Senate, Provincial, and District Authorities, the party is guaranteed monopoly control. The situation is not helped by the absence of a neutral civil service or public service – in fact it is mystifying that UNTAC and every international donor has not tried to cultivate one. So we are left with what we have; we are where we are. It means that sustainability will only follow if we accept that reality. We have to engage constructively with the powers-that-be; we have to find the best people we can to work with, and through them, reach out to others. If not, eventual opposition or just plan lack of good will and support will affect the final outcome. Authorities always outlast NGOs, at least in Cambodia they do!

Cambodia did not have a good start when NGOs first came on the scene. Many of the first NGOs were human rights activists needed at that time and to a certain extent now, to expose calamitous treatment meted out to victims. Unfortunately this profile, still high in perceptions, has made many in power believe that this is only or mainly what NGOs do and stand for1. The legalistic approach to human rights where abuses are reported, perpetrators identified, and “name, blame shame” attached, cannot be a development tool in the sustainability tool-kit. It must be separated out and equally important alternative human rights approaches such as “rights-based development” which arouse less hostility co-exist with similar enthusiasm and means. NGOs and civil society will never have sustainable activities while their undoubted overall positive contribution gets little or no recognition by the people that count most when it comes to change.

NGOs are agents of change, which if mishandled does lead to suspicion, so to achieve change, NGOs must be clear in their message to persuade all (or a majority) that their change is worthwhile. If a long-term, wide cross-section commitment towards that change is not implanted, it is not sustainable. Too many development initiatives in Cambodia have resulted in temporary change. The “status-quo” reverts soon afterwards. In some cases the change is only tacitly accepted “take their money”, “go along with them” but “once they have gone, we go back to how we were, OK?” This is the opposite of sustainability.

There have to be contextually appropriate solutions, which can only be country-by- country, culture-by-culture. We should not have to operate on the basis of big international donors with their “one-size-fits-all” development policies and calls for proposals that allow just one format (theirs) that automatically favours the big international NGOs. They have their professional fund-raisers, who can knock out proposals that score high marks in the assessment/evaluation boxes, without many of the authors and assessors concerned ever going near the intended target beneficiaries! Yet be under no doubt, the words they pen and peruse answer beautifully on how such beneficiaries were involved, but who ever checks?

I may not be a good team-player in the present development game, so what am I suggesting as an alternative? First of all I would like to see fewer NGOs, ones which are smaller, more self-contained, and manageable to operate country-by country, sector-by- sector, region-by-region. They need to have good links to others elsewhere for best practice to be shared, but their core mission needs to be focussed to bring about certain defined changes; with the right people and the resources they need, and in the fullness of time. Therefore 5 years is an absolute minimum and asking for “core costs” to be provided should not be regarded as a mortal sin, as it tends to be with most donors. It has to be allowed, to be seen as value for money, and though indirect, still an essential element in bringing about that change. If not, how can sustainability be served?

Ironically, it is only with core support or independent means, that NGOs can play the game, so again favouring the big players. How else does an NGO cover its costs in preparing bids to donors? For example after UK-DfiD released their worldwide Global Transparency Fund in 2008, 450 organisations applied, and just 38 succeeded. Even a recent in-country release by UNDP for environmental projects attracted no less than 67 applications, of which just 13 won out. This means that for 412 in the DfiD case and 54 in the UNDP case who had devoted considerable effort, on top of their normal work, the process ultimately proved to be a waste of time; to be disappointing and especially for local NGOs to be discouraging.

I have two (NGO) organisations in mind while writing this article. Neither conforms to the pattern I criticize. They are different and I am not the only one to think that they are better. Both have poor disabled people as their target beneficiaries.  One is in sports. The other is in poverty alleviation/new livelihoods or careers and self-advocacy. Both are now purely local NGOs, with none of the trappings or spending power of the big international players that dominate the disability sector. In fact neither has anything like a long-term future, because of funding gaps, and so a lot of their work, despite excellent results so far, cannot be said to be sustainable. If they go out of business too soon, how will their beneficiaries stay involved, if sustainability is to be realised eventually?

Local NGO “Cambodia National Volleyball League Disabled2” is the sports one. Most interestingly, it is taking a route party by choice, partly by necessity, towards the private sector or “corporate social responsibility” funds in its hope to realise sustainability. CNVLD has earned a worldwide reputation for transforming the self-esteem of disabled athletes. They actually enjoy high standing on the world stage unlike their “able-bodied” compatriots. They play volley-ball, pursue wheel-chair racing and some athletes may well qualify for the 2012 London Paralympics, even if there may be no money to support them to go and compete there.

◄Disabled Sports Athletes of NGO CNVLD playing the game at its best – but do they have a future?

Now CNVLD’s quest is to raise such money and cover their modest (compared to INGO) costs. Yet this laudable aim is treated with derision by some in the sector. Pursuing private funding is viewed as an anathema to many who see it as contradictory to the “not- for-profit” concept. Does this make sense? Does such obstruction make for sustainability? Is it a sin not to want to depend solely on the usual institutional sources of funding? One critic is interesting. It has in its mission that all its services to beneficiaries must be provided free. No charges whatsoever must be levied even for those who can afford to pay! In Cambodia, everybody pays, even when services are supposed to be free3. Even if a direct charge is not levied, recipients expect and are expected to show their gratitude4, and do so especially the poorest who see it as an inescapable obligation. Surely sustainability means (a) people who can afford to pay should do so, and (b) NGOs who can attract funding and not depend on taxpayers’ money should be welcomed5?

The second organisation, New Horizons Society6, is not as lucky as CNVLD, as they cannot go down the route of sponsorship which is an accepted feature of sport. This is an NGO that did localise from an INGO but on their own terms. They voted against joining another national body created by and favoured by the big international disability NGOs. Over 200 of their Focus Persons (Group Leaders) voted in a secret ballot to form their own NGO in order to stay true to their close-knit grassroots upwards origins and growth. Now they have 3,175 members in 135 self-help groups federated up to provincial level and going on to the national stage. They have remarkable accomplishments in creating new livelihoods for their [once] ultra-poor members and have accumulated over $130,000 in revolving funds. Individual lives have been transformed. One boy has gone from beggar in the market to national singing celebrity. One young man went from lonely at home; never seen a computer; no English, to being one of today’s high-flying geeks. His class-mate, from a similar start, went on to become the Publicity Officer for CNLVD and to lead her own troupe of dancers in the NHS Child Advocacy Group performing at international conferences.

◄NGO Child Advocates demonstrate “We can do” but will donors let them?

The 135 groups went from fear of talking to officials to successful advocacy. They started with the right to education and health-care for disabled youngsters, and once they were confident went on to persuade ministers to take action to stop their meagre pension rights being denied to them. These people chose not to ask for pity, or welfare, or for service provisions to be given to them.  Instead they ask simply for the chance to show that “they can do” and that they can be self-sufficient when given the opportunities and means.

Their problem is that they cannot do this for all members yet, let alone go on to include others in the same fate as they once were. Yet despite their accomplishments, right now they can only win project activity funds. Donors refuse to pay more than 20% for running costs. Some specify as little as 5%. That does not even cover the running costs of their multi-purpose centre where meetings, training, sports, dancing, computer classes etc., go on. It may stretch to pay modest salaries to 2 or 3 staff, but they have to depend on consultant/advisors like me to help them voluntarily. Their entire organisation is radically different from the familiar set-up to be seen in international disability, donor and development organisations. There is not an air-conditioner, land-cruiser, or voucher paying university fees of expatriate’s children, etc., in sight. Yet despite its low cost and high yield, it is not yet sustainable within the present rules of most donors. If it can get over its current shortfalls and continue to build the revolving funds in to a sizeable trust or investment fund, with many members whose incomes have grown sufficiently able to subscribe fees to run their organisation, then they may have an independent viable future. But is there a donor who can adopt such a long-term vision; who will give enough to meet the real needs they identify, and who will then stay the course even when inevitable setbacks happen on the way?

So finally sustainability should be expressed in one simple notion and by the last player. It should be a measure of the change made in individual lives and over life-times of beneficiaries and their families. They are the last players in the game – who else but them can make that assessment? The present game means that it is the other players that have most say. They arrive on the scene much earlier; play in their own compact time-frames, and to their own rules. Then as external entrants, they depart the scene as soon as they can. Sustainability?

_____________________________________________

Footnotes:

1 The perception is not helped by the limitations of the Khmer language. When the word “advocacy” was first introduced “tasumateh” was used, literally “to struggle for” associated with confrontation, not partnership, and so it was viewed by many as an alien Western concept.

2 info@standupcambodia.net or www.standupcambodia.net

3 Understanding pro-poor political change:the policy process Cambodia by Caroline Hughes and Tim Conway, Overseas Development Institute, 2003 – DfiD Publication.

4 It is this “tradition” that is at the heart of a current dispute within the UN-backed Khmer Rouge

Trials, where Cambodian staff are alleged to have paid a proportion of their salary to officials with a role in their appointment.

5 Subject of course to disclosure and transparency.

6 nhs@camintel.com or www.newhorizonsunlimited.org

 

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