Youth Series Part III: The Role of ICT4D (Information and Communications Technology for Development) in Empowering Youth

Youth Series Part III: The Role of ICT4D (Information and Communications Technology for Development) in Empowering Youth

Youth Series Part I here Factors Hindering Youth Participation in Development

Youth Series Part II here How Technology Enables Youth Participation

For international multilateral organizations that are funding billions of dollars annually for a wide range of initiatives aimed at improving the socioeconomic conditions in developing countries, the challenge these organizations should undertake is to ensure a youth-centric focus within their funding for programs. According to the Pan-African Youth Union, youth empowerment is defined as, “a structured process where young people gain the ability and authority to make real economic, social and political decisions. [They] believe this is the process that builds capacity to implement change, in young people, for use in their own lives, their communities, and in their society, by acting on issues that they define as important.

A key takeaway is that problems and solutions are best addressed when they are self-defined. The problem that has been most adamantly professed revolves around employment and educational opportunities for so many youth who feel that they are not adequately prepared for the demands of the modern labor market. As a result, we propose that international development organizations fill the institutional void that exists in many developing countries by focusing their programming on solving problems such as poverty, unemployment and education with what has also been identified as an empowering tool in the modern era: technology. The most comprehensive solution that involves all of these aspects is greater Information and Communications Technology (ICT) skills training, listening, and using this medium as one method for combating the development challenges youth face in today’s world.


By orienting many youth development initiatives towards ICT skills, there is no doubt that developing youth with have much greater advantages to propel their capacity to be prosperous members of society. This is because, “equitable access to information, knowledge (or know-how) and education is one of the most vital principles in the emerging global knowledge economy. ICTs are practical tools in narrowing knowledge gaps between countries, regions and also people by providing new frontiers in the areas of information exchange, intellectual freedom and online education.” Additionally, “in the knowledge era continuous education and training is the only way for job security, especially if the education and training is in ICT-related skills.” The role of international development organizations should be to enable this type of progressive skills training both just for such access but also as a means for listening to our clients through mobile, Facebook, Yammer, Twitter and other applications. Also by improving access to ICT education programs to youth cohorts, they are more competitive in a global market that is increasingly demanding of workers with advanced ICT skills.  These programs must tackle the “widening digital divide” between developed and developing countries to ensure a more sustainable and balanced development scheme.

To this point, the Executive Secretary of the United Nation Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Mr. Abdoulie Janneh, gave a statement at the 2011 African Press Organization (APO) forum themed ‘Accelerating Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development’, which highlighted the fact that human capital is key in facilitating growth, and with greater education and training the African youth can contribute more to development and growth for the continent. Nonetheless, he could not go without saying that, “several commitments, policies and programmes on youth education and employment have been prioritized at national, sub-regional and global levels to improve the livelihoods of young people in Africa. However, these initiatives have yet to translate into the desired outcomes. Thus, concerted and innovative efforts are still required especially at a time when the youth population continues to increase.” Again we see the trend that current policies have thus far failed to provide the circumstances necessary for youth empowerment to become realized in many African counties, which means development is happening too slowly for the millions of African youths who could be contributing invaluable skills to their societies – if they only had the means- and we were listening and funding their priorities!

An example of a good ICT4D training program is the Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) in Nigeria, which was a two-year program implemented by the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and Microsoft, to “to improve the employability of disadvantaged African youth in Nigeria between ages 16 to 35. The program, with support from Microsoft, worked with LEAP Africa and local partners to provide demand-driven training in information and communications technology (ICT), life skills, entrepreneurship and employment services.” Over two years, the program addressed the inadequacy of technical skills and lack of labor market information in the Nigerian youth by providing training to “improve the employability prospects of 2,500 young people throughout the country,” in an aim to place 70% of the program participants in jobs, internships, self-employment or community service opportunities with greater capacity in education and training. Six months after project completion, the project was evaluated by interviewing a sample follow-up cohort of 69 participants:

·      “All together, 55% of the respondents were employed, self-employed, participated in an internship or community service, or continued their studies after the training.” (This number is thought to be low, primarily because of the few employment opportunities in Bauchi, where the follow-up participants were from. This is typical in many cities where demand far outstrips employment opportunities)

·      “Over 78% of the respondents in the sample follow-up cohort confirmed that the ICT training had improved their employment prospects.” They indicated that this was because ICT skills are important selection criteria in the job market,” and there was also a significant increase in the follow-up cohort’s use of computers.

Unfortunately there was no data on employment that was using these new ICT skills; more data is needed to compare those trained versus untrained regarding employment using these skills used, and how much more ‘development’ was fostered by such trainings.   Yet given our dependence on technology, technical illiteracy seems a logical barrier. IYF has identified eight high-growth sectors for ICT-enabled youth employment, in fields such as, “Banking and Financial Services, Telecommunications, Information Technology, Oil and Gas, Education and Training, Media, Marketing and Advertising, Hospitality and Tourism, and Healthcare Services.”

The Arab Spring movements have proven that power in numbers and influence aided by the technological spread of ideas will not allow the youth cohort to be left behind in the push for development. Rather, they are demanding to be heard, and they are calling for greater capacity to be major contributors in their development goals. By funding ICT training programs that would allow youth to address the institutional weaknesses that hinder their demographic, international development organizations could find that the solution lies in shifting the goals of development towards sustainability – a sustainability that necessitates the empowerment of youth. By funding such training, youth can be heard, employed, and inform the development agendas for their countries.


We Value their Voices, and yours. What else is missing?

Partners For Democratic Change: Promote Capacity Building to Achieve Self-Sustainability!

Catalyst organizations are those whose focus is on implementing programs with community level involvement during projects and local feedback loops to inform post-project evaluations for impact self-sustainability. An excellent example of this is Partners for Democratic Change, whose stated mission is, “to build sustainable capacity to advance civil society and a culture of change and conflict management worldwide,” focusing on initiating democratic practices through an approach called Sustainable Impact Investing. The goal of this approach is to foster the capacity of in-country organizations to “deliver systematic change,” with a focus on development that, “is bottom-up, locally-led rather than foreign-led, based on the belief that change comes from sustainable efforts led by local people, organizations and institutions invested in their own long-term future.”

To implement this progressive and participatory vision for sustainable development, Partners’ founded 22 Centers for Change and Conflict Management between 1989-2011, initially in the regions of Eastern and Central Europe. They later expanded to other regions struggling with democratic sociopolitical change. Partners’ conducted its own ex-post evaluation that averaged the results of 55 case studies that led to positive significant outcomes. The takeaway resulted in three main sustainability lessons:

  1. “The importance of investing in local partners and building their capacity to promote democratic change;
  2. the most pressing development challenges facing the world need to be addressed in a participatory manner with the input and shared commitment of government, businesses and civil society, which requires local leaders with sophisticated skills in change and conflict management;
  3. and finally, the work of social entrepreneurs to make a difference in their own countries is strengthened and legitimated by technical and relational support from an international network of like-minded professionals facing similar challenges.”

With these objectives in mind, the greatest positive outcome that was observed occurred in almost 90% of the 55 stories. This outcome was that development and participation of civil society is most commonly achieved through, “education, training, mentoring, coaching, partnerships and coalition building, organizational development and capacity building, and creating and enabling environment that supports civil society development, such as passing NGO laws.” Further, in 80% of cases, there was advancement of good governance by influencing the participation of civil society working with government on the issues listed above, specifically free and fair elections, human rights protection, etc. Another 50% of the cases increased access to justice and managing and resolving disputes/conflicts, thereby strengthening civil society, and about 40% of the stories focused on promoting inclusive societies, improving majority-minority relations, and increasing leadership capacity for women and youth as agents for social change. The overall result of Partners’ efforts resulted in substantial impacts. Since 1991, the Centers have trained around 15,000 mediators and worked directly with more than 300,000 participants, benefitting an estimated total of 17.5 million people – and these are even considered to be conservative estimates. 22 total Centers had been established, and 18 still exist today with a success rate of 82%.

Yet the Centers still faced challenges, most notably in, “institutionalizing the processes they used to achieve results so that impact can be maximized and sustainable.” While the Centers effectively managed to implement collaborative and participatory methods to attain these successful outcomes, without the ability to institutionalize these processes in local communities and government institutions, the likelihood of sustainability is threatened.

Herein lies the importance of valuing local voices and participation, as it is clear that successful development initiatives depend on working with the community rather than on behalf of the community. Collaborative efforts between local participants and the international organizations that aim to enhance socioeconomic development in their communities results in both farther reaching and more sustainable outcomes than projects that ignore local feedback. Partners also does a great job bridging the objectives of building organizational capacity to sustain programming while also ValuingVoices of participants regarding how that capacity will be beneficial to them. There is an obvious need throughout the development community to follow the good examples made by Partners for Democratic Change in order to promote greater levels of participation on the path to sustainable development. 

Let’s start turning the oceanliner of development to dignified sustainability – today!

Let's start turning the oceanliner of development to dignified sustainability – today!

No time like the present, our participants are waiting for dignified development to fully arrive. Dignity is the "quality or state of being worthy of esteem or respect." When we design projects with communities with long-term self-sustainability as the core value, we are respecting them.

And we must start local. As Acumen Fellow Natalie Grillon says from Uganda: "Ask more questions, listen and learn.  I’m always trying to get better at listening to learn before I act so that my actions can lead to productive results based on consensus and conversations rather than assumptions. Don’t believe that you know the full story. The farmers for whom I work know their crop, know their land and know what they want."

She goes on to tell us how she stopped doing things for the project staff: " I could offer more in working alongside my colleagues to learn how to do new things together, like using a new database or thinking about ways to motivate teams… I could feel the sense of empowerment and excitement that could come from learning even a simple new thing and which only required a few minutes of our time" rather than just doing it herself for them.

This is what Valuing Voices is all about — seeing our participants as our true clients, as listening to what they want rather than designing development requests for proposal and even project proposals themselves in capital cities far from input by these very clients. Would any corporation in their right mind design without asking potential clients, without pre-testing and tweaking interventions before a full launch? Imagine how products would fare without marketing campaigns touting their benefits over other products? This doesn't happen often in development because participants are most often seen as 'price takers', grateful for what we offer, not matter if the fit is not perfect.  Such an approach is not only inefficient, it is deeply disrespectful.

On the other hand, there are successes to be seen along the lines of localizing development. In addition to successes found in my other blogs (see Plan, Mercy Corps, LWR and even PACT – forthcoming), Devex recently posted an article praising Nuru and Millenium Villages for "working to develop local leaders who will fully take over the various programs they’ve begun after the foreigners leave in two years… [using] the opportunity to build up local leaders and engage them in developing their own communities." Hallelujah! Devex says Munk's critique of Millenium Villages is that "Millennium violates two basic principles of good development: It’s not scalable and it’s not sustainable". Nuru believes "poor people hold the keys to their own development."

Absolutely! Not only should design and implementation center around community wants and capacities, there are all sorts of project activities that communities can help sustain themselves:

* Agriculture and livelihoods (income generation, micro-credit, marketing), 

* Natural resource management (climate-smart agriculture, reforestation),

* Literacy and numeracy.

While there are other things larger than communities that need ongoing external support for, how often are there referendums on what they would prioritize? The UN recently named 2014-2024 the sustainable energy decade and infrastructure such as roads, water systems as well as trade including the World Trade Organization's Doha Trade talks  for improve the trading prospects of developing countries are vital, how often have citizens been asked? Ashoka's Changemakers supports projects that create feedback loops (like our own in East Africa: 

Communities are deeply grateful for assistance yet they want to to have a voice, to steer the ship more themselves.  The Listening Project found that "agencies should slow down and take more time to understand people’s capabilities, priorities, preferences, and ideas… [participants] don’t want to have aid agencies to be more extractive in how they gather information. They want to be part of the decision making process of aid efforts. This goes beyond two-way communication and requires rethinking many of our assumptions and processes to find ways to truly collaborate and support those who are affected."

Among the project's 6,000 interviewees, some wondered "why no one seems to check on whether the assistance provided has made a positive difference in recipients’ lives. It is important for aid agencies to have processes and mechanisms to receive and provide feedback to communities and to be accountable for their actions—and particularly for any harm that has been done."

Yes! We need to help those projects such as Nuru whose farmers are supported in self-sufficiency, countries that support communities evaluating our projects, for a start.  That is the dignified life path to take as a development professional – as their peers. 

The ’causes and conditions’ are right for sustainable impact… $100 billion of funding needs it

The 'causes and conditions' are right for sustainable impact… $100 billion of funding in 2014 alone needs it!

Many of us know that when the time is right, things click into place and manifest, but when they are not yet ripe for change, they won't.  It is time to evaluate the sustainabilty of development programs; $20 billion of US assistance in 2014 and $80 billion of EU program assistance in 2014 alone.  Valuing participants voices for how sustainably this is spent depends on us. 

The Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda for Action are powerful statements by donor countries and recipient countries to share responsiblities as one inter-ministerial coordination site says:

Country-led development is the responsibility of both countries and development 
partners. A country, through its senior government leaders, and with input from development partners, civil society and other constituents, must articulate sound policies and advocate for them to become common priorities. Development partners must be willing to listen to and support those priorities. If both parties take a shared role and hold one another accountable, then a relationship built on trust emerges and the outcome is something everyone wants…"


Were the conditions not right for country-led development to appear, the push for strengthening national Monitoring and Evaluation Systems and  national evaluator capacity building could not have appeared.  Had we not reached a capacity to evaluate at least some projects with a deep desire to understand our impact, our community could not have begun powerful initiatives aimed at understanding impact evaluation – such as multiple-donor-suppored 3ie(albeit focusing on looking for impact within the 'box' of what we expect to see from our project activities). Had funding not appeared to manifest Paris through initiatives such as the New Partnership for Africa's Development (see blog on incentives) and research called Time to Listen (see blog on grassroots evaluation), we could not begin to see paticipants as our true clients and real partners for great programming.

Finally, were these all not present, I could not have put myself into the shoes of the Malian woman, looking across the breadth of our 52 year-long-lives. I imagined her seeing projects coming and going from her community, most doing good for the years they were there, but with none of them there long enough, or being designed to achieve what communities felt the sustained impact their projects should have. Until now, few asked her opinion on what activities helped her most and designed flexible-implementation projects that she kept informing with feedback based on what worked best amidst change. No one had asked her and her community to evaluate projects themselves, and tell us what they wanted, what had made them the most resilient and 'developed' to never need our assistance again. We can and must value the voices, ask 'her' during current implementation, at close out and long after projects end. The causes and conditions are right. Now.



Time is ripe for incentives to change….

Time is ripe for incentives to change….


There is so much promise now in returning international development to the hands of those who we mean to ‘develop’. Here are a few examples:


•Accountability has been proposed as a core feature of the new post-2015 development agenda, according to UNICEF.

•The UN’s 2011 Busan Declaration focused on improving sustainable development, aid effectiveness through international cooperation

•Major foundations (Rockefeller, Gates) are promoting participatory evaluation and program effectiveness (respectively), looking for long-term impact.

•An industry acceptance of how mobile technologies and knowledge sharing democratizes information and power, e.g. USAID’s mobile applications and the power of crowd-sourcing, evidenced by amazingly robust African applications of Kenya’s Ushahidi, and sectorally specific ones such as Ghana’s Esoko for agricultural value chains and Microplanet's microcredit, to name a few.


Many of us have come to sense that we’ve had the incentives wrong in development.  While many of us go into international development feeling the strong need to work with communities, to support their own path to sustained well-being, it doesn’t often work that way once we begin.   Following on another blog, we push ourselves to get more, do more, but we end up doing work for- or to- rather than with- our participants. Many of our projects still refer to them as beneficiaries (a more passive term was never coined). Many of our project timelines and result expectations are so rigid that there is no luxury to involve communities in the detailed design, implementation much less getting their feedback on how sustained impact of the project is likely to be (or how the project could be adapted to yield sustained results). 


This is not to say our projects don’t do good! We do. We train participants and transfer a dizzying array of resources to them during the 2, 3, 5 even 10 years we intervene. We work within often dysfunctional national systems with scant resources.  But how often have we built capacity for communities, regions and country-level nationals to continue doing development ‘right’ after we go?


Ironically, this lack of sustained capacity is in large part this is due to our deep desire to do it ‘right’. Right means getting as many resources out there as possible, getting to as many people as possible, getting as many projects done, and getting as many new awards for our firms to do more good as possible.  And therein lies the problem. In our desire to do things right for ourselves, we leave our participants behind.


And most egregiously, we stack the deck against sustainability from the start. The incentives are framed by the Requests for Proposals written in donor offices in Washington, London, Paris, Tokyo and even Beijing.  Today, USAID alone has 1075 opportunities on  Were these drafted with national governments, local community based organizations or communities? Unlikely.  Mostly these opportunities are informed by updated versions of past work, sometimes by new policy directions, possibly by new think-tanks research or international non-profit fieldwork, yet the country Missions, implementer offices or community-based organizations can only do so much to ‘fix’ things in the field to retrofit what communities may actually want to do specifically but what was not a priority in the RFP.  Having also been part of a few proposal development teams that wrote proposals answering RFPs based on little field research, this sadly exacerbates the original RFP-wasn't-drafted-in-country problem. It is again our lack of time, our rush to do good (including getting our overhead from projects to maintain our organizations) that is our barrier to actually doing it sustainably. With communities leading. 


But "times are a changing" and new incentives and directions are appearing at USAID such as IDEA's Local Solutions or PPL's Evidence Summit.  New opportunities have been used to engage countries in public-private-partnership agricultural livelihood collaborative programming such as via NEPAD's CAADP (and USAID's Feed the Future programs in a dozen countries). Combined with above-mentioned new funding for capacity building evaluation by Rockefeller Foundation, and new mobile technology ways to value and pass on grassroots voices are all promising. These provide ways to dramatically tweak incentives, to feed in local voices.  Hallelujah.  


What do you think? Are our incentives righter than I see? Are our Requests for Proposal actually mirroring more closely country-national desires for development their way? Please share your learning… so we can truly support their development their way. 

Mercy Corps – early leader in evaluating sustainability… and what donors are funding

Mercy Corps – early leader in evaluating sustainability… and what donors are funding

Mercy Corps shared their work in post-project sustainability early on, inspiring me it was possible. As they put it, "clearly, a sustained ability for collective problem solving offers the best path to lasting improvement in people's lives and, for donors, the best return on investment" in two conflict resolution projects in Kyrgyztan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan: Peaceful Communities Initiative $6.5 mil (2002-2007) and Community Action Investment Program $11.8 mil (2002-2005). These two projects were complex community mobilization programs with aims "to empower communities to work together in a participatory manner to address the infrastructure and social needs [while] developing sustainable skills in problem solving, consensus-building and accountability. The process also empowers communities to begin to identify and utilize existing resources within the communities and not to depend only on external assistance."

So what happened? Their report on sustainability in 2007 random-sampled and interviewed youth leaders and in community action groups, 55% of the communities and found promising results: 

According to the evaluation:

*93% of surveyed projects are still being actively used by the community after programs closed.

*73% of members of the community action groups (CAG) felt it was still easier to approach local government at least one year after the programs ended and 68% witnessed local government becoming more involved in community activities after the end of the programs as compared with before the programs [participants and partners had] implemented almost 100 infrastructure projects by themselves and independent of donor funds.

* 72% of youth report that they continue to use at least one skill they learned during the programs. Those cited most often include teamwork and communication, as well as practical skills such as sewing, construction, roofing, journalism and cooking

*57% of the communities studied continuing to use one or more of the decision-making practices promoted during the program.

* 42% of CAG members, representing 35 of the 51 communities, reported that the community had worked collectively on new projects or repairs to existing infrastructure

* In total, 40% of general community members interviewed reported that youth had initiated community activities since January 2007, and 68% of these community members recognized that some or all of the activities had not taken place prior to Mercy Corps’ program

This appears excellent! They interviewed youth and key local stakeholders (CAG), used country nationals to evaluate (both of which are wonderful as it is their country) and they distilled best practices in community mobilization in accessible reports shared within the international non-profit world via the web.  Quibbling only a little, a difficulty is that while the report states that they "I dentified factors that influence sustainability, through both positive examples and non-sustained projects and practices" our ability to learn from what didn't work was hidden.  Mercy Corps discussed what didn't work only by recommending what to do, rather than discuss the extent to which specific activities simply didn't work.  While focusing on the positive is the best path forward, ideally Mercy Corps would have also shared what failed, possibly why and whether they had seen this elsewhere (thereby suggesting such activities may not be promising to replicate). Further, what would be valuable is to gauge roughly the percentage of the program value these successes represented versus those that did not work well. Sucha cost-effectiveness ratio would benefit our industry.

Overall, such successful national-level capacity building and program effectiveness learning is terrific, and new focus may lead funding to follow. Two major foundations have lately said that they have an interest in supporting national capacity building and empowerment (Rockefeller) or cost-effectiveness (Bill and Melinda Gates), respectively.

More specifically, Nancy Macpherson of Rockefeller Foundation states the Foundation is "committed to evaluation practices that are rigorous, innovative, inclusive of stakeholders’ voices, and appropriate to the contexts in which the foundation works." This is done by "integrating the views of developing-region evaluators" as well as:

* "strengthening developing country evaluation practice and ownership of results…
* developing innovative methods and approaches to evaluation and learning…
* the empowerment of people; and
* the effectiveness of development interventions by national governments and international partners and, increasingly, by non-state actors—foundations, philanthropists, and agencies that promote investing for impact."

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation mentions cost effectiveness

* When evidence is needed to fill a knowledge gap or evaluate a significant policy decision. Evaluation can help to resolve uncertainty and determine the relative cost-effectiveness of different interventions, models, or approaches" (Gates) and

* Both quantitative and qualitative data are relevant in evaluating processes, operations, cost effectiveness, key stakeholders’ perceptions, and enabling contextual factors" (Gates)

USAID seems not to have done any ex-post evaluation since a single one on a Philiiipines loan in 1980, whereas parts of the EU seem to be doing many more such evaluations in agriculture and rural development (2002-06), industrial technologies (2009-11) as recently as 2013 for ICT.  Given the size of its portfolio of development assistance, $20.4 billion in development and humanitarian programs in fiscal 2014, learning about sustained impact seems imperative from a return on investment (ROI) perspecive.

Supporting national capacity and evaluating programs' return on investment is pivotal. In Mercy Corps/ USAID's funding case alone, this comes to over $18 million dollars.  But Mercy Corps paid for this evaluation themselves, from private funds. If we are in the process of fostering country-led and eventually country-financed development, they need to know how much such investments get them – as we do.  

Does anyone know of such great program learning that begins to teach about return on investment? Can you share?