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?
What can we learn from Ex-Post Evaluations?
In trying to learn more about sustainable development solutions, the first place to look for information is in ex-post evaluations, also commonly called post-project evaluations, which are conducted by either development organizations themselves or by independent external evaluators. Unlike final project evaluations, which are completed at the time of a project’s conclusion to assess whether or not it has achieved its intended goals, an ex-post evaluation is conducted in the years after a project’s official end date – maybe one, three, or five years after the fact. An ex-post evaluation is a highly valuable tool for determining not just how successful a development project may have been after resources and international funding were withdrawn, but rather the long-term sustainability of the outcomes for the community members who were being ‘developed’.
With the seemingly obvious necessity for ex-post evaluations to gaining a better understanding of both positive and negative development practice, I was surprised by how hard it was to actually find any. Some organizations are diligent about conducting post-project evaluations and documenting the results for future reference, namely the development assistance organization Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which has an extensive reference database to search its ex-post evaluations. However, this is certainly not the norm (yet), or if organizations are conducting ex-post evaluations they are not making the information widely available to the public. My research process included search terms such as, “ex-post evaluations by international development organizations”, “post-project evaluations”, and “impact evaluations.” In using these generic search terms, I was only moderately successful in finding helpful evaluations for my reserch, which suggests the need for more readily accessible information to the public about development outcomes.
We also found that some organizations had completed these evaluations, but they were at times too vague to obtain much useful information from. Out of about 10-15 evaluations that we found so far, there were only around 7 that were clear and organized enough to include in my table of summaries. (My search was limited to projects that were conducted predominantly at the community level, rather than at the municipal or state level.) The variable quality of these evaluations has a negative impact on their usefulness – if an ex-post evaluation is in an unsearchable format or doesn’t follow a fairly standardized organization, how will it be able to inform future projects efficiently? Additionally, it would be much easier for project coordinators to learn from past projects, and even other organizations, if there existed a more accessible and methodical database to make searching for ex-post evaluations simple. Despite these challenges, I have included five different evaluations from my preliminary research with which I was able to compare results for a better understanding of how to achieve sustainable project outcomes. The framework used for analyzing these evaluations considered:
- The sector of the development project (i.e. food security, poverty reduction, agricultrual development);
- the implementing organization and the evaluating organization (if it was different);
- the dates and gap between the project and the ex-post evaluation;
- the project objectives;
- specific ex-post evaluation methods;
- the positive/sustainable outcomes;
- the negative/unsustainable outcomes;
- the transfer to authorities;
- the amount of money invested overall;
- and the level of local participation.
The five evaluations analyzed include:
For a full summary of these evaluations, please see the Ex-Post Evaluations Summary Table. Here, are brief synopses of the most pertinent information for the above framework of analysis, and the table provides a better context for our conclusions.
Here are the key findings from the various ex-post evaluations that we found to be most significant:
- Over 18 million USD were spent on the five combined projects, but most projects did not explicitly enumerate how many people/households were impacted by the individual projects. An exception to this is the project in Mauritius, which reported reaching around 3,500 people. Without understanding the scale of the program, it is difficult to compare projects directly to one another.
- Mercy Corps’ MILK Project in Niger was inclusive and participatory in its ex-post evaluation process, which resulted in hard data that can easily be analyzed, compared, and learned from in future projects. In addition, this evaluation utilized a unique pictoral tool developed specifically to include all project participants in the feedback loop, despite widespread illiteracy, so that every individual had the opportunity to provide their insight on project impacts.
- JICA’s Ethiopian agricultural development program involved community participation in the project from the earliest planning phases, with 100% of members reporting that they had “participated” or “actively participated” in the process. This resulted in feelings of greater personal ownership of the project, and heightened local understanding of their responsibilities.
- Evaluations that included direct community feedback in their analyses were by far the most helpful when trying to determine sustainability. For instance, in JICA’s Agricultural Development Project in the Kambia District of Sierra Leone there was no mention of local level involvement throughout any of the stages of project planning, implementation, or evaluation, which could have influenced why the project only “somewhat” achieved its objectives
- Projects that have flexible agendas, willing to change with the changing needs of the population during the planning/implementation phases, are viewed positively by the developing community and achieve more successful outcomes. This willingness to adapt was what characterized the project in GVC OLNUS Argentine Puna. Considering the true, up-to-date needs of the community allowed for greater local participation that enabled the strengthening of local autonomy (and thus, sustainability).
- None of the project evaluations provided a breakdown of how successful budget allocation was. The JICA projects included a breakdown of the overall budget into equipment and local costs, however despite some evaluations noting who provided certain funding, none mentioned if parts of the budget were inefficiently used. We believe it would be helpful to include not just how much money was invested in a project, but also how much of that budget either prompted direct growth or failed to produce an effective outcome.
Local community members are often referred to as ‘beneficiaries’ in the development process, yet they are the ones who governments, NGOs, and multilateral organizations are trying to empower through their various socioeconomic development missions. So, when we need to understand what worked with a project, and as importantly what didn’t work for a project, it is the voices of the community that need to be heard. A lot of great work is being done in international development, but it is clear that after her initial research that ex-post evaluations are essential to determining project sustainability and that projects that propose community-level development must also take the time to directly involve those community members in their own evaluation process. This feedback loop has the power to inform and influence future projects, while also creating the opportunity to actually listen to what participants (not beneficiaries) can sustain for themselves to achieve a better life.
Where have you found feedback loops that work? What excellent programming can you share?
 Nishimaki, R., Kunihiro, H., & Tahashi, S. (2008, July 8). Evaluation Result Summary: The Project for Irrigation Farming Improvement. Retrieved from https://www.jica.go.jp/english/our_work/evaluation/tech_and_grant/project/term/africa/c8h0vm000001rp75-att/ethiopia_2008_01.pdf
 Kumagai, M., Otsuka, M., & Sakagami, J. (2009, September 26). Evaluation Result Summary: The Agricultural Development Project in Kambia in the Republic of Sierra Leone. Retrieved from https://www.jica.go.jp/english/our_work/evaluation/tech_and_grant/project/term/africa/c8h0vm000001rp75-att/ethiopia_2008_01.pdf
 The Improve Group. (2012, December). Post Project Evaluation of Mercy Corps’ MILK Program in Niger: Examining Contributions to Resilience. Retrieved from https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/read/35930718/niger-milk-post-project-evaluation-final-report-mercy-corps
 Proatec SRL. (2013, March). Ex Post Evaluation of Projects Managed by NGOs in Argentina. Retrieved from https://www.oecd.org/derec/italy/Evalutation-of-Projects-Managed-by-NGOs-in-Argentina.pdf
 International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). (1997, August). Small-Scale Agricultural Development Project – Ex-post Evaluation. Retrieved from https://www.ifad.org/en/web/ioe/evaluation/asset/39828071