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!
What happens after the project ends?
Lessons from post-project sustained impacts evaluations (Part 1)
We talk a lot about impact of our interventions, but far less is analyzed about the sustained impact of our work in the years after projects close out. We take for granted that successful strategies will continue after projects shut down. Do they always? Maybe they do but we don’t know. Maybe there are innovations and impacts to be learned from…
To answer these question Valuing Voices spent 2 ½ years looking for and analyzing ‘post-project’ evaluations of projects undertaken 2-10 years after projects ended. The result: in our $137 billon international development industry, some 99% of projects remain unevaluated after project close out . Only 17 agencies we have found so far have publically available post-project evaluations; most of them have one, while the OECD and JICA have dozens. Hundreds of studies recommend such learning that is missing from our industry’s program cycle (green slice).
Six decades on, this astonishing finding raises serious questions about stewardship of resources and commitment to learning—particularly learning from participant and partner stakeholders for whom sustainability matters most, and who are tasked with it over the long-term.
A review of post project evaluations generate food for thought about good program design and illustrate the value added of post project perspectives. This rapid review of select ‘ex-post’ evaluations points to three early lessons:
How we do it matters for great results
Expect unexpected results
Who takes over? Country Nationals
First, organizations go back to see how well their projects results were sustained. What we learned was that how well they used participatory processes in how they implemented and handed over mattered a lot for sustainability and that we must expect unexpected results.
How we do it matters for great results
1. Catholic Relief Services/ USAID PROSAN food security project in Niger
Valuing Voices evaluated this food security (agriculture, health and resilience project in 2015 which ran from 2007-2012 (report forthcoming). The $32 million project was implemented in a consortium of CRS, CARE and Helen Keller but this evaluation focused only on CRS areas.
- Interviews with over 500 participants found that three years after project closeout, 80% of project activities still continued, as did many village committees and there were a variety of community innovations 
- On average, households can feed themselves through their own production or purchase of food for 8-12 months three years after closeout compared to 6-9 months at closeout three years earlier. Such impact was unexpected. 
- 91% of respondents reported improved household health, hygiene, and nutrition 
- A 2.5-year participatory exit process from CRS to country stakeholders (local government, an array of local and international NGOs and the private sector ensured continuity and boosted local ownership 
- 20% of the activities did not continue, mostly food-assisted NRM and resilience-related 
- Youth make up 50% of the population and need to be engaged during the project for long term sustainability to occur. 
2. PartnersGlobal (formerly Partners for Democratic Change)
Their mission is to “to build sustainable capacity to advance civil society and a culture of change and conflict management worldwide” uses an approach 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.” They went back and to review 55 case studies of projects through 22 centers they founded in central and eastern Europe from 1989-2011. They found:
- In 80% of cases, there was advancement of good governance by influencing the participation of civil society working with government 
- In 50% of the cases there was increased access to justice and managing and resolving disputes/conflicts, thereby strengthening civil society 
- 18 of 22 of the centers that had been established still exist today (82%) .
3. Mercy Corps
They did a post-project evaluation in Central Asia in 2007, one and three years after two conflict resolution projects ended which were worth $18 million. These 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 [and] empowers communities to identify and utilize existing resources within the communities and not to depend only on external assistance.”
- 72% of youth report that they continue to use at least one skill they learned during the programs (e.g. teamwork and communication, and skills such as sewing, construction, roofing, journalism and cooking) 
- 68% of community members witnessed local government becoming more involved in community activities after the end of the programs as compared with before the programs 
- 57% of the communities studied continuing to use one or more of the decision-making practices promoted during the program 
- 42% of members, representing 70% of communities, reported that the community had worked collectively on new projects or repairs to existing infrastructure. Participants and partners had implemented almost 100 infrastructure projects by themselves independent of donor funds. 
These are terrific expected results.
We also learned to Expect unexpected results
4. Federation of the Red Cross and Ethiopian Red Cross
Valuing Voices combined a final evaluation of “Building Resilient Community: Integrated Food Security Project to Build the Capacity of Dedba, Dergajen & Shibta Vulnerable People to Food Insecurity” that had funding over $3 million in 2009 from the Swedish Red Cross with an assessment of projected sustainability. It was an IFRC/ERCS collaboration with the Ethiopian government to provide credit for food security inputs to 2,259 households, which were to be repaid in cash over time as well water and agriculture/ seedlings for environmental resilience. We answered the DAC criteria for evaluation and found the project overall to be quite good, albeit with weak data tracking systems.
In terms of sustainability, we used participatory methods to learn about what people felt they could self-sustain once the project left their area, so we could shape a similar follow-on project design to be moved elsewhere in Tigray, particularly around the credit for animals.
- While 87% of the loans had been promoted by the government and given for large animals (oxen and cows), and 13% was for small animals (sheep, goats, chickens)…
- But project participants we interviewed, strongly preferred the small animals in terms of being able to sustain them on their own. They felt they could afford these smaller amounts of credit as well as the feed to sustain them, without taking the risk of animal death leaving them with large debt. This was especially true for women, who preferred poultry to all other animals 15:1.
In our quest for fast results, are we asking participants to bear too much risk? As one of our Valuing Voices team asks, Who is responsible for sustainability?
5. Lutheran World Relief
From 2005-2007 Lutheran World Relief intervened in Niger, the world’s poorest country, with a $500,000 Pastoralist Survival and Recovery Programme (ARVIP) drought rehabilitation project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. There were numerous outcomes from targeting sheep, wells and animal fodder to 600 of the poorest women in 10 communities in northern Niger, among them:
- Women’s share of household income increased from 5% to 25% in some households. This was due to the value of the sheep grants, as well as time-savings used for income generation. Access to wells in five of the villages saved women a staggering 7-10 hours every other day from not having to go fetch water 3.5 hours away each way for household and animal needs and were free to weave mats or cook food for sale 
- Many said they didn’t have to resort to worse survival strategies during the next hungry season after they received the sheep 
What was not expected were these results:
- Many women in several villages reported an impact that was completely unexpected to the implementer and donor which was “our husbands don’t beat us anymore” . This was thanks to both increased respect and income from the sheep as well as access to well-water which led to cleanliness and their ability to be home for their husbands, children and mothers-in-law, rather than fetching water whole days 2-3 times a week. The same was found in PACT’s WORTH empowerment and village banking project in Nepal that wrote, “one in 10 reported that WORTH has actually helped “change her life” because of its impact on domestic violence” .
- We defined success too narrowly. Many interviewees were content with the project even though prospects for project-expected drought resilience or sustained food security were less likely. Some women sold the sheep to buy food, pay their children’s school fees or their daughters’ dowries, while some had their sheep sold by their husbands who used them to buy other animals, pay for ceremonies or other expenses. Participants saw the project as bringing them resources and considered it a success. Spending assets on immediate needs is not at all illogical for a community who can feed itself only 4 months a year; for some households, their pressing needs far outweighed the luxury to wait and buffer seasonal food insecurity far down the line.
We hope you agree that allocating funds and attention to post-project sustained impacts evaluations is necessary for the remaining 99% of international development projects as it offers a fantastic learning opportunity about how to ‘do development’ well now and for the future. Without returning to look for what participants and partners valued enough to continue on their own, without returning to learn about unexpected sustained impacts, we rob ourselves of pivotal learning needed for success.
In part two, we look at ownership onward, planning for handover and lessons from who takes over? Country Nationals. In part three, we focus on Funding, Assumptions and Fears.
Please join us in advocating for this! Please think about your own projects… and whether you have considered these things, or need our help. We’re listening!
 OECD. (2015, December 22). Detailed final 2014 aid figures released by OECD/DAC. Retrieved from http://www.oecd.org/dac/stats/final2014oda.htm
 Cekan, J., PhD, Kagendo, R., Towns, A. (2016). Participation by All: The Keys to Sustainability of a CRS Food Security Project in Niger. Retrieved from https://www.crs.org/our-work-overseas/research-publications/participation-all
 Carstarphen, N., PhD. (2013, November). Sustainable Investment in Local Capacity for Democracy and Peace: A Global Evaluation of Partners for Democratic Change. Retrieved from https://www.partnersglobal.org/resource/sustainable-investment-in-local-capacity-for-democracy-and-peace/
 Westerman, B., & Sheard, S. (2007, December). Sustainability Field Study – Understanding What Promotes Lasting Change at the Community Level. Retrieved from https://reliefweb.int/report/world/sustainability-field-study-understanding-what-promotes-lasting-change-community-level
 Cekan, J. (2013). Increasing women’s incomes, increasing peace: Unexpected lessons from Niger. Participatory Learning and Action, (66), 75-82. Retrieved from https://pubs.iied.org/G03661/
 Mayoux, L. & Valley Research Group (2008, June). Women Ending Poverty: The WORTH Program in Nepal – Empowerment through Literacy, Banking and Business 1999-2007. Retrieved from https://www.findevgateway.org/case-study/2008/06/women-ending-poverty-worth-program-nepal-empowerment-through-literacy-banking