Making money– is this a way to sustainable livelihoods? PACT’s Nepalese Lessons

 

Making money– microenterprise– is this a way to sustainable livelihoods? PACT’s Nepalese Lessons

 

Many Americans are steeped in the belief that we must ‘pull ourselves up by our bootstraps’, that hard work and especially faith in small businesses is the way to success. This is one of the many reasons why microfinance so appeals to donors as an investment. Does it work?

The US NGO-umbrella, Interaction, posted some “Aid Works” global results, including “the percentage of USAID-funded microfinance institutions that achieved financial sustainability jumped from 38% in 2000 to 76% in 2012.” Yet there have been numerous detractors of the model and the unsustainability of control over resources/ empowerment [1] [2].

What does one ex-post evaluations that we have on hand tell us? PACT’s USAID-funded WORTH program in Nepal was focused on women ending poverty through business, banking and literacy/ bookkeeping [3]. The project, implemented between 1999 and 2001 worked with 240 local NGOs to reach 125,000 women in 6,000 economic groups across Nepal’s southern Terai (in 2001 a Maoist insurgency led to the groups being on their own) [3]. By then, 1,500 of these groups led by the women themselves (35,000-strong) received training to become informal-sector Village Banks [3]. Working with local NGOs enabled them to reach 100,000 women in a few months due to the NGOs’ presence and connections in the communities. The collaboration worked well due to a shared belief by PACT and the NGOs that dependency is not empowering. As the report says “WORTH groups and banks were explicitly envisaged as more than just microfinance providers; they were seen as organizations that would build up women as agents of change and development in their communities” [3].

In 2006, PACT and Nepalese Valley Research Group looked to see sustainability of the banks, the extent of retained income by the women as well as any effect on community development and broader issues such as domestic abuse [3]. They went to 272 Banks from a random sample of 450 from seven of the 21 WORTH districts. Remarkably, they found even more functioning: 288 (16 more) of them were thriving and – wow- WORTH women had spawned another 400 more groups on their own [3]. Participant interviews were done with members and management as well as those women who had left their Banks and members of groups that had dissolved plus they interviewed a ‘control group’ of poor, non-WORTH women in Village Bank communities.

Was it a universal success? Almost. See the bar chart below showing what impacts the management committee felt the village banks had had on members, which is mostly better off, some the same, some far better off. This held true for the original village bank members and the new bank members.

 

[3]

 

The SEEP network reviewed WORTH’s ex-post and found five key findings:

  • Wealth creation: A Village Bank today holds average total assets of over Rs. 211,000, or $3,100, more than three times its holdings in 2001. Each woman member of WORTH now has an average equity stake of $116 in her Village Bank [3].
  • Sustainability: Approximately two-thirds (64 percent) of the original 1,536 Village Banks are still active eight and a half years after the program began and five to six years after all WORTH-related support ended. That means there are nearly 1,000 surviving groups with approximately 25,000 members [3].
  • Replication: A quarter of the existing WORTH groups has helped start an estimated 425 new groups involving another 11,000 women with neither external assistance nor prompting from WORTH itself. If all these groups are currently operating, then more Village Bankers are conducting business today in Nepal than when formal WORTH programming ended in 2001. The report also said 63% of the Village Bank members derived the income from agriculture/ sale of food versus 17% in commerce/ retail trade and the rest in miscellaneous trades. Over 40% of the participants said they borrowed to pay for education and health costs and another 20% to pay off other loans plus for festivals (e.g. birth, death) [3].
  • Literacy: 97 percent of respondents reported that literacy is “very important” to their lives; 83 percent reported that because of WORTH they are able to send more of their children to school [3].
  • Domestic disputes and violence: Two-thirds of groups reported that members bring their personal or family problems to the group for advice or help. Of these, three-quarters reported helping members deal with issues of domestic disputes and related problems. Forty-three percent of women said that their degree of freedom from domestic violence has changed because of their membership in a WORTH group. One in 10 reported that WORTH has actually helped “change her life” because of its impact on domestic violence [3].

The report outlines other impacts, including self-help actions such as two-thirds of groups being engaged in community action, and three-quarters said that the group has done something to help others in the community. Speaking of community, it is notable that the self-selected women were primarily from wealthier groups (60%), 15% from the middle class, with only 20% from the most disadvantaged castes [3]. Frankly this is not as surprising, as those most willing to take on risk are rarely the poorest until later; 67% of the very poor later wanted to join such a bank (once the risk was shown not to be too high versus income) [3].

The study’s author asks “Yet for all this documented success, WORTH and other savings-led microfinance programs remain among the best kept secret in the world of international development and poverty alleviation. Although together such programs reach some two million poor people, they go almost unnoticed by the $20 billion credit-led microfinance industry… The empowered women in this study—like WORTH women elsewhere in Asia and Africa— have proved themselves equipped to lead a new generation of entrepreneurs who can take WORTH [onward] through a model of social franchising now being pilot-tested [which is] as creative and potentially groundbreaking as is WORTH…WORTH has the potential to become an “international movement that supports women’s efforts to lift themselves, their families, and their communities out of poverty” [3].

So why aren’t are we learning from such projects and scaling them up everywhere? PACT is [4]. They have reached 365,000 women in 14 countries – including Myanmar, Cambodia, Colombia, Swaziland, DRC, Ethiopia, with Nigeria and Malawi starting this year [4]. Coca-Cola awarded $400,000 to PACT in 2013 to replicate WORTH in Vietnam with 2,400 women [5]. Who else is replicating this model? It’s not clear from many excellent microenterprise sites I visited except one tells me that Mastercard Foundation and Aga Khan are looking into wider replication as well. Let’s track their results and ask participants!

 

 

Sources:

[1] Bateman, M. (2011, September 20). Microcredit doesn’t work – it’s now official. Retrieved from https://opinion.bdnews24.com/2011/09/20/microcredit-doesn%E2%80%99t-work-%E2%80%93-it%E2%80%99s-now-official/

[2] Vaessan, J., Rivas, A., & Duvendack, M. (2014, November). The Effects of Microcredit on Women’s Control Over Household Spending in Developing Countries: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Retrieved from https://www.findevgateway.org/paper/2014/11/effects-microcredit-womens-control-over-household-spending-developing-countries

[3] Mayoux, L. (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

[4] PACT. (n.d.). WORTH. Retrieved 2015, from https://web.archive.org/web/20141106013639/http://www.pactworld.org/worth

[5] PACT. (2013, August 13). The Coca-Cola Foundation awards $400,000 grant to Pact. Retrieved from https://www.pactworld.org/article/coca-cola-foundation-awards-400000-grant-pact

 

Learning from the Past… for Future Sustainability

Learning from the Past… for Future Sustainability

Heading up Food Security for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) was my first international development job in 1995-1999 and I have watched this organization grow in its commitment to program quality and learning/ knowledge management ever since.  At the time I oversaw 17 of of CRS' USAID/ Food for Peace (FFP) programs.  So I was delighted that not only has CRS done an ex-post evaluation and used the findings for programming (e.g. the effectiveness of investing in a particular sector—for example, the importance of supporting girls’ education within a food security program) and also for advocacy (e.g. evaluation lessons from Rwandan peace-building projects seven years after the genocide informed CRS’ evolving approach to peace and justice strategies), but I get to celebrate FFP learning too.  In addition to having consulted to USAID/PPL (Policy, Planning and Learning) and the FANTA project, all featured below, I went to Tufts University’s Fletcher School. Super to see great organizations learning about sustainability!

CRS’ 2007 project package guidance for implementation and guidance (ProPackII), described ex-post evaluation/sustainable impact evaluation’s aim “to determine which project interventions have been continued by project participants on their own [which] may contribute to future program design…. it is fair to say that NGOs rarely evaluate what remains following the withdrawal of project funding [which] is unfortunate [as] important lessons can be generated regarding factors that help to ensure project sustainability.

A 2004 Catholic Relief Services excellent ex-post evaluation in Ethiopia was featured: “Looking at the past for better programming: dap I Ex-Post Assessment Report”. It assessed sustainability of Agriculture Natural Resource Management, and Food-Assisted Child Survival/Community Based Health Care programming, done as an internal evaluation by CRS staff and partners with document review, partner, government and community interviews. Results were mixed.

  • Some activities generated enough food and income that households could eat throughout the year and have some savings, making them more resilient against drought
  • Almost 100% of cropland bunding and irrigation practices for improved crop production were still being applied and buffered them during a subsequent drought
  • Health practices had also continued (e.g. trained traditional birth attendants had continued to provide services with high levels of enthusiasm and commitment, and increased levels of health care-seeking behaviors existed).

However, many other benefits and services had severely deteriorated:

  • Nearly all water committees had dissolved, fee collection was irregular or had been discontinued
  • Many water schemes were not operational
  • The centrally managed [tree] nurseries had been abandoned (given the existing management capacity of communities and government).

CRS/Ethiopia and its partners came to see that:

  • “The potable water strategy had over-focused on the technical aspects (“hardware”) while not paying enough attention to the community organizing dimensions and support by existing government services (“software”).
  • Even limited post-project follow-up by partners and government staff might have gone a long way towards mitigating the deterioration of project benefits and services.

What was terrific was that they “went on to use these findings and lessons learned from this ex-post evaluation to inform the design of similar projects in Ethiopia… while also raising awareness of these issues among partner staff”. The ex-post recommended increased planning for sustainability, setting up village management for post-project and incentive maintenance.  Great learning, yet we have found few ex-posts at CRS or elsewhere.  Our industry needs to explore issues such as those the evaluators posed: Was the lack of sustainability due to technical, institutional or financial faults in the programming? In other words, was the lack of self-sustainability due to the design/ aim of the activity itself or how it was implemented?

In 2013, USAID’s Food For Peace commissioned fascinating research on Exit Strategies.  Tufts University went to Bolivia, Honduras, India and Kenya which were phasing out of Title II food aid to look at how to “ensure that the benefits of interventions are sustained after they end, [as] there is little rigorous evidence on the effectiveness of different types of exit strategies used in USAID Office of Food for Peace Title II development food aid prog

rams.” The research is to “assess the extent to which the programs’ impacts were maintained or improved and to help understand factors of success or failure in the specific exit strategies that were used.” They have made the important discernment that the effectiveness of Title II programs depends on both short-term impact and long-term sustainability.

FANTA_Exit_Strategies_Bolivia.pdf

The FANTA project (contractor) made the following preliminary results available:

  1. Impact assessment at exit does not consistently predict sustained impact two years later…. It can be misleading.
  2. Many activities, practices, and impacts across sectors declined over the two years after exit. These declines are related to inadequate design and implementation of sustainability strategies and exit processes.
  3. There are specific ways to increase the likelihood of sustainability: Sustaining service provision and beneficiary utilization of services and practices depends on three critical factors: Resources, Technical and Management Capacity, Motivation
  4. Withdrawal of free food rations or any other free input (as incentive) jeopardizes sustainability without consideration of substitute incentives. For instance,

     

     

    • Withdrawal of food was a disincentive for participation in and provision of [child] growth monitoring…. Resources and health system linkages are needed to sustain health activities
    • Motivation, capacity and resources are all needed to maintain water systems
    • Agriculture and Natural Resource Management suffered greatly when resource incentives disappeared

Their main recommendations are that sustainability should be built into the design from the beginning, program cycles are longer and exit is gradual.

CRS found the same issue of incentives as a barrier, as they did technical and (institutional) capacity/ motivation/ management issues.  We have much to learn… at least we’ve started Valuing Voices and asking… and eventually designing for sustainability!

Czech it out! Great evaluation happening in the Czech Republic

Czech it out! Great evaluation happening in the Czech Republic

One of the delights of living in another country is the surprises one encounters. For me, coming back to our second 'home', it was an evaluative surprise. For by connecting to the Czech Foreign Ministry's Evaluation team, I found evidence of learning from meta-evaluation, doing ex-post evaluation, conscientious tracking of project cost-effectiveness and an openness to self-sustainability research funding and using national evaluators to lead them.

Czech Foreign aid is widespread- "Through development cooperation, the Czech Republic helps to eradicate poverty in less developed parts of the world by means of sustainable socio-economic development. It also contributes to global security and stability, conflict prevention, the promotion of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law". Development assistance is done by several entities, the main two under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ORS (Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid) and its subsidiary CRA (Czech Development Agency).

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs oversees some fascinating evaluation work. After attending several partner-donor meetings and presentations of a meta-evaluation, an ex-post from an array of projects in Georgia and a discussion of findings across all evaluations in 2014, I am impressed. Why? Because not only are they willing to learn from both successes and failures, openly discussing challenges in learning between grants and contracts, but also because they are tackling programming in 10 countries (e.g. Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ethiopia, Georgia) with a mere 17 people and a budget of $35 million for 2015.  

 

What are some of the things they are learning?

1. They commissioned a meta-evaluation looking at 20 projects from 2012-2013. What worked well was well described and documented evaluations that were also cost-effective (evaluations were 4% of total costs) and tried to offer constructive solutions to things that did not work well in projects.  While some methodologies needed to be better, and reports were hard to access, a major finding was what needs to be improved is inclusion of local recipients in stakeholder analyses, soliciting their views on what the evaluations should focus and on how the projects affected them.  Further, during discussions we highlighted the need for an evaluation of outcomes and impacts, not just how evaluations quality was but also which organizations had the best results and why.

 

2. They commissioned an ex-post evaluation across eight organizations' in the Republic of Georgia (5 Czech, 3 Georgian), of one-year projects with 131 separate activities in civic engagement, media and youth between 2008-2012. The evaluation looked at the short-term effectiveness and longer-term sustainability of activities in the Republic of Georgia.  Key findings included good relevance of aid offered, high cost-efficiency, low effectiveness for Georgian decision-making, primarily individual (rather than systemic) sustainability, though some good impact.

Key recommendations from this evaluation-, which Valuing Voices thinks, are universal included:

LEARN BETTER TOGETHER
a. Implement min. 3-year projects, whereby focus in a selected region (or a few regions) on a selected local priority topic, ensure in-depth needs analysis, multi-stakeholder cooperation [including participants], sustainable mechanisms, ongoing local support and enough flexibility as per external factors.

b. Allocate budget for burning human rights issues and for enhancing planning, monitoring, evaluation and learning capacities of Civil Society Organizations.

and

SHARE FINDINGS MORE

c. Coordinate activities with other implementers and donors in the target area and if possible (taking into account the political situation) also with local state institutions and potential implementers 

d. Implement multi-stakeholder initiatives in a specific area (health, environment, social inclusion, minorities) with an advocacy component, sharing of results / lessons learnt and a media component 

3.  Among annual recommendations from Evaluation discussions throughout the year emerged this surprising one on cost-effectiveness. A detailed financial budget is now standard, and expenses for project activities among a majority of (grant-funded) projects and the Czech Development Agency are now required. This enables cost-effectiveness comparisons at least across grants (albeing not across for-profit contracts). In my experience this is unparalleled! (Let me know if other countries do this please!)

 

Overall, the fact that the Czech Foreign Ministry and implementing partners are willing to look at themselves critically and transparently improve accountability to its ultimate recipients and taxpayers makes me shout Hurrah from all of Prague’s 100 spires!  Here is one of them, taken from a Ministry’s window.IMG_9623

 

 

Walking in our participants’ shoes, Doing Development Differently

Walking in our participants' shoes, Doing Development Differently

You and I like to make informed decisions.  We go to restaurants recommended by Yelp or Facebook friends. We refer to Consumer Reports' rankings before we buy appliances and read Amazon reviews before we purchase items, or at least ask random friends what works for them.  I just bought a fridge and looked at energy star ratings to buy one that was efficient and climate-friendly. Would you buy an expensive appliance without market research reassuring you of the likely success?

 

Yet that is what we ask millions of development participants to do every day. In international development, community participants don't have such luxuries as knowing which projects worked well before, or that success in terms of health, income, education is replicable using this model. They invest their time and resources, blindly, hoping for a good return. 

 

Doing Development Differently is a very encouraging initiative by UK's Overseas Development Institute (ODI) which focuses on learning from bottom-up, country-led development.  Leni Wild tells us via a Malawi Country Scorecard example that NGO-led innovation during implementation is key as is creating coalitions of shared responsibility to meet participant needs. Natalia Adler shares a Nicaraguan Human-Centered Design where policy makers literally walked the lives of participants, learning from being participant-observers and supporters, not omniscient experts.

DeeperstorycomShoes

For our projects and policies are but a piece of participants' lives, but an important input if done for appropriate impact and sustainability. But do we know if we all mean the same thing? Years ago I asked what 'food security' meant in several Malian communities. In addition to expected answers- 'being able to feed myself and my family'- I got answers such as 'many children' (both the cause of having food and that more children generate sustained food security once adult, employed), and 'children's schooling' (having surplus to send their children to school year-around).

 

Not only do we need to understand what impact looks like to our participants, and start putting in systems for them to track it and report back to us, but also what does sustainability means to our participants?  Also what can they self-sustain? What can we do more skillfully in future project design, learning from what worked best?

 

* Imagine what project impacts we could learn about if we returned to see, 2-5 years after projects closed out, to see what remarkable unintended impacts were created as in Niger.

* Imagine how self-sustainable project activities could be if we designed future projects based on past project successes (trackin which activities communities around the world were most able to replicate after projects left)?

* Imagine being the non-profit able to claim that the majority of activities were self-sustainable by communities 10 years later, and receiving the best Star ratings by them?!

* Imagine being the Minister of Development in Africa, Asia or Latin America being able to vett incoming projects based on likelihood of achieving Development Star results?

 

Using national evaluators, building national systems of online IATI-compliant documentation of what their own people consider to be the most sustainable impacts of projects, as well as are missing pieces of the 'development' puzzle. Listening could teach us a lot more than our logical framework (logframe) expectations of impact from our (donor’s) view — especially what communities imagine projects will lead to. Even farther out, imagine if together we calculate projects' economic benefits/ the Return on Investment to participants (crudely put, the 'bang for the buck") of our projects in their view, as well as our efficacy in terms of resource use, that scary thought…

 

Doing Development Differently is as exciting as are initiatives like USAID Forward in supporting development toward countries, e.g. starting to channel funds directly to local implementers under which falls USAID’s CLA (Collaborating, Learning and Adapting). Another great example is UK’s DIFD’s BRIDGE which incorporates Strategic Learning and adaptation into projects (adapting the during implementation, rather than the quite fixed straight-jacket most projects are tied to on signing agreements or contracts).

 

For we need to put ourselves out of a job by training local NGOs to supplant us, to support capacity/ create systems in Ministries to take over all but our funding, and especially, to listen to those who know best- communities whose lives we are to improve. Where are you seeing success brewing?

 

What should projects accomplish… and for whom?

 

What should projects accomplish… and for whom?

 

An unnamed international non-profit client contacted me to evaluate their resilience project mid-stream, to gauge prospects for sustainable handover. EUREKA, I thought! After email discussions with them I drafted an evaluation process that included learning from a variety of stakeholders, ranging from Ministries, local government and the national University who were to take over the programming work about what they thought would be most sustainable once the project ended and how in the next two years the project could best foster self-sustainability by country-nationals. I projected several weeks for in-depth participatory discussions with local youth groups and sentinel communities directly affected by the food security/ climate change onslaught and who benefited from resilience activities to learn what had worked, what didn’t and who would take what self-responsibility locally going forward.

Pleased with myself, I sent off a detailed proposal. The non-profit soon answered that I hadn’t fully understood my task.  In their view the main task at hand was to determine what the country needed the non-profit to keep doing, so the donor could be convinced to extend their (U.S.-based) funding.  The question at hand became how could I change my evaluation to feed them back this key information for the next proposal design?

Maybe it was me, maybe it was the autumn winds, maybe it was my inability to sufficiently subsume long-term sustainability questions under shorter-term non-profit financing interests that led me to drop this.  Maybe the elephant in the living room that is often unspoken is the need for some non-profits to prioritize their own organizational sustainability to ‘do good’ via donor funding rather than working for community self-sustainability.

Maybe donor/funders should share this blame, needing to push funding out, proving success at any cost to get more funding and so the cycle goes on. As a Feedback Lab feature on a Effective Philanthropy report recently stated: “Only rarely do funders ask, ‘What do the people you are trying to help actually think about what you are doing?’ Participants in the CEP study say that funders rarely provide the resources to find the answer. Nor do funders seem to care whether or not grantees are changing behavior and programs in response to how the ultimate beneficiaries respond” [1].

And how much responsibility do communities themselves hold for not balking?  Why are they so often ‘price-takers’ (in economic terms) rather than ‘price-makers’? As wise Judi Aubel asked in a recent evaluation list-serve discussion When will communities rise up to demand that the “development” resources designed to support/strengthen them be spent on programs/strategies which correspond to their concerns/priorities??” 

 

We can help them do just that by creating good conditions for them to be heard.  We can push advocates to work to ensure the incoming Sustainable Development Goals (post-MDGs) listen to what recipient nations feel are sustainable, more than funders. We can help their voices be heard via systems that enable donor/ implementers to learn from citizen feedback, such as Keystone has via their Constituent Voice practice (in January 2015 it is launching an online feedback data sharing platform called the Feedback Commons) or GlobalGiving’s new Effectiveness Dashboard (see Feedback Labs).

We can do it locally in our work in the field, shifting the focus from our expertise to theirs, from our powerfulness to theirs. In field evaluations can use Empowerment Evaluation. We can fund feedback loops pre-RFP (requests for proposals), during project design, implementation and beyond, with the right incentives tools for learning from community and local and national-level input so that country-led development begins to be actual not just a nice platitude.  We can fund ValuingVoices’ self-sustainability research on what lasts after projects end. We can conserve project content and data in Open Data formats for long-term learning from country-nationals.

 

West.Mali_.TFSI_.Water_.Women_.Well_.Africare.1

 

Most of all, we can honour our participants as experts, which is what I strive to do in my work. I’ll leave you with a story from Mali. in 1991 I was doing famine-prevention research in Koulikoro Mali where average rainfall is 100mm a year (4 inches). I accompanied women I was interviewing to a deep well which was 100m deep (300 feet). They used plastic pliable buckets and the first five drew up 90% of the bucket full. When I asked to try, they seriously gave me a bucket. I laughed, as did they when we saw that only 20% of my bucket was full. I had splashed the other 80% out on the way up. Who’s the expert?

How are we helping them get more of what they need, rather than what we are willing to give? How are we prioritizing their needs over our organizational income? How are we #ValuingVoices?

 

Sources:

[1] The Center for Effective Philanthropy. (2014, October 27). Closing the Citizen Feedback Loop. Retrieved December 2014, from https://web.archive.org/web/20141031130101/https://feedbacklabs.org/closing-the-citizen-feedback-loop/

[2] Better Evaluation. (n.d.). Empowerment Evaluation. Retrieved December 2014, from https://www.betterevaluation.org/plan/approach/empowerment_evaluation

[3] Sonjara. (2016). Content and Data: Intangible Assets Part V. Retrieved from http://www.sonjara.com/blog?article_id=135

 

What’s likely to ‘stand’ after we go? A new consideration in project design and evaluation

What’s likely to ‘stand’ after we go? A new consideration in project design and evaluation

This spring I had the opportunity to not only evaluate a food security project but also to use the knowledge gleaned for the follow-on project design.  This Ethiopian Red Cross (ERCS) project “Building Resilient Community: Integrated Food Security Project to Build the Capacity of Dedba, Dergajen & Shibta Vulnerable People to Food Insecurity” (with Federation and Swedish Red Cross support) was targeted to 2,259 households in Dedba, Dergajen and Shibta through provision of crossbreed cows, ox fattening, sheep/goats, beehives and poultry which were to be repaid in cash over time as well water and agriculture/ seedlings for environmental resilience.   ERCS had been working with the Ethiopian government to provide credit for these food security inputs to households in Tigray which were to be repaid in cash over time.  During this evaluation, we met with 168 respondents (8% of total project participants).

 

Not only were we looking for food consumption impacts (which were very good), and income impacts (good), we also probed for self-sustainability of activities. My evaluation team and I asked 52 of these participants more in-depth questions on income and self-sustainability preferences. We used participatory methods to learn what they felt they could most sustain themselves after they repaid the credit and the project moved on to new participants and communities. 

VV_AEA_Finaldraft101314_pptx

We also asked the to rank what input provided the greatest source of income.  The largest income (above 30,000 birr or $1,500) was earned from dairy and oxen fattening, while a range of dairy, oxen, shoats and beehives provided over half of our respondents (40 people) smaller amounts between 1,000-10,000 birr ($50 to $500).

And even while 87% of total loans were for ox fattening, dairy cows (and beehives) which brought in farm more income, and only 11% of loans were sheep/goats (shoats) and 2% for poultry, the self-sustainability feedback was clear. In the chart below, poultry and shoats (and to a lesser degree, ox fattening) were what men and women felt they could self-sustain. In descending order, the vast majority of participants prioritized these activities:

To learn more about how we discussed that Ethiopian participants can self-monitor, see blog.

So how can such a listening and learning approach feed program success and sustainability? We need to sit with communities to discuss the project’s objectives during design plus manage our/ our donors’ impact expectations:

1) If raising income in the short-term is the goal, the project could only have offered dairy and ox fattening to the communities as their incomes gained the most. Note, fewer took this risk as the credit for these assets was costly.

2) If they took a longer view, investing in what communities felt they could self-sustain, then poultry and sheep/goats were the activities to promote. This is because more people (especially women, who preferred poultry 15:1 and shoats 2:1 compared to men ) could afford these smaller amounts of credit as well as the feed to sustain them.

3) In order to learn about true impacts we must return post-project close to confirm the extent to which income increases continued, as well as the degree to which communities were truly able to self-sustain the activities the project enabled them to launch. How do our goals fit with the communities’?

What is important is seeing community actors, our participants as the experts. It is their lives and livelihoods, and not one of us in international development is living there except them…

What are your questions and thoughts? Have you seen such tradeoffs? We long to know…

[*NB: There were other inputs (water, health, natural resource conservation) which are separate from this discussion.]