Sustaining projects during and after Implementation: Does gender count?


Sustaining projects during and after Implementation: Does gender count?

Rutere Kagendo from Ronto Research and Valuing Voices

Gender as a concept is one of the many kinds of indicators of change measured in development projects. However, like many others, its reporting in many cases is limited to the number of women and men participating in the project. Whereas participation by gender is an important variable in measuring community engagement and inclusiveness in a project, this measure is more focused at the registration level and the mere fact that women’s or men’s names appear in the registers. However, numbers only are not a clear indicator of participation and the extent to which it happens.

Gender reporting, as shown above, can be too simplified. There is also ongoing misunderstanding surrounding gender, which only separates genders and omits a gendered analysis that would help understand the relationships between men and women, boys and girls within the dynamics of a project. This can include differentiated decisions about how resources are allocated within household expenditures (e.g. women overseeing food consumption, health and children’s expenses versus men overseeing large investments into livelihoods) and division of labor (e.g. men ploughing and planting fields and women weeding and conserving crops leading to a family harvest). Gender negotiations are richer than numbers of men and women participating in projects.

As we consider the various stages of a project, starting from design, implementation to evaluation and sustainability, it is critical to assess the role of gender in each of these stages. It is obvious that women and men play important roles in projects but what is not clear is how these roles build, complement and sustain the project. The questions that come into mind after interacting with communities during project evaluations (mid, endline, impact and sustainability) are:

    • How do the various roles played by both men and women, and their interaction with each other shape the outcome of a project?
    • Does gender contribute to project sustainability?

These are important questions that need to be answered through more research and writing but there are early insights I have learned:


1. Resilience in roles during the project life cycle

Studies highlighting the roles played by both women and men in projects shed light on how gender shapes project outcomes. I once attended a dairy project launch exercise in Kenya, my home country, and was surprised by what I saw. All the men sat at the front and the women took a back seat with their young children. The women remained silent the entire time the meeting was held, and efforts to involve them were unsuccessful.  I later learned that in that community, women do not share their views in the presence of men. However, I left with one question in my mind, how will this project succeed if only one party is going to be talking and making decisions? Was there no mechanism for women to share their views as well? Is it not going to become a project that benefits men only? Years later, I got an opportunity to evaluate the project. I held both men and women focused group discussions separately.   I found that firstly, men may be the gatekeepers but may not necessarily have the resilience needed to push through the whole project cycle. For example in this particular project, men did not continuously stay with the project, as noted by one female group participant:

“When this project started, we were both men and women. However, men decided to pull out because they thought milk was a women’s commodity and there was no money [to be made] in it. The women got organized in groups and started selling the milk in bulk. We made money and within no time, the men came back and took over the milk business. If we women had not stayed in the project, the milk business would not have been realized although we lost it to the men”.  In another dairy-related project elsewhere, the men were the cattle and milk owners so they sold all the milk. But during a season when the market was flooded with milk (milk glut), the men abandoned the milk business.  The women took it up and tried to sell the milk whenever possible until the milk glut’ season passed, only for the men to get back to the milk business again.

Whether it is a good idea or not for men to have taken the milk business away from women in both of these cases is subject for discussion, but the main issue here is the role played by the women to sustain the project long enough to grow it from an idea and push it into a viable business that attracted the men back into the project. Indeed one wonders if the project would have grown if the women had not remained in the project.  Valuing Voices at Cekan Consulting found the same in an all-women and highly successful sesame seed production Catholic Relief Services project in the Gambia. Women had grown the communal agribusiness from microenterprise size to being so successful that they became of interest to local banks. At that point, men in the communities began to take the project, and savings, over. Valuing Voices has documented savings and loans sustained post-project, and even scaled up by women in several countries.

Also thinking about the initial community entry meetings and seeing how unengaged and distant the women appeared, one would have dismissed their role in the project. As it turned out, women became the engine of this project.  Surface impressions may not hold true.


2. Saving the project for whose benefit?

In another project, community members were encouraged and supported to start savings and lending groups to run their small businesses. The qualitative discussions in the final evaluation revealed that at the end of the project, it was perceived as more of a women’s project in spite of being targeted to men.  This is because almost all the men had left the project after taking loans and failing to repay. The women, especially those whose spouses had taken the loans took over the burden of repaying the loans which saved the project.

Borrowing from these examples one is tempted to ask, what happens in those projects that target men only or where women get demoralized and leave? Do they fail at a higher rate altogether than those that include women? Arguing along these lines one would ask, what are the driving forces for men and women to remain or quit from project activities and how has this been addressed so far in project designs?

In most of the evaluation projects Ronto Research has conducted around Africa, men may take a lead in project implementation depending on their expected quick/ shorter-term gains/ expectations which determine whether they remain active or not. On the other hand, women seem to get into projects with a determined resolve to see their problems solved, no matter how long it takes. As a result, they hold onto the project activities despite the challenges that come along.  It is observable though, that as they progress and begin to take hold and show signs of success, the men get attracted back.

In most of the project evaluations I have participated in, there are always few men who are loyal and remain part and parcel of the project. Pivotally, we also need to understand the role of these few men who have remained in these projects with the women the whole time. This can be either because they hold positions or just because they believed in the projects and they support the women with ideas or just their mere presence in the project activities. These men seem to play a critical role in encouraging the women to push on. Their role cannot be ignored and there is need to understand them better in terms of their opinions. Why do they remain with the women even when there seems to be few benefits forthcoming to them, whereas their fellow men pull out? In an interview with women in Tanzania on an agricultural project, some women felt that the few men who had been left in their group were very instrumental in their achievements by giving the project an identity in as far as it being a community and not a ‘women-only’ project was concerned.


3. Gender- Informing evaluation

Thirdly, while conducting evaluation interviews, gender counts. Typically, women and men are asked about results in gender-specific groups. At the household level, the preferred interviewee is the household head. In most cases, they would be the direct ‘beneficiaries’ (participants) of the project information on behalf of their households. Due to the cultural set-ups in much of Africa, in married families, men are automatically the household head, which would mean they would be the target interviewees. However, our experience during interviews either through Focus Group Discussions or on a one-on-one situation is that consulting with women as well as considering differentiated gender roles and gender relations are key missing ingredients. For often during interviews, the men end up involving their spouses for details about projects, in part because men might not consistently follow up the project activities and therefore might not have all the details.

There is also a possibility that although it is the men who are registered as participants, in actual sense it is the women who participate and therefore have the detailed information about some issues being discussed, so it is important to check who is the actual ‘information bank’ (and day-to-day participant) of the household for the project.  This issue needs to be explored in-depth both in regular project evaluation and more needs to be learned about how this can be used to inform sustainability studies. Asking only men or only women may limit evaluative learning.


4. Sustaining results – which gender is best?

What can we learn from the projects that have been completed so far years after they close out?  When projects come to an end, communities are left to experience and foster the project impacts on their own. They learn a lot on their own post-project and this could be an important source of information on sustainability, but what mechanisms can be put in place for these ‘information banks’ to share the information long after projects end?  They may be the only key informants that remain (as partners may have long gone onto other projects far away); before the knowledge they hold that can be eroded with time. It would be interesting to compare the information held by men and women about outcomes and impacts being sustained, stopped or new ones emerging. The question on information especially related to project sustainability is going to be very critical considering that most of this information has to be sought from community members post-project period.


Does gender play a role in holding a project together/implementation?
What role does gender play in project sustainability?


A few resources:

UN and Gender for Sustainable Development resources:
Calder, M., & Fien, J. (n.d.). Women & Sustainable Development. Retrieved 2016, from

UN on Gender Mainstreaming:
Pan American Health Organization. (2015, August). Virtual Course on Gender and Health within a Framework of Diversity and Human Rights: Module 4. Retrieved from

Gender and Evaluation:
Gender and Evaluation. (n.d.). Retrieved 2016, from
By fellow Valuing Voices’ team member Rituu

International Center for Research on Women. (n.d.). Men And Gender Equality Policy Project. Retrieved 2016, from

Finally, an ActionAid:
ActionAid USA. (2014, November 20). Public Finance for Agriculture Project. Retrieved from


Stepping up community self-sustainability, one [Ethiopian] step at a time


Stepping up community self-sustainability, one [Ethiopian] step at a time


Having just come back from evaluation and design fieldwork for an Ethiopian Red Cross (ERCS)/ Swedish Red Cross/ Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent project, the power of communities is still palpable in my mind. They know what great impact looks like. They know what activities they can best sustain themselves. It’s up to us to ask, listen and learn from them and support their own monitoring/ evaluating/ reporting. It’s up to us to share such learning with others and to act on it everywhere.

There are a myriad of possible sustainability indicators, and the outcome indicators below, suggested by 116 rural participants from Tigray, Ethiopia seem to fall into two categories of expected changes: Assets and Life Quality (Table 1). As the food security/ livelihood project extended credit for animal purchases, it is logical that tracking increased income, savings, assets, and home investments plus expenditures on food and electricity appeared.

We gleaned this from discussions with participants, asking them “what can we track together that would show that we had impact”? Our question led to a spirited discussion of not only what was traceable, but also what could be publicly posted and ‘ground-truthed’ by the community. Discussing indicators led to even deeper conversations about the causes of food insecurity which were illuminating to staff.  What was surprising, for instance, was the extent to which families saw changing seasonal child-field labor practices in favor of 100% child-school attendance as great indicators.  School attendance (or lack thereof) was dependent on families’ need for children’s seasonal labor in the fields. Community members said they knew who sent their children or not, which no only ‘cleaned’ the publicly posted data but triangulated implementer surveys and opened room for discussions of vulnerability.





Not only is this exciting for the project’s outcome tracking but even more importantly, our team proposed to create a community self-monitoring system, suggested in by Causemann/Gohl in an IIED PLA Notes article– “Tools for measuring change: self-assessment by communities” used in Africa and Asia. This learning, management and reporting process will fill a gaping need as current “monitoring systems serve only for donor accountability, but neither add value for poor people nor for the implementing NGOs because they do not improve effectiveness on the ground.” The authors found that not only “participatory data collection produces higher quality data in some fields than standard extractive methodologies [as] understanding the context leads to a higher accuracy of data and learning processes [which] increase the level of accountability… “ but also that such shared collaboration builds mutual learning and bridge-building.” While our community members may have offered to track this publicly to make this partner happy, men and women discussed this excitedly and embraced the idea of self-monitoring happily. ERCS will be discussing with communities to either track data monthly in notebooks or on a large chart hung in the woreda office for transparency.  Data (Chart 1) would include these asset and quality of life indicators as well as loan repayments (tracked vertically) while households (tracked horizontally) could see who was meeting the goal (checked boxes), not meeting it fully (dashed boxes) or not meeting it at all yet (blank boxes).  Community members corrected each other as they devised the indicators during our participatory research and this openness reassures us that the public monitoring will be quite transparent as well.





Further, what was especially satisfying was getting feedback from across the three tibias (sub-regions) on what activities they felt they could sustain themselves irrespective of the project’s continuation. Table 2 shows us which activities communities felt were most self-sustainable by households; these could form the core of the follow on project. Sheet/goats, poultry and oxen for fattening were highly prioritized by both women and men, in addition to a few choosing improved dairy cows. The convergence of similar responses was gratifying and somewhat unexpected, as there were several other project activities.  The communities’ own priorities need to be seriously considered as currently they get only one loan per family and thus self-sustainable activities are key.




There is more to incorporate in future project planning by NGOs like ERCS. The NGO-IDEAs concept mentioned above also includes involving project participants in setting goals and targets themselves, differentiating between who achieved them and why, and brainstorming who/what contributes to it and what they should do next. Peer groups, development agencies and any actors could collect and learn from the data. Imagine the empowerment were communities to design, monitor and evaluate and tell us as their audience!

And they must, according to ODI UK’s Watkins, who has a clear vision on how to achieve a global equity agenda for the post-2015 MDG goalsHe suggests converting the principle of ‘leave no one behind’ into measurable targets. He argues that, by introducing a series of ‘stepping stone’ benchmarks, the world can set ambitious goals on equity by 2030. He writes, wisely, that “narrowing these equity deficits is not just an ethical imperative but a condition for accelerated progress towards the ambitious 2030 targets. There are no policy blueprints. However, the toolkit for governments actively seeking to narrow disparities …has to include some key elements [such as] identifying who is being left behind and why is an obvious starting point. That’s why improvements to the quality of data available to policy-makers is an equity issue in its own right”. Valuing Voices believes who creates that data is an equally compelling equity issue.


So how will we reach these ambitious targets by 2030? By putting in stepping stone targets, returning project design functions to the ultimate clients – the communities themselves- and matching their wants with what we long to transfer to them. In this way we will be Valuing their Voices so much that they evaluate our projects jointly and we can respond. That’s how it should always have been.

What are your thoughts on this? We long to know.




[1] Ashley, H., Kenton, N., & Milligan, A. (Eds.). (2013). Tools for supporting sustainable natural resource management and livelihoods. Participatory Learning and Action, (66). Retrieved from

[2] Watkins, K. (2013, October 17). Leaving no-one behind: An equity agenda for the post- 2015 goals. Retrieved from


Unintended impacts – LWR and Gates Drought Resilience in Niger

Unintended impacts – LWR and Gates Drought Resilience in Niger

Unintended development program impacts – how much do we know about what they are and how we could learn from them for future programming? How often do we even question our assumptions about what we meant the programming to bring and result in, versus what actually happened?

I had the privilege of consulting to Lutheran World Relief from 2005-2007 in Niger on a drought resilience and rehabilitation project.  IIED's PLA Notes just published my write-up of this baseline and slightly ex-post (6 months after closeout) final evaluation funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  I led a team doing mixed-method interviews (that means tracking numbers finding out how many, how much impact we had, combined with listening to words explaining why things worked out this way, or not).  There were numerous lessons lessons learned from targeting sheep, wells and animal fodder to 600 of the poorest women in 10 communities in northern Niger.  Among them were that LWR's programming did some real good, especially due to great knowledge of the herding communities via national staff.

blog jindraThe main two project goals had to do with whether the communities were more resilient against future drought and were they more sustainably food secure thanks to the assets (sheep, water, fodder), income (future sheep, sale of fodder) and training (management of sheep and maintenance of water points).  The answers seemed to be generally yes.  We found that women's share of household income increased from 5% to 25% in some households. This was due to the sheep, as well as time savings used for income generation (a staggering 7-10 hours every other day saved from not having to go fetch water far away or bring animals to drink).

We also found several completely unexpected benefits: resources + time savings generated in harmony and peace. Women reported far more inter-ethnic harmony thanks to collaboration across tribes during the sheep management training and water sharing, and ethnic groups attended each others marriages and baptisms.  Households also were far more at peace, some saying "our husbands don't beat us anymore", thanks to increased respect, cleanliness and their ability to be home for their husbands, children and mothers-in-law. Men reported that they sat with women by project's end and there was more intra-household collaboration.  Were these planned at all? No! We need to return to learn about what our work engenders, and bring those lessons forward, see if they're replicated or not. What else has emerged in the years since the project ended? What was valued enough to be sustained by the communities themselves?

Finally, a fascinating flaw in our logic which is interesting for international development staff to consider was whether our participants shared the two large goals at all (drought resilience and sustained food security). Some women sold the sheep to buy food, pay their childrens' school fees or their daughters' dowries, even buy themselves beds or pots and pans immediately.  Some had their sheep sold by their husbands who used them to buy other animals, pay for ceremonies or other expenses.  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 way down the line. So while overall the project brought benefit – many saying they didn't have to resort to worse survival strategies during the next hungry season- it illuminated that donors' goals may differ greatly from participants'.  These people didn't sign a contract agreeing to abide with donor expectations, yet that is what the evaluation looked for. We need to learn not to assume, and instead explore what goals they do have as expectations of impact.  Looking beyond within useful but narrow 'boxes' supported but limited by logical frameworks of inputs-outputs-impacts can help us learn what communities really value and what they got from what we offered.

Valuing their voices is key. What projects have you seen voices valued? What have you learned?

What do we know… about international development, ourselves, ‘them’ and the intersection?

What could we know… about international development, ourselves, 'them' and the intersection?

How would international development look from the eyes of the participants? What works best? What fails? Who decides what success and failure is, and how much do we even know what they think, 3, 5, 10 years after projects end?

And who is 'we' in the sentence anyway?

This blog will stream my view and those of and my colleagues in my field, many of whom have been working as I have over 20 years across Africa, Latin America, Asia, Balkans and many corners of the world, as well as those from these very corners. I hope to be a bridge for knowledge sharing between 'old timers', those new in my field, as well as between the 'North' and "South', sharing evidence, trends, stories, and promoting ideas like:

* Using Appreciative Inquiry to celebrate what works best and how to do more of it, as I did for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID and Johns Hopkins University et al, leads to more knowledge sharing, excitement and nurtured souls than a focus on what is broken.

* Country nationals should evaluate their own projects and programs – it's their countries, after all

* Participants best know what success looks like in their own communities – including them in their own discovery, design, monitoring and evaluation is paramount for success and sustainability

* No 'development' project with behavior change as any part of it should be shorter than 10 years, heck it takes 3 for communities and non-profits to get to know and trust each other…

* Donors should go back 3, 5, 10 years later to see what exists now, what communities valued enough to keep up themselves after project funds and staff left.

* There is great need for compassion in development. Parts of the system are broken when we development workers push projects designed abroad, don't have time we know is vital to take to involve participants, feel such pressure to perform, to prove impact that we work 80 hours a week, race to meet donor reporting requirements…

There are so many fascinating trends out there right now which we need to address mindfullly, and understand how our participants need our help to address:

Over 50% of the world's population is under the age of 30! So should we design youth-centric development? Have them as our main respondents and designers?

Even though we produce 1 ½ times enough food for every man, woman and child on the planet, nearly a billion people go hungry while over a billion are malnourished …. but social movements are changing that. How to address redistribution issues, water scarcity, food waste, etc, together?

Women produce 60% of the world's food, get 10% of its income and own 1% of the world's property. We are making progress on women's rights by deeply embedding women in development, looking at activities through a 'gender lens'. How much more could we do if they designed programming to fit their circumstances?

By 2100 both China and Nigeria will have over a billion people. What will this do to trade, demands for food, and equity (to name a few)?

* Financial and Youth demographics in Africa show will tip the scales in terms of country-led development as "Africans are perfectly capable of representing themselves and developing in ways of their own choosing. The African diaspora is making massive contributions to their countries-of-origin, not just in terms of sending back money (about $50 billion annually), but also in terms of reclaiming the development discourse."
How are we addressing, including these as well as 'lessons learned' from the past and envisioning a collaborative, kind future for all of us, where happiness reigns?
What else could we know?…