Is Development Doomed? No! Youth and community input are key to sustainability

Is Development Doomed? No! Youth and community input are key to sustainability

Paul Theroux has a deeply depressing, if quite realistic, view of how development has failed Africa. "Zambian-born economist Dambisa Moyo calls aid a "debilitating drug," arguing that "real per-capita income [in Africa] today is lower than it was in the 1970s, and more than 50% of the population — over 350 million people — live on less than a dollar a day, a figure that has nearly doubled in two decades." He notes that our desire to help is the very death knell for Africa: "50 years later, the education system in Malawi is still faltering. Why? Because teaching as a profession in Malawi, and many parts of Africa, is undervalued, if not despised, and poorly paid. Besides, you can always find a foreign teacher willing to do the work: American, British, Japanese, Australian." Later he notes that in our desire to help, we can harm: "A mud hut and thatched roof is, in fact, renewed every few years; the cement structures and tin roofs built by well-meaning NGOs create maintenance problems." If we keep doing things For Africa and the 'developing' world and don't support their own self-development, who wins? If we keep designing development projects because we know what they need, how sustainable will they be?

So what is to be done? What already exists is the OECD's DAC. It has lovely and broad-ranging criteria for evaluating impact at project's end. They use five kinds of measures. Now we need African, Asian, Latin American evaluators to see how relevant these are and how they'd change the measures with communities. I suspect that looking at projects from the participants' viewpoint rather than the donors could change how we look at these categories, and measure them:

1) Relevance (e.g. are the activities and outputs of the programme consistent with the overall goal and the attainment of its objectives and intended impacts and effects?)

2) Effectiveness ( (e.g. to what extent were the objectives achieved / are likely to be achieved and why?)

3) Efficiency (e.g. were activities cost- and time-efficient?)


4) Impact (e.g. what real difference has the activity made to the beneficiaries?)


And this is key:

5) Sustainability – "measuring whether the benefits of an activity are likely to continue after donor funding has been withdrawn. Projects need to be environmentally as well as financially sustainable… e.g. to what extent did the benefits of a programme or project continue after donor funding ceased? What were the major factors which influenced the achievement or non-achievement of sustainability of the programme or project?")


Some organizations use these measure for final evaluation, the worse news is that there are very few of them, there is pretty faulty knowledge sharing within organizations and across projects, so there's no guarantee that lessons from one project will be learned by the next. Even worse, no communities are at the helm of these evaluations, and the very way in which they are structured lead to skewed results. What can go wrong? In Ashoka's great Feedback Labs, project participants' "feedback was excessively positive. In focus group discussions we asked participants how comfortable they felt giving us feedback, including criticisms and suggestions.  Their message was consistent: “you are our benefactors, we are grateful for any help provided, we would never criticize you"

We can:

* Minimize respondent bias by using national evaluators independent of project or donor staff, working with communities;

* Involve community feedback on its effectiveness from the project's start, building their buy-in ONLY if we make changes during implementation based on it, and use it to shape future projects.

* Involve youth as key respondents as their lives and livelihoods depend on vibrant communities who have been supported to create their best futures (rather than implementing projects that we international donors feel they should have and that help us get more funds while feeding our development industry).  We can use SMS technology to crowdsource and inform what works versus what doesn't as UNICEF Uganda did to check on aid received, and we can use it to inform knowledge youth need to know as Pathfinder International for Mozambican family planning knowledge.



Why should we do that? Because they are the future. As Forbes cites a new Ashoka Article on youth as changemakers: "Currently, 70% of Africans are under the age of 30. By 2040, 50% of the world’s youth will be African, most of whom will be women and girls. With nearly half of the youth population in Africa currently unemployed or inactive—and 72% living on less than $2 per day—communities are finding it more urgent than ever to enable new avenues and solutions for the creation of quality jobs that make way for youth livelihoods and productivity. How these communities address this challenge could shape the future of the world in unprecedented ways….[one path is supporting] community-rooted innovators, social entrepreneurs with a long history of working to help communities become “unstuck” and help youth become changemakers. These innovators build solutions based on a deep understanding of the socio-economic context within their specific communities. They weave initiatives that flip problems into cross-sector, sustainable, community-driven solutions."  We can support this through having them be the key engines for innovation in communities, shaping our development projects to meet their current needs.

So let's get started! Where have you seen success? What are the dangers of these approaches?



Rewarding Enterprising Desperation: Youth (Un)employment

Rewarding Enterprising Desperation: Youth (Un)employment

Eight years ago I interviewed the Kenyan CEO of a big meat processing corporation during a consultancy. After the interview I tried to get him interested in a local nonprofit I support (KUSARD). He told me he had another charitable avenue to help youth, below.


One day he was driving to work through a typically awful traffic jam and had the windows open. Suddenly a young man threw himself into the car through a window, begging for help. He said he had finished high school at great cost to his family (boarding school fees, uniforms); his father had sold his land to give his son a chance at an education. Even more impoverished, his family hoped this young man would get a job which would be the saving grace for the family's income and long-term security. He tried and tried to find a job but with so many other unemployed youth in the big city, to no avail.  In desperation, that day he decided to literally throw himself at the mercy of this man, thinking that if he had a Mercedes, he must be rich and might help somehow.

Somewhat skeptically, the CEO decided to help. He offered him a cart, and 50 sausages for free to sell.  If the youth could sell these, he could keep the profit, buy more and start generating money. He also threatened him with the police were both not returned.  True to their word, the youth sold and bought, sold and bought until he had made enough money to buy his own cart, then slowly hired other sausage sellers to sell for him. He approached the CEO again months later to return the original cart filled with the same 50 sausages he had originally received.  Impressed, the CEO offered him a job in his plant, which helped the young man pay for the school fees of his two younger siblings and now-widowed mother.

Of the 1.2 billion 15- to 24-year-olds in the world – 200 million of whom are in Africa – about 75 million are looking for work What will you do today to support at least one of them? I long to hear who you support, how you advocate… that young man could be my son, nephew or brother. Imagine if he were yours? 


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?…