Do you work for a donor?

If so this post is for you. I was talking to some others of your species yesterday. We were lamenting the problem of short term grants; my fellow conversationalists agreed that this was a real problem, but what can you do? Governments won’t countenance long term commitments. (Although multi-laterals like the World Bank don’t have to deal with annoying things like general elections, so not sure why they cannot take a longer view.) One chap related the general amazement recently when a ten year grant was approved – that this was something almost unheard of.

I didn’t think of this retort yesterday, but here’s what I wish I’d said in reply:

If you work for a donor we need you to be brave. Next time your boss tells you to work up an outline for a 3-5 year development intervention to achieve some kind of social change, don’t just knuckle down. Tell her it can’t be done, period. Tell her that 10 years is the minimum under the most optimistic of considerations (so optimistic that you’d have to be a bit of a looney to really believe it will succeed) and that 15-20 years is the kind of commitment that is actually required. Whatever you do, do not attempt some kind of compromise proposal (‘the best you can manage’). It won’t work, and we all know donor promises for follow-ons are dubious at best, and always involve ridiculous gaps while the results of the last phase are evaluated.

Maybe your boss will get the message, maybe you’ll get fired. But at least you’ll have done the right thing. Don’t be another creature of the system in which things are done like this just because that’s the way they’ve always been done.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Who will revolutionize the development industry? It’s those who eyes, ears, and voice are devoted to empowering people in the developing world to find solutions to their own problems. It’s those with a professional, but more importantly, a personal resolve to nurture alternative models of “development” that not only take a long-term view and approach, but also those who genuinely build on the dignity, knowledge, skills, culture, and abilities of local people.


  2. do you know how bad this problem is? the grant management system at my global brand name NGO cannot handle a grant more than 5 years in length. it’s just not designed for it. an this has only been a problem to my knowledge about twice in the last 5 years.


  3. Posted by Matthias on October 5, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Sorry, I’m a late arriver to this blog.
    I totally agree that financing programmes for 3 to 5 years won’t bring the change hoped for and a long term commitment must be given. Still, I think to give this long term commitment in form of the financing of several 3 to 5 year plans is better than to plan for 15 years. In the first five years a lot can happen and an evaluation might bring to light, that the project is completely useless and has to be abandoned, or that a completely different approach should be taken for the next funding period, or that much more or much less investment is needed, etc. I don’t really know, but I imagine that it would be much more difficult to change plans after committing to a 15 to 20 year projects.


    • Hi Matthias, Thank you for your comment. Yes plans can change a lot in 3-5 years which is why you should have an evaluation. But, donors have far too common a habit of funding a project which will take a min of 10 years to achieve results, and then losing interest at the end of that first grant period even though the evaluation was positive. I think this particularly happens with donors funding NGO projects, but happens in all sorts of other cases too. When this happens you really have to ask yourself what the **** did the donor think it was funding in the first place? So we should never uncritically commit money for periods of 15-20 years, but equally donors should put existing projects on a different footing for funding to new project. If an evaluation is largely negative then do not continue to fund. Similarly if the evaluation strongly suggests changes then the donor needs to engage with the proponent to discuss and implement those changes. But, I suggest, the presumption should be in favour of continued funding, rather than the status quo which is for discontinued funding unless you’re lucky enough to be awarded it next time around.


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