It’s the start of a new year (hope you all celebrated in style, folks!), and many people choose this time to start something new. Of course not all of them last, but mostly we at least mean them do so when we begin them, even all those ill-fated fitness drives. No-one deliberately joins the gym in January if they actually intend to stop going in February.
Donors are no different (though their financial year may be). They always like to start something new, to fund that innovative new project that transforms the aid landscape. This has two pernicious effects. Firstly, it means that boring old-style stuff (even last year’s great innovation) that has been proven to work is no longer the flavour du jour, which is a great pity since if something is proven to work (and is value for money) then it ought to be a no-brainer to fund. Not so! This can be incredibly frustrating for NGOs who regularly have to find new justifications to fund the same old work.
Secondly, in the absence of endlessly increasing amounts of money (maybe not an issue for DfID over the next few years), one or more existing projects have to make way for the new ones. This is easily accomplished by putting a timeframe on all these projects in the first place, thereby automatically freeing up funds later on. Hence we end up with fixed term development projects in which we are only just approaching success when the taps are turned off. I have written before about the sustainability issue (my greatest pet peeve), but I recently also came across a fantastic (old) post by Owen Barder on the issue.
As Owen pointed out more recently, this fixed-term fixation is especially hypocritical when applied to such things as agricultural subsidies. And yet the default approach of otherwise reasoned commenters (ok, one commenter at least) is to assume that subsidies must be for a limited period only.
How about this for a new start instead: what if donors just funded the same old stuff for once, and didn’t put a term limit on it right from the start, but said “Let’s see how this goes …”?