Posts Tagged ‘aid effectiveness’

Does demanding contributions from local beneficiaries work?

Here’s a question for all you development research types (especially the randomistas).

A lot of community-level capital development projects these days seem to involve a requirement that the beneficiary community make a contribution towards the development. Sometimes this is in the form of free labour, other times it is financial. So, for example, a new bore hole and pump may cost around $20,000; the donor will pay the bulk but ask that the community stump up $1,000*; communities that cannot or will not stump up do not get the new well. The theory, as I understand it, is that if the community have had to stump up then they will value the development more, be more likely to take care of it etc, and the development project will be more successful as a result.  Conversely also, communities who do not stump up are assumed to not sufficiently want a new well, and thus the money is better spent elsewhere.

The second part of that theory has the obvious flaw that some communities may simply be unable to afford $1,000, but still it is a very seductive idea for directing aid to those areas which will benefit from it and value it most, and also increasing the likelihood of sustainability. If I were in charge of a programme offering such capital development grants I think I’d incorporate the requirement in my programme’s design.

But, does it really work? Or does the requirement for a local contribution simply slow down disbursement, miss out some needy communities altogether, and save the donor a negligible amount of money (unless so few communities can afford the contribution they don’t even spend the entire programme’s allocation)?

In particular I wonder whether if the community had to pay $1,000 for the new well then they might only value it at $1,000. Such a valuation might not even be completely irrational if the community sees other neighbouring communities also getting the new well for the same price (i.e. the wider programme effectively establishes the local price), and, following previous practice by the same and other donors  in the area, the community may consider it a reasonable chance that if in 5-10 years time the pump is broken, some donor will offer to repair it for another token contribution of $1,000.

Moreover, assuming this is now a ‘community-owned’ well it is unlikely that it provides value to any one individual of over $1,000, especially when labour is so cheap, and the primary water fetchers (women) have less political influence, and thus individual incentives for maintenance may be dulled. Cohesive, well led communities can of course overcome these challenges, but they are the exception that proves the rule of the tragedy of the commons from which communal investments often suffer. And investing in local community governance is a long, expensive undertaking which does not sit well alongside a quick in-and-out capital development programme.

Has anyone ever done any research on this issue? The relatively long time periods required to judge sustainability might be one challenge, but I could also imagine how it might be possible to measure earlier proxy indicators of likely success within a couple of years of installation. Anecdotal  evidence of success in NGO projects is not without interest in this area, but it might suffer from a question of attribution in relation to this measure versus other forms of support that the NGO provides as part of the integrated package.

Please enlighten me in the comments.

* I’m not a water engineer. These prices may be completely unrealistic. The exact numbers are not important to my basic point.


Mainstream me

So I’ve been pondering a bit recently on the riddles of what gets mainstreamed and what doesn’t in aid, and how it gets mainstreamed. A lot seems to go wrong.


Here’s what I reckon should get mainstreamed, in rough order of importance:

  • Aid Effectiveness. I mean if you’re not effective why do you even bother? And yet large parts of the aid industry seem to resemble nothing more than a giant job creation scheme. There was a good reason why all those structural adjustment programmes recommended drastically slimming down government bureaucracies that are now propped up by so many aid projects.
  • Sustainability. Oh yeah I’ve said this all before. Can easily be filed under effectiveness.
  • Good Governance. Governance is all about the processes we go through to achieve other goals, so tackling it as a separate item or bolt-on extra is surely nuts. Someone, however, needs to tell that to some of the government officials around here, who recently I overhead praising the importance of training on good governance … if you don’t know when you’re stealing from the very people you’re supposed to be serving then time to get another job!
  • Environment (including climate change). I’m an environmentalist so of course I’m biased on this one. But environmental issues impose important limits on what is and what isn’t achievable (and sustainable!), and externalities are often and easily generated that impose on other people, who are likely to be at least as poor as those you’re trying to help.
  • Disadvantaged Demographics (i.e. gender, but a lot more besides). I’m not saying it ain’t important, just I think the above are, on average, more important.

And here’s one that does not deserve to be mainstreamed in its own right:

  • HIV / AIDS. I mean if it’s a workforce problem then it falls under Aid Effectiveness (constantly ill staff = unsuccessful project). Or if it’s a critical constraint in the target community then what the **** are you doing trying to implement some other kind of project?

Of course, as my argument on HIV/AIDS demonstrates, all these are contextual. Most education projects are unlikely to be constrained by environmental issues or to generate much in the way of environmental externalities, so gender is probably more important to consider, and vice versa for infrastructure development projects.


How things get mainstreamed is equally important. Check boxes belong with job creating bureaucracies but rarely have anything to do with reality.

I was recently discussing gender issues with some colleagues and, at first, my natural suspicion of the gender-trumps-everything agenda kicked in, and I suggested that it isn’t particularly central to the work we do. But then just as I was moving on to the “But of course we treat it as important … blah blah …”, it occurred to me that the reason that it isn’t a big issue for us is that our excellent field team are all to some extent sensitive to problems of women’s marginalisation, and attempt to mitigate them at each step in their fieldwork. (Not saying that our practices in this area couldn’t be improved, just that they’re not too bad.) I.e. we had actually mainstreamed gender issues in our work. It gives us precious little to fill in those blank spaces on grant application forms that ask how we address gender issues, but it works a lot better in practice than some tokenistic additional practice.

Climate change seems to be the next big candidate for ubiquitous demands for mainstreaming. In tackling this I really hope that other donors follow the lead of Comic Relief (a UK donor) who, in tackling climate change, I gather have said they don’t want to fall into the same old mainstreaming traps, and instead want their grantees to really walk the walk.

Is it too much to hope that the rest of  the aid industry might finally mainstream good mainstreaming practice?

Ten things I didn’t want to know about aid ineffectiveness

A little birdie told me about this, and I just couldn’t resist. The donors in Tanzania have got  their own little website, included on which is a page telling us “10 Facts about Aid effectiveness in Tanzania”. They call themselves the Development Partners Group (DPG for short) and this is what they have to say:

    1. Tanzania’s aid effectiveness initiatives begun even prior to the international call on aid effectiveness. The initiatives follow recommendation of the Independent Commission report by Helleiner (1994) which called for among other things a closer collaboration between the government and development partners.
    2. DPG supports the coordinated Government-led programmes to strengthen capacity development in core reforms programmes such as the Public Financial Management Reform Programme (PFMRP), Public Sector Reform Programme (PSRP), Local Government Reform Programme (LGRP), Legal Sector Reform Programme (LSRP), as well as Poverty Monitoring Master Plan and Business Environment Strengthening Programme for Tanzania. Sector programmes with capacity development components include – but are not limited to – Primary Education Development Programme, the Secondary Education Development Programme, ASDP, as well as the health and HIV/AIDS programmes.
    3. The Joint Assistance Strategy for Tanzania (JAST) is the national medium-term framework jointly developed by the government and development partners in order to enhance aid effectiveness at country level. It replaces the Tanzania Assistance Strategy (TAS), which served as medium-term framework for development cooperation between 2002/2003 and 2004/2005.
    4. JAST is approved by Cabinet and signed by 19 bilateral and multilateral agencies including: African Development Bank, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, European Commission, Finland, France, Ireland, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, UN, USA, and the World Bank.
    5. MKUKUTA-PER dialogue structure is the main structure for technical dialogue between the Government, Development Partners and domestic stakeholders. It integrates all major national development priorities and sector processes into a single process, whilst retaining government exclusivity on its internal dialogue.
    6. DPG endeavours to align its own structure of sectoral/thematic and sub-groups to a corresponding government-led dialogue structure, within the cluster structure of the MKUKUTA and MKUZA.
    7. Three modalities are used to deliver aid assistance to the government of Tanzania: General Budget Support (GBS), Basket Funds and the Direct Project Funds with the GBS being the most preferred mode since it is consistent with government’s legal structure and processes.
    8. The Sector-Wide Approaches (SWAps) are applied in key sectors including water, health agriculture, education HIV/AIDS and core reform programmes. Under SWAps, line ministries take a leading role in putting in place a comprehensive and operational plan and programme as well as a coordination framework allowing various stakeholders to focus on commonly agreed goals and targets.
    9. Tanzania’s mutual accountability framework particularly the Independent Monitoring Group mechanism, is one the most established mechanisms worldwide with three evaluation reports produced since 1994.
    10. Most of the working groups under the DPG are organised around a troika chairing structure, that is, there is an incoming and present and out-going chairing arrangement (act as leaders of the group), with other DPs being either active or delegating members, in accordance with the division of labour outlined in the JAST.

Ummm … so exactly how is any of  the above effecting real change that, say, a poor Tanzanian farmer would recognise? Or, to put it another way, exactly how far up their own arses are the so-called Development Partners?

Aid efficiency & focusing on the important things

(with apologies to DR who doesn’t make the rules)

Informal chat with a Donor Representative (DR), 2009

MJ Presumably the NGO projects will be much more efficient than the government ones.
DR Yes, we expect that. But they won’t be the most efficient.
MJ Oh? Who will be the most efficient?
DR The private sector.

Meeting with Donor reviewing progress on a grant we have from them, 2011

(Same donor representative, DR)

DR We’re a bit concerned about this capital expenditure here [value < 0.5% of budget] which was not in the original budget and not approved by us.


And that, my friends is why the private sector will always be more efficient than NGOs.

But seriously, putting aside the nit-picking, what, at the end of the day, are your public interested in? (This is a bilateral donor.) The answer is impact. If you stopped worrying so much about the little things (including in your work with government), and instead focused on the impact bottom line, everybody would be much happier. If an aid recipient can deliver great service to its beneficiaries who cares how many Land Cruisers they buy? I guess this is what COD aid is all about.

The Aid Effectiveness Officer

During my Xmas break I was able at last to put flesh to what, for me, was a mythical creature: the Aid Effectiveness Officer. The lead character in John Le Carré’s The Constant Gardener is an Aid Effectiveness Officer, but I’d never previously encountered one. I had thought / hoped that they might only exist in legends designed to keep aid recipient bureaucrats on their toes lest they get a visit from the Aid Effectiveness Officer ghost. I even wondered whether they came in tripartite form: the ghosts of Aid Past, Aid Present and Future Aid. (Although, given the course of Aid history, maybe the Ghost of Aid Present would be the scariest; an IMF inspection team of headless wraiths?)

But now I can reveal to you the truth: yes Aid Effectiveness Officers actually exist – I’ve met one in the flesh. It was the season of goodwill and we were all pretty merry, so though one’s trusty blogger’s ears perked and nose twitched, the impassioned tirade had to be put to one side. “An Aid What Officer?” I wanted to ask. Are other Aid Officers not effective? Of all the things the Aid industry has sought to mainstream did they somehow forget effectiveness? … Cos if there’s one thing you’d think you might want to mainstream, surely that would be it?

In fact the guy talked some reasonable macro-economic sense and decried the dysfunctional government systems of the country where he worked. It’s maybe not fair to blame the guy for the job he does; we should blame the idiots who pay him instead. And, let’s face it, Aid often isn’t terribly effective, and could do with someone who could improve its tarnished record?

But, I’m not sure he should get off all that easily. He no longer works in the UN system, but is now a consultant. This may be as much to do with the UN’s own lack of effectiveness, but consultants are usually limited to short-term work, whereas in my book  one critical ingredient of aid effectiveness is long term engagement. So he’s raking in the money, advising his former employers, other donors and recipient countries how to be ‘effective’. One is tempted to wonder whether they might not all get better value for money if some kindly fellow would just point them the way to the self-help stand in their nearest airport bookstore?

Yes, alright, this is something of a rant, but I do have a problem with a system in which effectiveness is not required to be built in right from the start but which somehow has to be bolted-on on top. In business, if you’re not effective you’re fired, the company goes under, or both. And if you tried suggesting to your boss that you need a Business Effectiveness Officer, you might well be fired too.

Any human system is ultimately made up of the people within it. Awhile ago I asked: “Did you turn up to work today to alleviate poverty … or to claim your pay cheque?” I challenge any Aid Effectiveness Officer to answer that question without caveats.

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