Development Issues


Development: The Peace Bridge to Nowhere

Original article found on: Foreign Policy


Changing how peacebuilding organizations measure success could save aid projects that are stuck trying to meet rigid, dated, and increasingly arbitrary goals in conflict zones.


Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan — a depressing list, which seems to grow each day. It can be read as shorthand for human suffering and international tragedy. For the multitude of conflict prevention and humanitarian organizations that are committed to preventing the calamities that have struck these countries, the list is a sobering reminder of how much work needs to be done.

But it is also a reminder that this work demands continuous evaluation. The governments, foundations, and individuals that fund international aid work demand assurance that their money is being spent wisely; any hope for success demands being able to deploy smart, well-run programs. And doing that means being able to hold agencies and organizations accountable.

There’s a paradox, however. The challenges inherent to working in conflict zones means that strengthening the current approach to accountability — judging success against promises made years ahead of time — will create less effective programs, not better ones. The paradox is caused by a stable, slow-moving system, like the U.S. government, colliding with the unstable, rapidly changing conditions in conflict zones.

Virtually all of the work funded by the U.S. government or other international funders in areas of conflict follows a certain model: An agency identifies a problem and designs programming to address it, then hires a for-profit contractor or non-profit NGO to make it happen. Along with other independent agencies, such as inspectors general, the funding agency then tries to hold the hired organization accountable for achieving the objectives described in the original agreement. In the end, the results are supposed to check off the boxes from the initial plan, regardless of what might have happened in the interim.
Needless to say, this doesn’t always work out.

The rigid approach to implementing projects, not so surprisingly, has contributed to some well-documented failures. The final report of the Special Inspector General for Iraq (SIGIR) documented hundreds of abandoned projects that Iraqis are not using, including a $40 million prison that “will never hold a single Iraqi prisoner.” In her new book Peaceland, Severine Autesserre describes another illuminating failure: The United Nations sought to increase security in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by deploying additional police officers to the region. However, the police received no training, and the government of the DRC saw them as U.N. police, so refused to pay them. As Autesserre documents, the untrained, unpaid police became just another group preying on the local population, but at the end of the project, because the stated goal was to establish the force in the first place, the U.N. still claimed it as a success.

Lurking behind these failures is funding agencies’ normal accountability mechanisms, which simply don’t work when applied to conflict-affected areas because they make it very difficult to adapt programming to changing circumstances. As Andrew Natsios, the former administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), has argued, the accountability system in Washington, which he calls the counter-bureaucracy, “misapplies a domestic management lens to aid programs.”

Holding an organization accountable for building a highway bridge in Minnesota, for instance, requires a different approach than holding an organization accountable for building a Ministry of Justice in Libya.

Holding an organization accountable for building a highway bridge in Minnesota, for instance, requires a different approach than holding an organization accountable for building a Ministry of Justice in Libya.

Still, the need for accountability won’t change — working in challenging places cannot mean that organizations get a pass for not doing the job. But the way that success is measured and applied needs to evolve. So how should the U.S. government hold peacebuilders, contractors and NGOs, accountable in a way that actually makes sense?

To oversimplify a bit, the current approach is built around two basic questions that funding agencies ask: Did you do what you promised you would, and did it achieve the results you said it would? As a result, in the field, the plan drafted by the government — called a “scope-of-work” — guides every decision that contractors and NGOs make. Given how long planning and procurement can take for projects like the prison in Iraq, this means that contractors are often trying to fulfill promises made up to three years before projects even start.

To fix this process — that is, make it more responsive and agile — those questions should be focused on how the project achieved results in an unstable environment. The first question to program directors should be: What results did you achieve? Then, how did the project adapt to be most effective, given the changing context in which you are operating? Finally, what evidence do you have that supports your decisions regarding adapting your project?

Given the rigid, detailed planning processes that are the norm in U.S. government-funded projects, that may sound like a radical departure, but many of the building blocks are already in place. There are already examples of NGOs, international organizations, and U.S. government agencies that have adopted the flexible, adaptive programming that is required to be effective in conflict zones. The NGO Partners for Democratic Change, for instance, often uses a model that is based on establishing a permanent partner “center” within a conflict zone, such as Yemen or Colombia, as opposed to implementing a project with a set of pre-determined activities. A recent evaluation of this model claimed that, “as process experts, the Centers were able to adapt their programs and services to meet new needs and take advantage of new opportunities.” Religious networks, in part because they have independent sources of funding, have been employing a similar, so-called “window of opportunity” model for decades. This model relies on continuous presence in an area and the ability to respond flexibly to opportunities as they arise.

The U.S. Institute of Peace, where I work, uses a similar model, implementing something called Justice and Security Dialogues in six different conflict zones. The project, which consists of ongoing discussions between police and community organizations, is organized as a platform, as opposed to a strict set of activities. The nature of the dialogue and the problems addressed are regularly adapted based on the feedback received from the community and security services. This adaptation makes the dialogues better, and it makes it more likely they will succeed.

The truth of the matter is that it is easier than ever to get reliable feedback on how projects are working. New tools, including SMS-based cell phone surveys, civilian-controlled satellites and drones, social media, and groundbreaking big data projects (such as the GDELT initiative), all provide new and powerful ways to gather data within conflict contexts on both program activities and broader context. And gathering this information will only get easier. The challenge, therefore, is creating a feedback loop, and the only way this can happen is if projects are allowed to adapt in response to the data they gather.

Finally, there is hard evidence that adaptive projects are simply more effective. In a recent blog post, Duncan Green, a strategic advisor for Oxfam Great Britain, discusses a study of the evaluations of 10,000 development projects. The paper reports that, in general, giving program implementers flexibility to adapt to changing realities makes their projects more effective. That impact is stronger in complex environments like conflict zones. A recent evaluation of USAID reconciliation programming similarly found that “programs are most effective when they are adaptively implemented.”

Peacebuilders thus know how to implement adaptive programming, and they know it works. But many of the organizations doing good programming are succeeding despite the demands of their funders, compliance officers, or inspectors general. They find ways to be more flexible, while at the same time doing just enough to keep the “counter-bureaucracy” happy. The shift that is needed is an approach to accountability that doesn’t just create space at the margins for creative organizations to do flexible programming, but which demands that all organizations do this sort of programming. It must then require that organizations provide evidence explaining programming decisions they made and the results achieved. (As a bonus, this approach can safeguard taxpayers’ money.)

As rallying cries go, “More, but different accountability!” probably won’t inspire the masses to march in the streets. For peacebuilders, though, who are used to the long, hard, often dangerous tasks involved in helping countries put themselves back together, it might resonate. It’s time to stop making the hard work even harder.


Andrew Blum is the vice president for program management and evaluation at the United States Institute of Peace. The views expressed here are his own.

Original article found on: Foreign Policy


Development: World’s richest nations fail to meet aid pledges – report

Displaced Somali women arrive at a food distribution centre after moving to higher ground due flooding in areas around Jowhar, a town north of Somalia's capital Mogadishu, December 9, 2013. REUTERS/Omar Faruk

Displaced Somali women arrive at a food distribution centre after moving to higher ground due flooding in areas around Jowhar, a town north of Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, December 9, 2013. REUTERS/Omar Faruk

Original article found on: Thomson Reuters Foundation

Posted on October 5th, 2014 by Astrid Zweynert

* Development aid at record $131.2 billion in 2013

* Only one third went to least developed countries

* African governments fail to prioritise spending on anti-poverty measures

By Astrid Zweynert

LONDON, Oct 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation)- – The majority of the world’s rich donor nations failed to meet their development aid pledges in 2013 and only one third of the money went to the poorest countries, a report said on Monday.

Aid by members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) rose 5.3 percent year-on-year to a record $131.2 billion in 2013 after two consecutive years of decline, The One Campaign said in its annual aid data report.

Only a third went to the least developed countries, most of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, despite high-level support for a new target of 50 percent of all aid to be directed towards the poorest nations, said ONE, co-founded by Irish rocker Bono to end extreme poverty.

As world leaders prepare to agree a new set of development goals next year, ONE urged both rich and poor countries to address aid shortfalls to ensure the poorest people are at the heart of a renewed global drive against poverty from 2015.

“If donors don’t step forward and target at least half of their aid to those countries that need it most, the world’s poorest people risk being left behind,” Sara Harcourt, policy director at ONE and an author of the report, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Seventeen out of 28 DAC members increased their overseas development assistance (ODA) but despite these rises aid still only accounted for 0.29 percent of their national wealth, short of a United Nations target for aid spending of 0.7 percent.

Britain became the first country among the Group of 7 industrialised nations to meet the target last year, helped by a$3.95 billion boost to its aid budget.

Japan, Germany and Norway also stepped up efforts but others such as long-standing aid champions France, Canada and Australia showed marked declines in aid budgets amid cuts in overall public spending, along with the Netherlands.

The United States, the world’s largest bilateral donor, compared poorly with other G7 states in terms of aid spending relative to national wealth, with a ratio of just 0.19 percent.


African governments are also failing to prioritise their spending on programmes to boost the fight against extreme poverty, ONE said.

Only six out of 43 sub-Saharan African countries met their own spending goals on health, and only eight met targets on agriculture, the report found.

An additional $54.8 billion would have been mobilised for health between 2010 and 2012 if all sub-Saharan African countries had kept their promises, ONE said.

“First and foremost, public spending by African governments should be targeted towards the fight against poverty,” Sipho Moyo, the campaign’s Africa executive director said.

The report also highlighted a need to change the rules on what counts as aid, saying that since 2000 some $250 billion, or a sixth of all ODA reported by governments, did not involve a real transfer of funds to developing countries.

In 2012, for example, the cost of looking after refugees totalled $4.3 billion, or 3 percent of ODA. Administrative costs stood at $6.7 billion, or 5 percent of ODA.

Aid levels have also been given an artificial boost by including inflated valuations of debt relief, ONE said.

More stringent guidelines are also needed on which loans to developing countries count as aid, ONE said. It reckons that if these had been in place in 2012, $19 billion of loans would not have qualified as aid.

It urged the DAC countries, due to hold a senior-level meeting in Paris this week, to ensure a new definition of aid means it reaches those who need it most. (Reporting By Astrid Zweynert; Editing by Ros Russell)

Original article found on: Thomson Reuters Foundation


On the Media, Development: MDIF’s Impact Dashboard – A Case Study in Measuring MediaDev

Original article found on: The Source

Posted on September 30, 2014 by Mark Nelson


When it comes to measuring success or failure, media developers face many of the same challenges as the rest of the international development community.

Do you measure inputs, such as the amount of money that is invested in media development initiatives? Or do you track outcomes from projects—the number of people trained or the knowledge that they gained from training? Should we be looking at organizational performance of media enterprises, such as the increase in audience or reach, or their profit and loss accounts? Or should we be looking at broader impacts on society in terms of poverty reduction, improved governance or overall peace and economic growth that an independent media can help to achieve?

One creative attempt at answering thImpact dashboardese questions is the just-released Impact Dashboard 2014 from the Media Development Investment Fund. This document is a must-read for media developers because of the clear and graphic way that MDIF has tracked the results of its work.

MDIF is one of the most interesting and creative creatures of the media development field—an organization that makes loans and equity investments in, and offers technical support to promising media enterprises in developing countries. As such, it is already addressing one of the higher-level possible outcomes of media development, sustainable media enterprises. Compared with some of the early attempts at addressing problems in the media sector by simply training journalists, it is already yards ahead.

MDIF is also ahead in the results game. It looks at change at several levels, and it attempts to address the fundamental question of why high quality, independent media matters to developing societies. MDIF’s results framework measures its outputs, in terms of loans, equity investments and technical assistance; it looks at client outputs in terms of quality reporting and content production; and it suggests results at the societal level in terms of impact on reducing corruption and improving accountability.

MDIF’s solution to the results question mirrors closely the similar work carried out under the auspices of the Learning Network on Capacity Development , which is a network of development practitioners that has contributed to the last three global accords on aid effectiveness. LenCD has worked to build a stronger understanding of capacity development as more than just outputs—not just training and technical assistance—but a broader set of activities and focus on higher level results. These results can be tracked and measured at multiple levels. I have summarized one way of looking at these levels of capacity development outcomes in the diagram below.

MDIF’s Impact Dashboard is an important reminder about the importance of articulating the results of media development work. As the international community gears up for a new set of international development goals to replace the Millennium Development Goals that expire next year, initiatives such as this one can help us make the case that media development can be measured, that money spent on media development is well used, and that high quality independent media really matters for developing societies.


Original article can be read at: The Source


Development: Seven Million Lives Saved – Under-5 Mortality Since the Launch of the Millennium Development Goals

Original article found on: Brookings

By John McArthur
September 2014

Over the past decade, the Millennium Development Goals (hereafter MDGs or “Goals”) have become a central framework in organizing global health efforts. Many developing countries have made significant progress toward the official targets, including Goal 4, which is to achieve a two-thirds reduction in under-5 mortality rates (U5MR) by 2015 compared to 1990. According to the United Nations’ latest estimates, the developing world’s 2013 aggregate U5MR had declined 40 percent since 2000, and 50 percent since 1990.

But progress toward the Goals is not the same as progress because of the Goals. Nor can the mere setting of targets be considered the full scope of what might be called the “MDG agenda.” The broader agenda includes policy, organizational, and advocacy efforts to mobilize targeted resources in the practical pursuit of goals. It also includes the consolidation of common global reference points across diverse public, private, and non-profit actors, which might in turn have prompted incremental efforts toward results. As Manning (2009) has pointed out, “it is intrinsically difficult to distinguish the impact of the MDG framework itself from the strands of thinking that helped to create it.”

Although causal pathways are difficult to discern in aggregate, one highly correlated trend since the launch of the MDGs is a significant expansion in global health budgets. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (2014) estimates that total development assistance for health nearly tripled, from U.S. $10.9 billion in 2000 to more than $30 billion in each of 2011, 2012 and 2013 (all in constant $2011). These resources have helped to launch and expand important new international institutions, including the GAVI Alliance, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the U.S. presidential initiatives for both AIDS and malaria, all of which have helped to expand dramatically the country-level coverage of preventive and therapeutic health interventions.

Skeptics tend to question the MDGs based on four categories of critiques. One focuses on shortfalls in results. Many countries are not on course to achieve individual Goals, either because policy efforts or resources are inadequate. A second criticizes the establishment of political targets considered too ambitious to begin with. A third asserts that the developing world was making advances prior to the establishment of the MDGs, so the Goals should not be given credit for progress that would have been made in any case. A fourth argues that global aggregates might reflect success, but these are driven by results in the most populous developing countries, China and India, which made progress independently of the MDGs.

With these questions in mind, and as the international community considers the next generation of intergovernmental targets beyond the 2015 deadline, it is an appropriate juncture to examine the overarching “macro” hypothesis that the establishment of the MDGs and related efforts to support their achievement have been associated with accelerated progress on intended development outcomes. This paper does so with specific focus on MDG 4 for reducing under-5 mortality. The analysis focuses only on discerning long-term variations in outcomes that coincide with the establishment of the Goals. This is distinct from an investigation of “micro” hypotheses regarding how the MDGs might have been linked to variations in U5MR outcomes within countries.

The results are striking. They show that the period since the establishment of the MDGs has seen unprecedented rates of progress among the poorest countries, even when they are not on a path to achieve the formal MDG targets. As of the end of 2013, at least 7.5 million more children’s lives have been saved compared to the trajectory of progress as of 2001. The majority of these lives have been saved in sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, the period since the turn of the millennium appears to show convergent rates of progress across developing regions. At a minimum, the period from 2002 to 2012 was the first to show a clear break in the previous long-run trend whereby countries with higher U5MR saw systematically slower rates of U5MR decline.

The paper is divided into ten sections. Following this introduction, the second section describes the core hypotheses used to test MDG performance. The third section describes the data used in the analysis. The fourth section describes key methodological assumptions, including the definition of pre-MDG reference periods and the distinction between On Track versus Off Track countries at the outset of the MDG period. The fifth section describes the results for the three key tests of MDG performance, including variations by region and country income group. Section 6 then considers whether U5MR reduction trends have been subject to deeper structural shifts. Section 7 presents longer-term regression results evaluating trends over more than five decades. The results suggest a structural change in global trends since the onset of the MDGs, so Section 8 estimates the number of children’s lives saved that could be plausibly linked to the MDGs. Section 9 considers future implications for new targets to 2030. A final section concludes.

Full paper can be found or downloaded here.

Original article can be read at: Brookings


Afghanistan, Development: Less is More – International Intervention and the Limits of Afghan Growth

Original article found on: Heinrich Boll Stiftung

By Philipp Munch on September 17th, 2014

Construction workers at a roadside in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo: Neelab Hakim. Creative Commons LizenzvertragThis image is licensed under Creative Commons License.

Construction workers at a roadside in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo: Neelab Hakim. Creative Commons LizenzvertragThis image is licensed under Creative Commons License. 

Development projects and construction work around military bases make up an overwhelmingly large part of Afghanistan’s economy. With foreign troops withdrawing and declining aid, the country is looking for its future economic path.

Based on the financial scope, Afghanistan has clearly topped the list of recipient countries of international aid for many years now.[1] Since 2001, donors have been able to improve medical facilities and levels of education by a very considerable degree – to name but some of the most important accomplishments.[2] However, external funds make up an overwhelmingly large part of Afghanistan’s economic performance with little sign of self-sustained economic development.[3]

In addition, greater scrutiny reveals that those sectors of the Afghan economy that have been newly created or strengthened are tailored towards serving the conditions created by the international intervention. Above all, it is the construction and retail industries that have profited from the numerous development projects and military bases, with retail benefiting from the logistic needs of the intervention forces and the comparatively high spending power of those Afghans they employ. Afghanistan’s domestic agricultural production, on the other hand, has contracted.[4]

As a consequence it is to be expected that the sectors in question will collapse once the intervening forces have withdrawn. However, considerable parts of the population have become used to such standards of living. On top of that, the funds thus generated do prop up a political system that, until now, has prevented a relapse into large-scale civil war. Still, it is more than likely that the exceptionally high external subsidies will decrease in the long run, posing the question of how to achieve self-sustained economic development. As a first step I would like to sketch out the main reasons why this has failed to materialise until now – in spite of the unprecedented amount of spending. As a second step, and based on this, I would like to present a few possible attempts at a solution.

An overabundance of aid money

One of the main reasons Afghanistan lacks economic development certainly are its much cited “rentier state” features. The country’s most senior political actors are doing their best to skim off international funds and redistribute them to their camp followers via patronage networks. Funds provided by the donors are thus being turned into “rents” that subsidise parts of the population without ever being invested in profit-making businesses.[5] Although it is often claimed, this practice is not questionable per se, as these funds, however much misappropriated from the donors’ perspective, do still serve their purpose, that is, they create political stability that is much greater than anything witnessed during the 1990s.

Even when viewed from a micro-level perspective, it becomes obvious that the concern of the established political actors to keep the international subsidies alive is crucial in preventing the outbreak of widespread violence.[6] Clearly questionable however is the increased hoarding of international resources by some political actors who do not redistribute them to their clientele. Funds that are being invested in secure Dubai or transferred into Swiss bank accounts will not profit the country.[7]

Nevertheless, the many donors, too, will have to be investigated as possible culprits for the lack of economic development. The deluge of funds, unparalleled in the country’s history, has meant that Afghanistan’s currency is overvalued, something not apt to facilitate exports. As the donor countries’ organisations vie with each other for the most qualified sections of the labour force they are willing to pay inflated salaries. The most able Afghans are thus employed by foreign state and non-state organisations, a phenomenon only too familiar from other countries.[8]

Efforts to build up an effective Afghan administration are thus being hampered. On top of that, competition between international actors and their efforts to spend all budgeted funds within the respective fiscal year creates an overabundance of aid money. Accordingly, this has fostered a recipient mentality among Afghans, that is, a mindset that views international aid as the norm and any efforts to become autonomous or to preserve the achievements made as superfluous. The frequent donation of grain, moreover, has the effect that local agricultural produce is rarely profitable.

Counterproductive reforms

An equally decisive factor is the faulty sequence of developmental steps undertaken in Afghanistan. While it makes basic economic sense to build more roads, this also facilitates the influx of imported goods into a country without a domestic industry able to compete on international markets and lacking tariffs to protect it. Internationally sponsored education initiatives that have proliferated since 2001 are certainly well intentioned, yet without adequate jobs for graduates this will only fuel discontent.

Precisely this is what happened with Afghan education initiatives after World War II. Up until the 1970s government-affiliated client networks were able to absorb graduates, yet the rising national debt signalled the end of this system. Almost all the leading proponents of Jihadi organisations that began their uprising in 1975 or 1978-79 respectively belonged to this group of thwarted social climbers.[9] A similar dilemma arises from the fact that, since 2001, improved humanitarian conditions have enabled Afghan families to raise more children. Today the average age in Afghanistan is circa 15. Not least because this will exacerbate the problem of subdividing inherited estates, an issue already familiar from before the war, it is currently completely up in the air what employment opportunities there may be for the younger generation.[10] The consequence of such developments is instability, a situation hardly conducive to economic growth.

It can be argued, moreover, that many of the economic reforms favoured by the intervening powers since 2001, have been counterproductive. Mostly, they where based on neoliberal assumptions and other economic theories prevailing in the West, which view economic activity in ahistorical ways and without considering the actual power structures. This led to the expectation that a market with very few barriers would, by force of nature, create growth for all.[11] For Afghanistan the result has been that the overvalued currency along with a deluge of cheap imports has relegated formerly self-employed craftsmen into the ranks of day labourers.[12] Domestically the absence of a state monopoly on legitimate violence[13] and of a separation of powers between politics and economics, which gave rise to an unbridled market, have resulted in a few actors gaining economic monopolies.[14]

The dilemma of the donors

Solutions for the main obstacles identified in this paper have to be sought, above all, on part of the donors. They are faced with a dilemma: On the one hand, they will have to reduce their funding considerably, on the other, as seen with the fall of the Najibullah regime in 1992, this may in no case be allowed to occur too rapidly. Historically, whenever one group of the Afghan populace has been dropped from the patronage network, the result has been conflict – and the same may be expected to happen again. Instead, aid funds should be cut gradually and slowly – and this process will have to go hand in hand with boosting Afghanistan’s economic performance.

In order to make such developments viable the country should be allowed to close its markets against imports. A reduction in aid will reduce the overvaluation of the Afghan currency, thus cutting labour costs. In addition, the international community should agree on measures to stop the flight of capital from Afghanistan – although this phenomenon is closely linked to the country’s “system of rents.” Consequently, this may only be effected through external supervisory measures that will erode Afghanistan’s sovereignty even further. According to international law such an intervention would be dubious as well as difficult to implement – and it would likely turn out to be counterproductive as it would further undermine Afghanistan’s already weak statehood.

The lack of co-ordination between development projects as well as the excessive amount of money poured into the country are both generated by the donors’ interest-driven policies, that is, the donors are unwilling to subject their measures to any kind of central authority and they are defending their sizable budgets, no matter whether they are helping the country or not. Thus, the lack of co-ordination between donors is not a question better fine-tuning, it is an expression of the actual power structure. As a consequence, it is anything but realistic to expect changes in the near future.

Read the original article on  Heinrich Boll Stiftung.

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