Last blog for the module – UNIT 5

Last and final blog for the module – UNIT 5

Who knows, maybe I will become a consummate blogger but for some reason I think not.  I enjoyed this unit more than some of the others as I felt that I could relate a lot easier to what people were saying; though what this unit has done is continue to force me to make links between the provision of aid and the different development theories and how they have evolved through time.

What I have learnt?

A lot of what was covered in this unit, I already had some knowledge on; for example the MDGs, the G7, absorptive capacity of aid by recipient Governments and much more though there were some points which I either hadn’t thought about at all or were submerged in my consciousness somewhere.

The promises that donor governments, G7, the EU and others give at meetings and conferences about the level and quantity of their aid and what actually happens in reality was no surprise to me.  What was surprising though was that the EU has such a poor track record with what it promised and what it gave; only 35% of its commitment to aid between 2004 and 2010 was realised (www.one.org/data/en/data/) which is actually shocking.  What was even more so and on the same website was the information about the total amount of grants which were given but the enormous costs that are involved in administering the grants.  These costs far outweigh the total costs of all grants which kind of makes you think, hasn’t someone worked this out and tried to think of a different way to administer grants.  It’s kind of ironic that donors are talking about aid effectiveness but maybe they sometimes need to look at how effective and efficient they are actually being.

My work is mostly concerned  with how it contributes to one or more of the MDGs  and when I think of MDGs I think of poverty alleviation, improved living conditions etc but I hadn’t really considered the obvious link to economic growth other than on the very grassroots level of how to improve livelihoods at the community level.  It was interesting to consider by reading Greig et al (2007) about the MDGs and how these are primarily concerned with human development but how these are intrinsically linked with various parts of the different development theories.  To think that for economic growth to occur and to take off, human development in the areas of health, education, infrastructure and governance needs to have reached a certain threshold is obvious but maybe not automatically considered by donors, NGOs and others (including myself – we always seem to want to run before we can walk).   I know of various NGOs (usually smaller ones these days) who do their projects without thinking of how this may fit into the bigger picture.  For example; an NGO may provide reading books and training to teachers on how to manage these resources in the hope that more children will enrol at school and stay at school.  What they may fail to consider is the longer term view of what an educated population may actually do for the community, the district or the country that they live in further down the line.  Obviously the final outcome or impact is a long term goal and is usually far beyond the reach of a small 2-3 year project but surely it should always be at the back of the NGO’s mind – or is it and it is just isn’t articulated?

How do I feel?

I’ve actually just come back from almost 2 weeks in Laos up on the Burma/Thai/Laos border reviewing a basic education project.  This is what it’s about, getting the Government officials away from their desks and into communities to discuss what is working well and what isn’t.  Seeing the various light bulbs go on and the enthusiasm for their work as a result of being out is great. 

This links to the Laos Ministry of Education’s long term strategy that was developed to respond to MDG 2 and 3 and Education for All.  The Ministry developed this with support from donors and as a precursor to donors committing to various parts of the plan.  What is more interesting is how the Ministry of Education recognised that it would not achieve the MDG of universal primary completion by 2015 due to intense regional variations and various marginalised groups of children.  The MoE developed an additional document – the Education Development Framework (EDF) which has a focus on marginalised children particularly girls and those from ethnic minority groups in remote areas.  The EDF is now being implemented in various parts of the country with various innovative ideas being carried out , the grils scholarship program run by the Government (but funded externally), radio programmes broadcast in minority languages by Plan in association with the Department for Information on the importance of education.  This is just a small example where the recipient Government has taken the responsibility, recognised the inequalities which exist within it’s borders and are trying to do something about it albeit with the necessary support from donors and NGOs.   

I have mixed feelings about absorptive capacities for donor funds of Governments, in one way I feel, give them the money they need it but on the other hand which is probably a wee bit stronger, I do feel that it can actually be irresponsible of donors to give so much money to a country.  Many recipient countries may not have robust enough financial or accountability systems in place and the result is no obvious impact from the money.  The common knowledge that AusAID will be putting in huge amounts of money to the Timor Leste Ministry of Education which could account for almost 30% of the Ministry’s budget is a classic example though to give AusAID their dues, they are trying to work out the best way which the funds could be used to offset particular problems.  The potential in instances like this for the donor Government to have considerable leverage over the recipient government on how the funds may be used, the possibilities that the recipient Government is going to have to deal with a parallel financing and reporting system is huge.  Additionally the chance that the recipient government may then look at the education budget and say, well a donor is providing so much money so we can cut our allocation to education is also prevalent.  A proper analysis of a recipient government’s capacity to absorb any amount of funds needs to be made before the donor decides what it will do.

How relevant is this?

How countries allocate their money, how the money is used, how the accountability to the tax payers occurs are all big questions with no one answer, every situation or country/region needs to be looked at on a case by case situation.  Encouraging NGOs to be innovative and to try out new ideas is so important in these situations but donors are usually hesitant in allowing this to happen as they are worried about the accountability and usually require  specific activities to be  written at the proposal stage.  This goes into Owen’s blog (www.owen.org/blog/3633) where he talks about how it would be better to look at the overall results rather than how you get there.    This needs to be sold to the donors as activities which can then maybe be replicated with some adjustments in other localities, if not donors just see it as being a very high unit cost activity.  An example is where the consulting company I work for provide 5% of our overall fees to a NGO or CSO plus technical expertise to conduct a pilot activity – this year the money went to a Laos NGO to do some work on supporting non-lao speaking students in school.  The beauty of this project is that it fits into the Ministry of Education’s EDF for supporting the most marginalised, it has Government support and participation and the Ministry is already talking about how this may be replicated in other districts and is beginning to seek funding .

One thing which struck me was Owen’s blog about measuring results and thus how effective the aid has been (www.owen.org/blog/3633) .  I agree with Owen that it is important to look at the longer term as mentioned above and the actual impact of the aid but I do think that it would be difficult if not impossible to do this without some intermediary steps which shouldn’t be onerous for anyone.  Nearly everyone in Government and the Aid world are familiar with reporting against inputs, outputs and outcomes as they are aware that the impact may not actually become apparent until after the project has finished but they often have this long term goal in mind.  And  yes the problem can be that a log frame which looks great at the proposal stage is no longer relevant 1-2 years down the line but many donors are flexible enough to allow changes to be made to a log frame during the implementation phase.  From my experience recipient Governments or Ministries like these intermediate steps and they may be the ones who  suggest the different steps or milestones.  There may initially be a focus on the inputs which may be the most tangible e.g. construction of a school, training but they quickly leap to the next stage of so how is the school building helping the children and/or teachers, what difference has the training made.  These intermediary monitoring steps also provide the opportunity for things to be tweaked where necessary.

Applying this in my work?

It may be that there aren’t actually any specifics which can be applied in my work other than I could see myself thinking about how all the different parts of the puzzle would fit in for a particular situation.  The quotes from Lant Pratchett in Owen’s blog (www.owen.org/blog/3815) of  “Development is about more than growth to Development isn’t at all about growth,” made me think of the example of West Timor and the resettlement sites.  There are maybe up to 30 different resettlement sites of former refugees from Timor Leste in West Timor and the aid for these communities was huge in that all their basic needs were catered for – education, shelter, water, health.  However, there was no support or thought given to how these communities would sustain themselves beyond the short term; the result is communities with limited economic opportunities to this day and a dependency on aid, aid which is now drying up in the present climate of Indonesia not being as big a  priority for many donors as it was in the past.

I suppose what this module has really made me think about is those huge inequalities which are prevalent in many middle income countries and how these can be highlighted and the relevant action taken; for example the Laos education development framework (EDF) which are wanting to reach the most marginalised.  It’s essential for countries and donors  to learn from others and to think about how these inequalities can be tackled.

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~ by xtalkpg on November 11, 2011.

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