At Global Communities, we believe that accountability, transparency and evidence-based design of projects are vital ingredients to effective partnerships. We have to be able to demonstrate to the communities with whom we partner that the approach we are proposing will be effective. And we must demonstrate to our donors – whether individuals or institutions – that we are using their development dollars effectively. This is the first in a series of blogs on this topic. This one will focus on the importance of measurement and impact.
Why is it important that we measure and evaluate our impact? Quite simply, because our work is for impact. We want to know what approaches have the greatest positive effect on the lives of our partner communities to help design and propose future projects. Here are a few examples.
Although nearly all of the discussion of Liberia in the past few years has focused on the Ebola outbreak, it is important to remember that before the disease struck, Liberia was still recovering from 14 years of brutal civil war. As a result, Liberia has many ex-combatants, including former child soldiers, with a history of violence, a lack of employable skills, and an uphill climb to integrate into daily life. To help address the needs of this at-risk population, Global Communities partnered with the Liberian Network for Empowerment and Progressive Initiative and Innovations for Poverty Action to document the most effective methods of assistance. 1,000 young ex-combatant men were recruited: a quarter received cognitive behavioral therapy for ex-combatants; a quarter received $200 in cash; a quarter received the therapy followed by the cash; and the final quarter, the control group, were monitored without assistance. The goal of the randomized control trial was to determine which intervention would be most effective in helping former combatants reintegrate into society. The results indicated that, contrary to conventional wisdom, recipients who received cash used it well and had better outcomes than those who received therapy alone; but those who received both cash and therapy had the best and most sustainable successes. Why is this important? In Colombia, a 52 year long conflict has recently ended – there are thousands of young people who only know combat. In Syria, when the conflict finally ends there will be many traumatized young people who were forced to fight. The same applies in Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, even gangs within the United States – the list goes on and on. Knowing the most effective method of re-integrating ex-combatants helps us to design effective projects based on evidence.
Another example is in El Valle, southern Honduras, where the landscape is rapidly degrading. Poor agricultural practices and population growth have stripped the land of vegetation, altered natural hydrological cycles, eroded soils, and spurred deforestation. This desertification has led to a continuous reduction of water availability and progressive loss of soil fertility. So when it does rain, the water retention in the soil is low and flooding is exacerbated. El Valle suffers from the knock-on effects of young people leaving to move to the cities, where they too often find themselves lured into crime, drugs, trafficking and other social ills which impact Honduras and whose reverberations are felt across the region, including in the United States.
With funding from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Global Communities’ implemented the Honduras Water Harvesting Project in nine villages in El Valle which was awarded the international Actions in Water and Climate Change Adaptation Prize and The National Environmental Award from the Honduran Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. The innovative system collects rainwater and runoff from rivers and streams during the winter, stores it in reservoirs, and then distributes to for use for irrigation of the smallholdings of 188 farming families throughout the year. Global Communities is now partnering with USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures to study the effectiveness of this prize-winning project. We are building 10 further reservoirs to assess the cost-effectiveness and impact of water harvesting and improved agricultural practices, compared with using improved agricultural practices alone. These assessments will help measure the impact of water harvesting on crop yields, farm profits, poverty alleviation, gender inequality, and environmental outcomes. By performing randomized trials to assess effectiveness, our aim is to develop best practices that are more sustainable and cost-effective, so that we can sustainably improve the lives and livelihoods of farmers in Honduras, while also reducing the negative outcomes affecting the region.
These are but two examples of projects we have implemented where we are carefully measuring, evaluating and studying the results so that we can continue to provide the best value to our donors and the greatest impact to our partner communities. But development is not a dry science; it is important also to look at and understand the unintended outcomes of our projects, whether positive or negative, and think more broadly about the impact we have on community relations or “social capital,” the topic of my next blog.