Jindra Cekan on Rolling the Dice; Impact or Self-Sustainability?

AEA365 Valuing Voices impact vs self-sustainability trade off submission –

Hi, I am Jindra Cekan, PhD of Valuing Voices at Cekan Consulting LLC. I have been roaming around international development projects since 1988.

Lesson Learned: What’s likely to ‘stand’ after we go? A new consideration in project design and evaluation

Last spring I had the opportunity to not only evaluate a food security project but also to use the knowledge gleaned for the follow-on project design.  This Ethiopian Red Cross (ERCS) project “Building Resilient Community: Integrated Food Security Project to Build the Capacity of Dedba, Dergajen & Shibta Vulnerable People to Food Insecurity” over 2,000 households with credit for crossbreed cows, ox fattening, sheep/goats, beehives and poultry as well as other inputs. We met with 168 respondents (8% of total participants) and had in-depth interviews with 52.

My evaluation team and I asked in-depth questions on income and self-sustainability preferences. We used participatory methods to learn what they felt they could most sustain themselves after they repaid the credit and the project moved on to new communities. 

We also asked the to rank what input provided the greatest source of income.  The largest income ($1,500) was earned from dairy and oxen fattening, other activities garnered between $50 to $500.

And even while 87% of total loans were for ox fattening, dairy cows which brought in farm more income, and only 11% of loans were sheep/goats (shoats) and 2% for poultry, the self-sustainability feedback was clear. Poultry and sheep/goats (and to a lesser degree, ox fattening) were what men and women felt they could self-sustain.

So how can such a listening and learning approach feed program success and sustainability?

Hot Tips: We need to sit with communities to discuss the project’s objectives during design plus manage our/ our donors’ impact expectations:

1) If raising income in the short-term is the goal, the project could only have offered dairy and ox fattening to the communities as their incomes gained the most.

2) If they took a longer view, investing in what communities felt they could self-sustain, then poultry and sheep/goats were the activities to promote.

3) In order to learn about true impacts we must return post-project close to confirm the extent to which income increases continued, as well as the degree to which communities were truly able to self-sustain the activities the project enabled them to launch. How do our goals fit with the communities’?

What is important is seeing community actors, our participants as the experts. It is their lives and livelihoods, and not one of us in international development is living there except them…

What are your questions and thoughts? Have you seen such tradeoffs? We long to know at www.ValuingVoices.com

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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