AfriKids’ Director of Programme Funding, Sally Vivyan, writes about making a difference and the challenges of scaling up development…
Michael Hobbes’ interesting piece in New Republic caught our eye recently. In his article which implores us to “Stop Trying to Save the World”, Hobbes’ offers several cautionary tales about the current trend in development funding for bringing ideas ‘to scale’. Most poignant perhaps is the tale of the seemingly excellent ‘play pump’ idea which in some places provides a playful yet effective way of providing clean water, but when brought to scale turned out to hit challenges of maintenance, replication and even accusations of child labour!
Demand for ideas that can be scaled up is certainly high and it’s a requirement that AfriKids often stumbles against when developing funding relationships. It’s not that we don’t want to find solutions to problems that will work across northern Ghana and further afield when shared with fellow NGOs. It’s that we know it’s not that simple. As Hobbes says:
“The repeated “success, scale, fail” experience of the last 20 years of development practice suggests something super boring: Development projects thrive or tank according to the specific dynamics of the place in which they’re applied.”
An example of this hit home on a recent visit to AfriKids Ghana’s Talensi Nabdam Area Programme. Having heard the previous day about the challenges of finding viable gaps in the market for New Beginnings beneficiaries to inhabit with their new vocational skills in Bolgatanga, I was expecting to hear similar tales of woe in Talensi. But the situation couldn’t have been more different. In the village of Dakoto we met Dok (pictured centre above), a carpenter trained under the first phase of New Beginnings who had now set up business as the first and only carpenter in his home community. He is now employing two apprentices who are benefitting from the next phase of New Beginnings and the three of them are kept busy by a steady stream of work. The difference being that Talensi Nabdam is a district with a growing mining industry and therefore has growing villages with need of services that hadn’t previously existed. Yet it is just one hour’s drive away from Bolgatanga, a more established urban centre where the market for carpenters is saturated. It was a clear reminder that taking your time to understand local difference and tweaking a programme’s approach accordingly is crucial to making sustainable change. Yes we can train carpenters anywhere in the Upper East and fulfil the terms of our programme plan but if we want to really contribute to the region’s development there needs to be a more considered and flexible approach to the support we give young people.
Hobbes likens the situation to an ecosystem; “… each forest floor or coral reef, is the result of millions of interactions between its constituent parts, a balance of all the aggregated adaptations of plants and animals to their climate and each other. Adding a non-native species, or removing one that has always been there, changes these relationships in ways that are too intertwined and complicated to predict.”
His conclusion is that “Successful programs should be allowed to expand by degrees, not digits.” An approach that AfriKids is also committed to; gradually testing and expanding our programmes in a sustainable way. If you’d like to read more about the programmes set to grow in the next few years I suggest you take a look at the Family Livelihoods Support Programme and the Education Bridge.