Development projects must be fun to work

A recent economist article talks about getting better results from development projects:

There is tremendous untapped capacity in unlikely places – Sudanese villages, public sector institutions in Kenya, and countless other developing world communities.

In Sierra Leone:

“Only 1,000 people used HIV/AIDS Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) services over two years. Then, over 100 days, a small local team increased use of VCT services by 17,500.”

In fact, VAP in Kenya did that a few months ago. They had a “get tested” soccer tournament.  While they only got 1-2 thousand tested, it was a cheap, fast, and effective.

I like their idea:

“We can set a policy that out of each dollar spent on projects and programs, 10 cents are spent on unleashing this local performance capacity reserve. This would apply equally to “hard” infrastructure projects and to “soft” training or capacity-building projects. We contend that this step alone would improve these programs’ and projects’ impact by at least a factor of 10, or even 100.”

However I don’t think whether the money went to “hard”, “soft” or “capacity building” was what caused the 100-fold increase in people tested. Instead, I think these were the important factors:

  • Local org.
  • Local org decided VCT testing was it’s own priority.
  • Local org used local people in smart, cost-effective ways (including local volunteers)
  • Local org did not wait for outside help, outside directions, or outside financing
  • Local org provided a FUN incentive to get tested.

Fun and Local

The authors overlooked the power of fun in their commentary. Without fun, people are generally unwilling to waste time doing things, even if those things are in their own best interest – like getting tested.

I’ve also written previously that funding for fun, local projects needs put more of the resources in the hands of local people, not governments, agencies, or even local authorities. Currently, the bigger the project budget, the smaller the percentage of money reaching local people.

A Better Project Budget Breakdown:

That 10 percent should go towards local organizations with fun ideas, and used to build systems that help mobilize local people. Organizations with a clear goal in mind who have had any previous social impact in their community – such as getting 2,000 people tested – should be allowed to tap this money.

I think GlobalGiving does this. Our due diligence process identifies competent organizations with a demonstrated social impact (even if small). We teach them how to mobilize people, donors, and articulate a clear vision for themselves. We’re building a SMS feedback loop system to allow these organizations to better keep in touch with their communities. And we try to to make it fun.

I hope that FUN gets written in as one of our core values. NaNoWriMo already has FUN as it’s #1 core value – and look at what a difference they make in the world of writing!

I think these other suggestions from the article were good:

  • More coaching, less managing by outsiders.
  • A space where local orgs can build a sense of ownership, commitment and confidence, and identity.
Enouce and Nancy of VAP running their VCT tournament

4 thoughts on “Development projects must be fun to work

  1. i willorgarnise for widosl/widowers/ married womens aid postive victims versess early january 2012 thank you so much from vicent .s .mwachi.i like to one of your partnner on funs tune its nice to play and keep this lonly people busy.

  2. i like entertaining the lonly ones by giving them funs by laerning civic education on HIV/ AIDSamong other Disaster management etc peace building in grass roots level.

  3. I’ve had loads of fun supporting grassroots organizations through coaching and accompanying, rather than managing and monitoring over the years. A large international NGO I used to work for had a small “responsive” grantmaking mechanism, that was not tied to any specific sectoral activities, e.g. health or agriculture, but was a pot of money to address priorities identified by community leaders. Grants were US$500 or less, had an open application process, needed two positive independent references, and required only one-page proposals and reports. Many colleagues still talk about these small bits of money as some of the most memorable, impactful and fun(!) projects they ever supported. The relative risk of “losing” US$500 was nothing when compared to the waste within the system when you think about each layer taking its cut before funds ever reach the ground. But more importantly, they were easier and less costly to administer. Wouldn’t any taxpayer or development donor be pleased with that?

  4. Peace Corps’ only grantmaking program is very similar to Jennifer’s:

    (1) Local proposals (co-authored by a local volunteer and local person)
    (2) minimum 25% community contribution (50% effort match recommended)
    (3) $500 suggested size. $2500 was absolute maximum and required a lot more work than the $500 version, which could be processed and paid within 30 days.

    To date I think Peace Corps “SPA” grants are the best and highest impact form of grantmaking, and the recipe is so simple I’m shocked it’s not copied more often. Notice that M&E is skipped because each grant is too small to bother with, but in reality the volunteer also serves as M&E expert, writing a 1-year follow up 2-page report on whether the project worked and should be done again.

    The only ingredient missing was a SYSTEM to allow future SPA grants to assess proposals based on past reports. That’s for the 22nd century at the rate we are learning from our past mistakes 😦

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