Tuesday, August 4

How to define success

Many projects in the world of development face a difficult challenge.

How will we define success?

Most of the projects that I've witnessed during my work here in Ghana struggled with this question. For example, one project focused on facilitating a planning process with communities so that they could leverage government structures to implement their projects. The end goal was originally seen as achieving food security for the communities. The project would assist the communities in choosing their priorities and in putting these into a Community Action Plan. Then the project would help the most local government structure, Area Councils, to incorporate the various Community Action Plans into its Area Level Plan. Then the project helped these Area Councils work with the District Governments to incorporate these Areal Level Plans into the Districts’ Mid-Term Development Plans. Once this process was completed, funds were released so that each community was able to implement one of the projects outlined in their Community Action Plan. The money would be channeled through the National Government, through the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development and finally to the District Governments so that they could work with the communities to implement the projects. Each of the projects selected were to address the food security needs of these communities. The projects helped some communities with crop production, with animal traction for plowing, or with things like market infrastructure and processing equipment. As the project continued, those who designed and oversaw the project began debating which was of greater value, the food security benefits of their projects, or the exposure of each community and district to this planning process that could be replicated in the future to meet future needs.

Another dilemma faced by the project was the question of targeting. Should the project aim to increase household food security or to increase community food security. Should it trade off having a larger overall impact for the community in order to benefit the most vulnerable households? Which initiative was more successful? The one that saw each woman in a community receive a goat that they could breed and raise, or the one that saw one individual receive processing equipment that she could make available to to community for a small fee? If the goal was targeting the most vulnerable than perhaps the goat initiative seems more successful, but if the goal was greater food security for an entire community than perhaps the processing equipment was the most successful. Yes, one person will be benefiting from the fees that she charges, but now an entire community is able to process a greater amount of food, allowing them to store it longer, making the lean season shorter. And maybe we can say that the processing equipment has had a household impact. If you examine one family, perhaps their food security has increased since the mother can now go next door to grind her maize, instead of traveling all the way to the next community. But then you have to ask, can the poorest household in the community afford the fee that is being charged for the equipment.

There are many questions and many challenges when trying to define and gauge success. And this is something I’m now facing as my placement draws to a close. Have I been successful? Well what did I hope to achieve? Maybe we can examine the goals of the JF program for some guidance.

1. Create positive impact overseas through our partners

2. Create positive impact in Canada through our chapters

3. Create social change leaders through learning and passion in individual JFs

Or to quote the more specific descriptions from the “Orange Book of Change” which could be seen as a sort of EWB manual:

1. To create change overseas by working directly with our partners to have real and direct on the ground impact with rural African communities and our partners themselves. While working with our partners the JF furthers the broader overseas impact and programming of EWB, augmenting the impact we’re already having.

2.To create change in Canada by providing returned volunteers who are able to educate and inspire Canadians to change the way they think, feel and act towards Africa.

3. To create change and learning for the Junior Fellow, allowing them to grow as much as possible. Junior Fellows will emerge from their experiences better equipped to act as leaders for change in Canada and overseas over the long term.

Having these three objectives raises the question of priorities. It isn’t clear which objective should take precedence over another, but it’s inevitable that for each JF there will be times where a decision needs to be made as to which one should be the focus of their energy. Looking at the order in which they’ve been outlined doesn’t even provide a clue to whether anyone has implicitly placed the emphasis on one goal over another since the order in which they appear depends on the document in which they are found. I’ve put these two descriptions in the same order so that it is easier to refer to them.

So looking at my placement up to this point, I’d say that I put most of my energy into objective number 1. My primary focus was on having something tangible to provide the college, or something concrete to offer to EWB’s strategy. I knew that this type of placement wouldn’t really lend itself to “real and direct on the ground impact with rural African communities.” I think I can say I’ve more or less achieved my goals. When I leave there should be a fairly clear plan for the creation of an entrepreneurship curriculum, and EWB is excited and committed to our partnership with the college. In fact there will be a JF from one of the organizations Professional Chapters coming to replace me when I leave. They will continue work on the entrepreneurship curriculum and explore other areas of the college’s work. It is possible to see the positive relationship that now exists between the college and EWB as real success as well. This alone could have huge payoffs that are yet to be imagined.

It’s hard to say whether I prioritized personal growth or connecting with Canada this summer. I definitely feel I learned a lot and the experiences that I’ve had have expanded my understanding of an incredible number of issues. And I also feel fairly happy with the level of communication that I maintained with Canada, through this blog, Twitter updates, and occasional phone calls with different individuals. But I have to be honest and say that I wasn’t very rigorous in either of these dimensions in terms of planning, or in analyzing how well I was doing. I sort just let them happen as they would. I was always aware of them, but I didn’t devote a great deal of brain power to really maximizing the potential pay-offs.

I have to say though, I definitely feel positive about the entire experience! Seen as a whole I feel like I’ve had the chance to learn an incredible amount, I feel I can really apply it all when I get home, and I feel like I’ve actually made a valuable contribution to our work in Ghana!

I’ll finish today with some pictures.

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