Jul 23, 2008

Community Involvement: Key to Project Sustainability

(There have been a lot of talks about project sustainability in the development arena. This blog post highlights the key aspects of sustainability—community management and ownership of development projects. Read how AAI has been able to achieve sustainability of its projects in Mindanao, Philippines.)
Some of the regions in Mindanao like Jolo and Sulu regions have schools that have one of the lowest education attainments in the whole country. The whole region is not only deficient in schools but whatever schools they have right now lack necessary items like chairs, blackboards, desks, and books for library. Worse, the government has cutback education funding for the region. Unfortunately, this region is also one of the breeding grounds for terrorist recruitment.

The AAI started with intervention in the education system by providing scholarships to poor kids who otherwise would have either worked in the farms or get brainwashed by the rebels to join their organization. The AAI also constructed new schools and built libraries. Unlike the big donor funded education reform programs, the AAI approach was highly selective intervention—a need based intervention to avoid mismanagement of funds. This approach is efficient and result-oriented—which is reflected in high achievement of students in the schools AAI has intervened.

Sustainability of these kinds of intervention requires a multidimensional approach. Simply attracting kids to schools is not sufficient. The households needs to be provided with some sort of livelihood generation programs so that they have something to engage on every day rather than being sympathetic to the rebels and supporting their cause. So, the AAI launched a livelihood generation program aimed at generating a sustainable source of income for the households.

Our model worked because we did not impose our own projects in the community. We respected the local activities and designed interventions to make the locally produced goods marketable. We respected the local culture and social norms, encouraged people and informed the locals about the progress made during the intervention process.

We believe that peace can be achieved through economic development but this has to be done by respecting local customs and culture, by directly engaging local community and stakeholders, and by engaging on highly selective intervention aimed at producing the best outcomes with least funds, i.e. high efficiency and high productivity.