As development policymakers take a collective pause to reflect on the impact of Australia’s development program, there’s no doubt there will be quite the list of programs that haven’t worked as we’d like, or need significant improvements. But what of the ones we’re doing well?
In our conversations with practitioners of late, a couple of projects continue to stand out as examples of the best that Australia supports. So this week, we asked the experts to tell us more about them – and what lessons we can learn from them.
Australia’s most effective development is achieved when we facilitate community organisations rather than manage them.
MAMPU brought together 12 of the largest women’s NGOs in Indonesia and for 8 years resourced their work and helped them to build the women’s movement. Lacking in resources, having over-stretched staff, and being time poor, women’s organisations struggled to band together for legislative and social change. MAMPU resourcing and support enabled them to lift their gaze and unify around critical themes.
Why did MAMPU succeed? Because it was designed and managed by people (DFAT and implementers) that understood that their role was to facilitate organisations to 1) expand the good work they were already doing, 2) take leadership of the program direction, and 3) create space to unify for change in a politically challenging environment that only they can effectively navigate. Facilitating requires program implementers to provide the right resources (for example space, funds, expertise, technology, etc.) and let go of the reins of power. It can be difficult to find examples of Australian ODA programs that seek to facilitate empowerment rather than manage a program.
So what can we learn? Methods and language are important. When a donor refers to Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) as ‘implementing partners’ they are really saying ‘you are my implementing agent’. When CSOs are forced to compete for donor funds, we set them up to compete against each other and this destabilises unity of the sector. And micro-management (rife across donor programs) reinforces donor dominance. Our methods and language reflect poorly on our ability to ‘empower’ and undermines the roles CSOs establish for themselves and the democratic functions that they fulfil.
MAMPU facilitated, rather than managed, its partners - which is why it worked.
Bernadette helps to design many of Australia’s development investments, and is the founder and CEO of Alinea International. She has a wealth of experience across the development sector, and is a long-time friend of the Lab. Kate was one of the key architects of MAMPU and served as its team leader through Phase 2. She is now the Chief Technical Officer at Alinea International. At the Lab, we love Kate’s deep expertise in women’s empowerment and social development.
‘Anyone fancy a Murder Board?’ This crudely termed activity stolen from the U.S. military describes a process of inviting critical review of a program or proposal from a group of outsiders. It was the first engagement I had with the Nepal Subnational Governance Program (SNGP), with myself and others invited to pick holes in the program and offer frank advice as to how it could be further improved. The activity is emblematic of the pragmatic, always learning, and deeply humble nature of the program that underpins its success.
The SNGP is ultimately a story of getting the politics of programming right by the aligning of interests of key parties. Here, it was the government of Nepal (which has been pursuing an ambitious process of federalising introduced with the 2015 Constitution), the donor (DFAT), and an implementing partner that has been present in the country for three decades with deep networks and established credibility operating at the subnational level.
Getting into the weeds, SNGP is a governance program that impacts citizens’ lives directly through improved service delivery and dispute resolution at the local level, achieving this through the messy process of properly grappling with the competing political interests of Nepalese elites, the bureaucracy, and different levels of government. It’s implemented by a team that hasn’t been afraid to test, fail, innovate and pilot new approaches, such as incorporating behavioural science into activities and investing heavily in dynamic partnership approaches.
While you won’t find a development program these days that doesn’t profess to be embedding adaptive and politically informed practices, SNGP has demonstrated the power of this approach when it is locally-led by a program team that ‘thinks and works politically’ in its sleep.
Peter is Associate Director and Australian Partnerships Advisor at The Asia Foundation. He has extensive experience programming in challenging contexts across South and South East Asia having lived in Bangladesh and Myanmar – and brings to the table politically informed approaches with stints working in the Australian parliament in chief of staff and ministerial policy advisor roles. Peter is a long-time friend of the Lab and a wonderful sounding board for (and proponent of) new ideas.
In 2018, we reviewed the Australian Indonesian Partnership for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment - also known as MAMPU.
MAMPU was an effective program that supported change for women in many places across Indonesia. It covered a wide range of themes relevant to the lives of women. It increased women’s access to practical resources as well as supporting their voice and influence on policy. It facilitated program partners to work from national to community level, linking direct experience to advocacy work. It provided space for women and their organisations to learn and improve practice. In our view, the greatest value of MAMPU was that it brought together a very diverse range of women’s organisations and supported connections between those organisations. In line with the evidence about how to advance change for women, it strengthened the women’s movement in Indonesia.
So what made MAMPU effective? We found a number of reasons;
Perhaps most significantly, MAMPU was managed by aid officials who understood the value that civil society organisations bring to social change; and who understood that social change for women is a political process.
Linda has over 25 years’ experience across the NGO sector, DFAT, UNDP and academia. Her knowledge of both government and delivery challenges is next-level and at the Lab we love her fierce advocacy for gender equality and social inclusion. Nila is the Director of RUMPUN and is very well respected in the women’s movement throughout Indonesia. She’s known for her deep understanding of its history, challenges, and opportunities and we love Nila’s clear and insightful approach to development.