We have all been exposed to effective development projects, as well as to ineffective development projects. Sometimes these look like carefully constructed and well-funded projects created by NGOs, and sometimes they are drives created by high school students to help disaster victims. The scale and scope are not necessarily the key determinants for whether or not a development project will be effective. The following areas are useful to consider in order to create a development project, large or small, that does the most good for the most people.
“Participation is involvement by a local population and, at times, other stakeholders in the creation, content or conduct of a program or policy designed to change their lives.”
In other words, participation is placing the input of a local population at the forefront of the process of creating effective development projects. If a project is going to affect them and address their needs, they must have the primary say in tailoring it to their situation.
Needs assessment goes hand in hand with participation – it is most effective when the target population shares their needs, instead of projecting a set of presumed needs onto them.
By involving people in the process, development organizations can hear from the local population and find out exactly what needs they most want to address.
Cultural sensitivity is the awareness of another culture’s norms and traditions and the ways in which they differ from your own. If you do not understand a community’s culture, it is difficult to develop solutions. For example, if a predominantly Muslim community was experiencing a food shortage, teaching them to raise pigs would not be a culturally sensitive or effective solution.
Men and women often have different needs in a community based on the distinct roles they play. Sometimes women need to be specifically empowered in order to overcome gender disparities. It is important to consider gender dynamics in a development project. Will this project produce greater gender equality? Will it exacerbate inequality? Will it help or harm women or men disproportionately? These are all important questions to ask.
Effective development projects must hold themselves accountable to the people they are trying to help, to the government of the local population, to any NGOs they are partnering with and to their donors. To avoid issues like inefficiency, resentment, unmet needs or corruption, all stakeholders should communicate and be held accountable for their agreements.
Capacity building is “those sets of activities in which vested parties develop the ability to effectively take part in governance.” In other words, it is helping a community develop the skills to help themselves after a development project or organization pulls out of the region. Like everything else in this list, capacity building should be country specific and meet the needs of the target population. Effective capacity building can lead to more sustainable projects.
This all seems very nebulous and difficult to juggle – and in some ways, it is. No organization does all of this perfectly. So, what does this look like in practice? If you decide you want your school to help improve education for children in a particular village in Tanzania, you should ask yourself a few questions when deciding what to do. What do these children actually need? Is it resources? Textbooks and supplies? Transportation to and from far away schools? If they need books, on what subjects? In what language? How will you get them there, and how will they be processed once they arrive?
The main take away is this – if you are struggling with questions like these while trying to create effective development projects, the best people to ask are the children in Tanzania. They know exactly what they need and you should listen to them.
– Olivia Bradley