Author: Mulenga, S.
In 2000, the Link Association for the Relief of Children (LARC) and UNICEF agreed to a three-year cycle, renewable yearly, to fund the administrative expenses of LARC. The goal of Community Action Support Programme (CASP) is to develop a successful model for the regional distribution of small grants to community-driven OVC initiatives. LARC's capacity to assess, disburse, and manage grants was also developed through the creation of governing policies and instruments. UNICEF allocated a total of US$50,000 for the grants. LARC received the applications, evaluated them, selected grantees, distributed funds, and monitored project performance.
This evaluation of CASP has been undertaken at the request of UNICEF Lusaka. The primary objective of the evaluation was to assess how the regional small grants to OVC initiatives benefited grantee institutions and their targeted beneficiaries, particularly children. The scope of work included a review of the policies and instruments developed, the grant process, implementation of grant application evaluations and decisions, monitoring and reporting, support to beneficiaries and impact on children, sustainability of the grant projects, linkages of LARC, beneficiaries and other service providers, and a comparison with similar initiatives in the Copperbelt.
The CASP assessment was undertaken using a combination of office review of documentation and field assessment of the grantees and LARC. The selection of projects to be specifically reviewed was made to ensure a representative sample of the different types of proposed interventions requested by applicant institutions. Projects were located in Kitwe District, Mufulira District and Ndola District. Sectors funded under the grantees reviewed included skills training (3), school projects (2), and income-generating activities (8, including 5 poultry projects, a piggery, an urban plots program, and a fishery), a women’s loan fund, and a sports site dormitory rehabilitation. Site visits included interviews of project promoters, club members, and members of the general public. All funded NGOs and CBOs were invited to attend a one-day focus group discussion (FGD).
Findings and Conclusions:
Policies and Instruments Developed: In the development of the grant-making cycle, LARC and UNICEF devised a cycle including a grant policy, a toolkit for the granting process, allocation protocols, financial management at LARC and in the community, and management support to the community organisations. The allocation policy included limits for grants, the number of grants in a cycle, the types of acceptable expenditure, and payment protocols. The policies, procedures and instruments are generally good examples of grant management.
It was agreed that grants would be made to LARC members that met the standards listed, and this rule was followed and documented. The forms were generally understandable and relatively simple, and the LARC staffs were able to ensure that applications, pre-project evaluations, and reporting were completed on the required forms. However, the forms had significant gaps in checking applicant governance and other resources, a realistic budget, and a simple work plan that enabled monitoring and changes, if circumstances required it.
UNICEF capacity building for LARC worked well, and their use of the formats was good. However, the application process showed that LARC had difficulties extending the institutional strengthening skills downward to its member institutions.
Grant Process: The aim of the initiative was to fund a small number of organisations that would have a large impact on children in the community. Preference was given to organisations where applications would have a sustainable impact. Applicants were apprised of the conditions that would govern the use of the grants. Fifteen grants were planned, to be between US$1000 and US$7000. Over twice that number were given. It was felt that as many organisations as possible should benefit from this initiative. This created some difficulties.
Evaluation of Grant Applications and Grant Decisions: LARC assisted organisations in the filling out of application forms in order to ensure that applications were complete when being considered by the Allocation Committee. Files show that the staff checked forms, and performed complete pre-project assessments that contained the information that was requested. An Allocation Committee comprising of prominent persons who were not directly involved in any LARC member organisation was constituted to review and select projects.
The Allocation Committee considered 31 applications and awarded 15 grants in the first round, and considered 37 applications and awarded 17 grants in the second round. Four grantees from the second round had received grants in the first round. Grants could be categorized as skills training (7), schools support (5), income-generating activities (18, including farming (3), tailoring (4), fisheries(1), chickens (9) and a piggery(1)), one women's loan fund, and one sports facility dorm rehabilitation).
While the procedures were followed and the projects funded appeared to be of value, the allocation process did not adequately address governance, management structures and historical information on previous project implementation, or sustainability issues. Budgets were not assessed to determine if they were realistic.
Monitoring and Related Adherence to Programme and Financial Reporting: After grants allocation, LARC staff was required to visit projects to ensure that the funds were being used as intended, the grantee was succeeding in its goals, and the grantee was able to fulfil the financial and operational reporting obligations and ensure the maximum effectiveness of OVC interventions. There are records of project visits that discuss the progress of the projects. All of the grantees embarked on the projects that they agreed on in the approved project documents. In the examination of the financial records at LARC and project sites, all projects had presented receipts equal to the grants that they were given.
Larger organisations with formal management structures have better-established record keeping procedures and practices. There was strong evidence of very regular visits and attention in the field by LARC, and this is praiseworthy. However, there are a number of limitations in using the LARC visits as the primary documentation for project assessment, including problems with monitoring responsibility on LARC rather than on the organisation, and its subsequent transfer of responsibility and resolution of implementation problems.
While budgets were presented with the best intentions, they often underestimated the real costs of implementation. In the FGD, members openly discussed the difficulties in budgeting for projects. The FGD also spent some time discussing the limitations of one-time funding, especially in IGA, as they felt that one-off funding does not produce sustainable results.
Support to Beneficiaries and Impact on Children: From project records, visits and the FGD, over eight thousand children have been reported to enjoy a direct or indirect benefit from the CASP. There is no doubt that a large number of children have benefited from the CASP initiative, with many examples at the community level to testify to the changes in children's lives. On a visit to a school where children had received bursaries, the head and teachers openly welcomed the members of the CBO. It was clear that they had worked together for a long time as they spoke about several children's circumstances, demonstrating shared concerns for the children.
The interpretation of what denotes successful interventions that impact positively on children does not appear to be the same for all the partners. While the organisation should define the beneficiaries and the impact on their lives, the skills necessary to make a determination of success that is understood by all partners is not evident.
Sustainability: Issues related to sustainability are particularly difficult in projects implemented at community level, and the focus has to be balanced between the felt needs of the community and the anticipated capacity of the grantee to carry on with the grant activity. After careful consideration and review, the consultant found that of the 32 projects, 10 were sustainable, 2 were uncertain, 16 were unsustainable, and four were inherently unsustainable. The sustainable projects were typically those with dedicated management, with larger, long-term institutions with national or international affiliation. The success stories were typified by good governance structures and strong implementation protocols. Interestingly, the success stories included a number of orphanages.
Projects funded for IGA activities were successful at the beginning, but were unable to sustain the activity. Three major IGA limitations were identified: lack of experience with business, no market research, and no methods to check project status to make needed changes. Successes in skills training or contributions to schools were largely contributions of equipment that enabled training and studies to be more feasible and sustainable in existing structures.
From the discussions with partners, it is evident that sustainability planning was not fully addressed in the project planning process. Mechanisms were not in place to confirm or modify implementation, get help, or end an intervention when it was no longer appropriate or useful. The most important issues that emerged during the FGD about assets were premises and the security of goods.
Linkages of LARC, Beneficiary Organizations, and other Service Providers: LARC is primarily known as a networking organisation that shares information with its membership. In the granting process, LARC uses its network to confirm the suitability of applications, soliciting advice from institutions and partners. When grantees have completed a training programme, LARC has referred the organisation to other member organizations for further activities. LARC has extensively used district services such as agricultural extension in partnered activities.
Comparison with SCOPE-OVC: In comparing the implementation of the two granting processes, it is clear that each organisation has used a similar grants process. The two institutions have also faced similar difficulties and enjoyed similar successes at the community level. The main differences involve the SCOPE support structure, absence in the LARC application process of work plans and governance materials, more application responsibility with LARC grantees, a more complex SCOPE decision-making process, and SCOPE having more stringent reporting requirements tied to tranching of funds. It appears that the single most important factor in successful grant-making is funding initiatives for local organizations that already have in place, governance structures and strong implementation management protocols. These two institutions could learn from each other and collaborate more closely in grants activities.
Policy and programming: LARC needs to review its policy and implementation strategy to reflect the change from networking and advocacy to a wider scope of activities. When they are doing programming for grants, they must very carefully define and adhere to their target and the anticipated number of grantees they may reach, and try not to extend themselves beyond their (and their grantees') capacity.
Application process: Consideration should be given to allowing applicant institutions from those outside the LARC membership. A simple functional work plan with benchmarks is an important addition to the forms. The applicants and LARC must ensure that the enabling environment is suitable for project success and sustainability, if that is desired. Budgeting must be realistic, and should be confirmed by looking at other institutions or businesses that operate such programs.
Grants selection: As management costs are significant for small grants, attention should be paid to how the applicant will pay for its management requirements. If IGAs are desirable, it should be as a part of training for target clients, or a practical demonstration of an idea that adults responsible for OVCs can emulate. For other types of assistance such as skills training, renovation of buildings, and school assistance, a key determination should be whether the grant will cover an input to an existing arrangement that will enable it to work better or longer. Grant types should be diversified in order to avoid mass failure, such as the poultry example for LARC.
Governance of partners: An observed weakness was the governance of grantees, particularly management, capacity to operate without other funds, and basic accounting and writing skills. While LARC has a good set of grant management tools, they need to be devolved more effectively to the grantee level. LARC is well placed to strengthen its partners in management and governance, and should proceed accordingly.
Grant operations and monitoring: There needs to be additional clarity within grantees about their own monitoring role, and particularly what to do when things go wrong. This may include work with grantees to ensure that they complete reports and learn to self-monitor and alter their own grants as requirements emerge. Additionally, government and private institutions should be linked to projects, where appropriate, for training, technical and supplies information. The LARC staff visits should be retained as they are excellent in motivating and encouraging grantees.
Sustainability: Sustainability is a key issue and, in some cases, sustainability is at odds with community requests and needs. LARC and UNICEF should set up criteria to determine selection in this regard. Project completion should be defined in the grant, and a review and report with lessons learned be completed by the grantee, with LARC review and comment.
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