2004 MGL: An Assessment of the Family Empowerment Strategy of the Convergent Basic Social Services Programme of UNICEF Mongolia
Author: Baidya, B. G.
Based on the lessons learned from the past cooperation, current MPO includes the Convergent Basic Social Services (CBSS) Programme, which seeks to strengthen the bottom-up planning. The main focus of the CBSS is on the promotion of community-based actions for the growth and development of children. Although the CBSS programme is sub-national in scope at present, it has been considered as a flagship programme of UNICEF Mongolia. As specified in the current MPO, piloting of the CBSS/FES was initiated in 2003 in five of Mongolia’s 21 aimags (provinces) and two districts of Ulaanbaatar, the capital city. Altogether, the CBSS programme covers a population of 59,511 (2003) in an area of 67,040 sq.km. This represents the CBSS/FES coverage of 2.47 percent of the total population and 4.46 percent of the total land area of Mongolia. Typical of Mongolia, the population density in all the CBSS pilot sites is very low and the population is widely scattered within the soums. Lack of roads and scattered population make access to services extremely difficult, especially in the harsh winter months of Mongolia.
The Government of Mongolia plans to expand the CBSS/FES to all other aimags of the country and has requested UNICEF to provide support for this planned expansion. In view of the request for the expansion and upcoming Mid-Term Review of the Country Programme in September 2004, UNICEF planned this consultancy for an overall assessment of the CBSS/FES.
The specific outputs expected from this consultancy are as follows:
- an assessment of the family empowerment strategy in terms of its effectiveness in the creation of demand for, improving access to, and increasing utilization of, basic social services critical to child growth and development among the disadvantaged and vulnerable groups;
- an assessment of the FES in terms of its contribution to policy and programme development;
- an assessment of capacity building at national and sub-national levels;
- an assessment of the institutional framework for the CBSS/FES and sustainability of the FES; and
- an assessment of partnership with other developmental partners of Mongolia for the CBSS/FES.
Upon consultation with UNICEF, it was decided that a more meaningful way to conduct this assessment would be to observe, as much as possible, actual implementation at the community level. Fourteen days out of this consultancy period was devoted to field visits to aimags/districts and soums/ khoroos to talk to the stakeholders at the grassroot level and to observe the CBSS/FES activities at the communities. Although field visits were mostly to programme aimags and soums, the consultant also visited a non-programme soum (Burd) in Uvurkhangai aimag, a non-programme aimag. Altogether, three of the ten programme soums and all four urban programme khoroos were visited. In the course of this consultancy, consultations/interviews were carried out with a total of 102 persons, which included national counterparts, aimag/soum level officials, service providers, parents and caregivers, UNICEF staff members and donor agency officials. Similarly, the documents related to the CBSS programme were reviewed.
Findings and Conclusions
Although the implementation period of the CBSS/FES has been fairly short (about one year), the FES has shown very positive results in spite of several operational difficulties in implementation. The FES has been appreciated by the national- and subnational-level decision makers as well as service providers. The community leaders and families have also appreciated the FES and shown their commitment by allocating funds for CIPs developed through the FES. Some of the major achievements of the CBSS/FES are:
- Developed a model bottom-up participatory process of planning.
- Participating families have been educated, aroused and empowered to take actions for the growth and development of their children.
- Has developed innovative approaches (ger-kindergartens, mobilization of volunteers, family growth monitoring, etc.) to enhance access of services to hitherto unreached children. This, together with empowerment of families, has led to increased demand and better utilization of services. This has also saved time of service providers. Greater utilization of services and increased knowledge of parents and caregivers have already resulted in improvements in key indicators used for family education and assessment purposes.
- Has provided simple and practical indicators as well as a method to monitor and evaluate changes in the status of children at the family, community and soum levels.
- Has increased awareness among service providers as well as the service takers on the importance and need for convergence of basic social services for the growth and development of children.
- Has also helped service providers realize the importance of involving parents and caregivers in planning and implementing activities for improving the life of the children.
The mobilization of volunteers has been one of the innovative approaches for outreach activities. However, several issues regarding mobilization of volunteers have come up, e.g., incentive, quality, etc.
Internalization of the FES approach has been only partial. The FES has been internalized by the national government, to some extent, in policies, but it is yet to be practiced at the grassroot level on a nationwide basis. Some national level policy and programme documents (e.g., NPA) have included the FES as an approach, but participatory approach of planning is still not practiced in non-programme areas. Some programme aimags (Khentii, Dornogobi) have decided to adopt the FES approach in all of their soums but it is still at discussion stage and not the actual practice even in these aimags. Some bilateral and multilateral development partners of Mongolia have also shown interest in the FES, and some of them have already used it. Some INGOs (WVI, SCFUK, Catholic Church Mission) involved in community development activities in Mongolia have shown serious interest in the FES. They already had their staff trained on the FES with UNICEF’s support.
Success of the FES in putting children’s interests in the development agenda of different levels has been varied. At the level of programme soums, it has been relatively successful, however, it is less so at the aimag levels. It is mainly because soum level decision makers have been much more involved in the FES process than the aimag decision makers. Although children’s interests are now increasingly becoming part of the national development agenda, credit for this goes more to national and global level advocacy efforts of UNICEF than the FES per se. The CBSS/FES has been relatively successful in mobilizing additional resources at the sub-national level for CIPs. The contribution of sub-national level amounted to about US$ 70,000 or 27.3% of the total CIP expenditure. The families themselves have contributed a substantial amount of funds for the implementation of CIPs. This implies that a participatory, bottom-up planning process would be able to mobilize a substantial amount of additional resources for children. It should be noted that this amount does not include value of time (person days) of the local field implementers. If they were also to be valued, then the local contribution would be even higher.
A very high proportion of the total budget (52% in 2000 and 56% in 2001) of Mongolia is spent on the social sector. Social sector expenditures are also extremely high in terms of GDP proportion (22% in 2000 and 24% in 2001) (EGSPRS, 2003). In view of already high allocations to the social sector, it will be extremely difficult for the Government of Mongolia to allocate additional resources to the social sector in general, and for children-related activities in particular. Additional allocation of government budget for children will be possible only on the basis of real economic growth. Government will be hard pressed even to maintain the present proportion of allocation to the social sector in view of increasing demand for physical infrastructure.
One of the lacunae of CBSS/FES so far has been technical capacity building for the FES. Capacity to provide technical support to the lower level would need to be further strengthened both at the national level and at the aimag/district level. UNICEF/Mongolia also needs to strengthen further its staff capability to provide technical support to the FES. So far, UNICEF/Mongolia has relied on the services of a consultant and paid less attention to develop staff capability, even when the CBSS is being considered as the flagship programme that is to be implemented through the FES approach. It could be because the implementation period of the FES has been just over one year and, during this period, more attention has gone to the development of a model and its field implementation rather than in developing capacity.
Although the government has requested for the expansion of the CBSS/FES to other areas, both the government and UNICEF need to enhance their human and financial capacity for such an expansion. At the most, it might be possible to expand to some other soums within programme aimags as there does already exist some experience and capacity for the FES at these aimags. Since the FES approach has generated substantial interest among donors, there is potential to mobilize donor resources for the expansion of the CBSS/FES.
The NBC is a very appropriate focal point for a multi-sectoral, child-focused programme like the CBSS. However, NBC is constrained by its positioning and capacity. The institutional framework of the CBSS at various levels (aimag/district and soum/khoroo) is also appropriate, but all relevant sectors are not always represented there. The working groups at the aimag level consist of department chiefs rather than implementation level people. Given the numerous other responsibilities of the department heads, they hardly have time to properly communicate the decisions of the working groups to their implementation level people. Therefore, there is a need for a mechanism at the aimag level for the involvement of implementation level people.
The current institutional set-up for the CBSS/FES has no provision for children’s participation. However, children do participate in the planning process of the CIPs.
There is lack of clear strategy for institutionalizing the FES.
The CBSS/FES faces a number of operational level difficulties. UNICEF procedures are practical for large supports but less practical for supporting small projects like the CIPs. In spite of these difficulties, the FES approach of planning has shown its potential in improving basic social services.
Although the CBSS/FES has been considered the flagship programme of UNICEF/Mongolia, its linkages with other programmes of UNICEF still needs to be made clear. As a result, there has not been enough coordination of the CBSS with other programmes of UNICEF/Mongolia in terms of better convergence of these programme activities at the CBSS programme areas. Similarly, lack of coordination has led to less effective advocacy for the CBSS/FES.
Expansion of the CBSS/FES
1. In view of the positive results of the CBSS/FES, the Government of Mongolia has requested UNICEF/Mongolia for further expansion of the CBSS/FES in other areas. However, given the capacity and other constraints, it would be prudent on the part of UNICEF to not scale up the CBSS/FES in other areas at this time. For the time being, at least an additional one year, UNICEF should concentrate on building its in-house technical capacity to support the FES in the existing programme areas and streamlining the administrative procedure to support the CIPs at the soum level.
2. Once technical support capacity and administrative procedures are streamlined, UNICEF should support the government in the replication of the CBSS in other aimags in a phased manner. Since travel in Mongolia requires considerable time, especially in view of the current UN ban on air travel, it would be advisable to consider the expansion of the CBSS/FES in aimags that are closer to Ulaanbaatar. Deprived soums within these aimags could be selected for replication. UNICEF should also further expand its partnership with other development partners in replicating the CBSS/FES in other areas where these partners are working.
3. NBC is an appropriate focal point for the CBSS/FES. However, capacity within NBC needs much strengthening. UNICEF should support NBC in strengthening the human resource capacity of NBC. This is necessary not only from the point of view of the CBSS/FES but also because NBC, as the focal agency for children within the government, is a vital partner of UNICEF. The government should also clarify soon whether NBC would be a coordinating agency or an implementing agency. UNICEF should also support NBC in further activating the CBSS Inter Sectoral Task Force (ISTF). An active ISTF would strengthen the position of NBC in coordinating the CBSS activities. The ISTF could be a very useful mechanism for the internalization of the CBSS/FES at the national level. Similarly, the ISTF could play an instrumental role in ensuring sectoral budget support for the CIPs. The ISTF could also help in strengthening the Aimag/district CBS working groups.
4. UNICEF should also work closely with the government in further strengthening the technical capacity of aimag staff to provide technical support to soums in the FES approach.
5. UNICEF also needs to further strengthen the technical capacity of its staff for providing technical support at the national and sub-national levels. A possible way for strengthening technical capacity within UNICEF would be to extend the present CBSS consultant’s contract, mainly to be devoted to capacity building activities both within UNICEF and at the national and sub-national levels. It may also be advisable to provide training to potential resource persons (e.g., from local NGOs) who could later be used as resource persons in providing technical support in the FES implementation in additional aimags to be included later.
6. The Working Groups at the aimag should have representation of all relevant sectors. Moreover, it would be appropriate to form a Task-Force at the aimag level consisting of implementation level people to provide support to the soums.
7. A mechanism to involve children’s participation should be developed within the present framework. A possible way could be consultative mechanism with children at different levels. The CBSS working groups at the national and subnational levels could organize such consultative meeting to discuss children's problems, which will help in development of the CIPs.
8. The role of volunteers should be re-examined and issues regarding volunteers should be addressed as soon as possible. Otherwise, this may hamper programme activities. On the issue of incentive for volunteers, it would be better to focus on non-monetary incentives such as health insurance for the volunteer's family, recognition of their services, etc.
Internalization of the CBSS/FES
9. Internalization of the CBSS/FES within the government needs to be further strengthened, especially, in terms of operationalization. More vigorous and continuous advocacy would be required for this. UNICEF national staff responsible for sectoral programmes could contribute in this effort. This would also require greater involvement of national programme officers of UNICEF in the CBSS/FES activities. UNICEF should particularly emphasize the inclusion of the CBSS/FES approach in the national sectoral level policies. Several of these policies are at the draft stage. UNICEF should see to it that these policies do internalize the CBSS/FES approach, which is very much in line with the policy of the government-endorsed NPA.
10. The CBSS/FES process to formulate the CIPs needs to be made simpler to make it less time consuming. Most of the field level workers felt that the process, though thorough, was a time-consuming process. It was difficult for families and local field workers to devote such time.
Mobilizing Additional Resources for Children
11. Although the government budget situation is tight, they have been able to come up with some additional resources for the CBSS/FES. It would have been easier to mobilize more state resources had the CIPs been prepared to jibe with the government budget cycle. This would also mean that technical support from UNICEF would have to be available at the appropriate time.
12. The way government could allocate more additional resources for children would be through intra-sectoral restructuring of budgets for the social sectors. UNICEF should support such a study if it has not already been carried out. Such a study should also look into the possibility of using more cost-effective approaches for the delivery of social services.
13. There is potential for mobilizing additional community level resources for child-focused efforts as proven by the CBSS/FES. This would, however, be possible only through the expansion of the FES approach in other areas.
14. A potential source for additional funds would be the donor communities. There is significant goodwill among donor communities for supporting Mongolia and there is also a conducive working environment in Mongolia. UNICEF should use its long experience and reputation to mobilize additional resources for child-focused programmes. To facilitate such effort, the government also needs to identify the focal agency with the appropriate mandate to submit proposal to bilateral and multilateral donor agencies. The national government should also authorize the local governments to approach the donors with specific project proposals provided these projects are within the framework of a nationally-approved programme and the donor agency is also a duly-recognized agency.
Streamlining UNICEF Administrative Support for the CBSS/FES
15. The present administrative procedure is not fully geared for supporting small projects at the sub-national levels in an efficient manner. UNICEF should explore the possibilities of providing outright annual lump-sum grants to the soums once the CIPs are approved. UNICEF could require that grants be spent in accordance with the government procedures and require periodic progress reports.
16. Under current administrative requirements, the current staffing for the CBSS is inadequate to provide management support to the programme aimags and soums. UNICEF Mongolia should consider increasing staff strength for providing management as well as technical support for the CBSS/FES implementation.
17. Monitoring of the CBSS/FES implementation in the programme soums is inadequate and it is difficult to obtain a clear picture of service coverage and financial support situations in the programme areas. Coverage statistics and financial information in programme files need to be more systematic. A system should be developed and maintained.
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