Development cooperation – How does it all begin

To build a house or draw a water main, you need a professional. The same goes for development cooperation. Repairing a school or providing vocational training is preceded by careful planning. How does a Finn Church Aid (FCA) development cooperation project begin, and how is its target chosen?

Identifying a need

A new development cooperation project is most likely started in a country where FCA already has a presence. Such countries particularly include fragile states – for example South Sudan, Central African Republic and Somalia – where the vulnerable people are outside other forms of assistance.

The most recent addition to FCA’s countries of operation is Eritrea where work to develop the country’s educational system began this year. The Eritrean government contacted FCA through Special Representative Pekka Haavisto and invited FCA to start work in the country.

It is possible, then, for a call for assistance to come from as high as state government, but this is not always the case. A proposal might also come from a well-known partner, who has noticed new areas of need; or from a donor, who wishes to operate in a certain field in a particular country and is looking for an implementing partner.

Often, FCA starts planning a new project on its own. At the moment, FCA is looking into starting a development cooperation project in Syria, motivated by the clear need for assistance in the country that manifests in the number of refugees coming to Europe.

Situational analysis: who oppose the involvement of international organisations?

When a target country and potentially the specific region are chosen, begins the longest phase of the planning process: situational analysis on the ground.

The situational analysis focuses on the current situation in the target region, and who are in need of support and assistance and why. The analysis also aims to find out what are the causes of the basic problems, such as malnutrition and lack of income opportunities, in the region.

Interviews are used as the tool for this analysis, and hundreds of interviews can be conducted for this purpose. Completing the analysis takes about six months.

During the analysis, it is important to identify which parties oppose the involvement of international organisations.

“Our goal is to promote the rights of the underprivileged. Roughly speaking this often means taking something away from the fortunate”, says Saara Lehmuskoski, FCA Head of Operational Support.

If the local population becomes more aware of their own rights, the large mining companies can no longer exploit the water reserves and farm land in the region. If the local youth has more opportunities for education and income, warlords cannot recruit them as fighters.

This is why the risks involved in starting operations and how to mitigate those risks are also taken into account in the situational analysis.



Rights-based approach a requirement

The situational analysis must determine two things: whose rights are currently not being realised, and whose duty is it to make sure they are.

If girls in the region are not attending school, the responsibility may lie with their parents, local decision-makers, government officials, or all of the above.

“Quite often the different parties aren’t aware of their rights and duties. The parents don’t know that their children, too, have a right to education, and the government official responsible for education in the region doesn’t know that he has the duty to act in this matter. Or, even if they do know, they don’t necessarily know what to do. These are the gaps we are trying to bridge”, Lehmuskoski explains.

In development cooperation, this method is called a rights-based approach. It must be the basis for the planning of all new development cooperation projects.

Common goals are the key to success

When a clear understanding of the situation, of the people involved and their responsibilities has been reached, everyone is brought together for discussion. If improving education is the agenda, children’s parents, government officials responsible for education in the region, village elders, contractors and so on are invited to join.

The aim is to agree on common goals all parties will commit to. Goals can be, for example, increasing the number of children going to school and making sure the way to school is safe. A so-called problem tree is used as an instrument. On it, participants write down the problems of the region from their own perspective indicating what are the causes and effects.

Agreement on common goals is usually reached in 1 to 2 weeks.

“The idea is, that the goals of new projects are not decided from behind a desk in Helsinki, but that they are defined with the people whose lives the project will affect”, Lehmuskoski says.




Three year strategy

At this point it has been decided what to do and where. The goals, the risks, and the indicators for evaluating and measuring progress are ready. The strategy explains how to achieve the goals; are schools built, are small loan activities organised, is peace mediation required.

The basic duration of a development cooperation project is three years. The strategy covers this entire period. If a project does not have funding at the beginning of the planning process, this is when funding is sought at the latest.

“International funding is regrettably short termed. It is difficult to secure for the entire three years. Therefore it is very fortunate that we have long term funders, such as our monthly donors”, Lehmuskoski points out.

Work plan is a tool for learning

Before the actual work can begin, a detailed work plan is required. The work plan includes a timetable, for example how many schools will be completed in each month, when the architect will design them and when construction will begin. Also included is how many people will be recruited and where from.

The plan isn’t written in stone. For example, if it seems that women’s livelihoods aren’t improving through urban cultivation, another solution is sought.

A mid-term review is conducted during the first year of a project using the indicators defined in the planning phase.

“Development cooperation is not a linear process that goes from beginning to end, rather it’s a cycle”, Lehmuskoski emphasises.

“The achieved results and the ongoing work constantly feed new information to the plan. That’s how a project is constantly being improved. In the best cases, projects are so good communities or entire states assimilate them into their own work.”

In Liberia, improving women’s livelihoods began with individual women being given assistance to set up their own small scale poultry farm. Egg production has now expanded so much that outside investment can soon be sought for it.

“FCA’s role could be, for example, taking that same model to other programme countries like Haiti.”

Text: Satu Helin
Illustrations: Pasi Kattelus