Sustainability is often claimed as an impact in development interventions although there is rarely a shared understanding of what it means, how to design for it, and especially how to assess the likelihood that intended streams of benefits will continue. This chapter asserts that to design and later to evaluate an intervention with sustainable impacts, the intervention must deepen indigenous capabilities to manage the program, to solve problems, and to innovate. The design and implementation also must operate within environmental boundaries, not extracting resources beyond the ability to regenerate or degrading environmental services—that is, design and implementation must incorporate the primacy of the environment. A postprogram evaluation 3–10 years after a program has ended provides evidence on whether the program is likely to have sustainable impacts. A case study of an asset transfer program in Malawi highlights the criteria for evaluating sustainability: deepened capabilities and social capital, reinvestment in program activities, and the development of backward and forward linkages catalyzing growing economic opportunities.
- Sustainable impact
This chapter presents a framework for transforming sustainability from a broad, amorphous idea to a concrete and trackable impact that can be used in the design and evaluation of programs and projects. This framework suggests that if NGO and government programs are to have sustainable impacts, they must deepen human capabilities to manage economic and social change and to operate within environmental limits. To effectively evaluate whether a program is likely to have sustainable outcomes and impacts, a postprogram assessment is essential.
The discussion begins with a description of the problem: an industry born out of a colonial world where NGOs, governments, and foundations have sought to reduce poverty through technology transfers, education, and infrastructure with little attention to the impacts on the environment and the long-term work of collaboration and partnership. The second section presents a framework that defines key components for the design and evaluation of programs for sustainability. The third section presents a case study of a postprogram evaluation that provides evidence of sustainable outcomes, including deepened community capabilities and improved livelihoods, and missed opportunities for environmental stewardship. The last section summarizes the argument and makes recommendations for evaluation practices that encourage a more deliberate approach to sustainability.
Sustainability as a concept was first introduced in 1987 in response to a United Nations concern about the challenges of economic and social development in a world with increasing ecological degradation. The UN World Commission on Environment and Development produced the study Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland Report (1987). This report defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (p. 16). This perspective on sustainability has been critiqued as being anthropocentric and situating other species and environmental services in service to humans. Concern has also been raised that “meeting needs” may sanction over-consumption, especially in the Global North, and justify the continuous extraction of resources from the Global South (Farley & Smith, 2014). The challenge for NGOs, governments, foundations, and academics is that because the term sustainability has never been well defined, or perhaps understood, it has been co-opted so that it means whatever the user wants it to mean. Corporations use it to market their products or to secure customer loyalty, multilaterals use it to justify export promotion, and NGOs use the term in program planning, grant seeking, and fund raising to signal a sensitivity to environmental issues.
A shared understanding of the core elements of sustainability and a commitment to assess these elements after a program closes is important for the development community for three reasons. First, when a new program begins, whether focused on improved livelihoods, electricity, clean water, or improved health, it raises communities’ expectations. This poses ethical issues: Is it fair to raise expectations when it is unclear whether the program benefits will continue? If we are not reasonably sure that a program will yield long-term streams of benefits, is it fair to ask communities to commit their time, resources, and trust to this activity? Second, do we as development practitioners also have an obligation to do no harm? Are we confident that the proposed activity won’t make participants more vulnerable? For example, if a program is proposed that increases income in the short term but degrades an environmental resource, have our actions limited future access to environmental services and hence damaged intergenerational equity? Finally, a postprogram evaluation provides an opportunity to learn about the successes and failures of the program’s design and implementation, and provides important information about the likelihood that outcomes and impacts will continue into the future.
Although the Brundtland Report began the serious discussion of biophysical limits of our shared environment, has the popularity of the word sustainability or sustainable development brought us any closer to meeting basic needs for this generation or securing the ability of the earth to meet the needs of future generations? NGOs and multilaterals spend an estimated $150 billion each year in development assistance (World Bank, 2020). Funders and evaluators may want to know whether the work of this large industry has made a difference in terms of well-being, security of the marginalized, and protection of our environment.
Global poverty rates are variable across regions but from 2015 to 2017, approximately 52 million people rose out of poverty. This is 0.5% per year, a decline from 1% per year that was achieved between 1990 and 2015. This decline makes achieving the 2030 goal of less than 3% of the population living in poverty more unlikely (World Bank, 2021).Footnote 1 Poverty rates remain high in many global south countries, especially those affected by political turmoil. The World Bank suggests the region most challenged (where extreme poverty will likely remain in the double digits past 2030) is in sub-Saharan Africa, which had a poverty rate of 41.1% in 2015 (World Bank, 2018). We have spent large sums of money but have made only discouraging progress in meeting basic needs for the current generation.
Our influence on the global environment is less sanguine. Although global environmental problems are largely driven by consumption in the global north countries, the resource extraction and waste burden has taken its toll. The Living Planet Index documents a 68% decline in mammals, birds, amphibians, retiles, and fish from 1970 to 2016 (Almond et al., 2020), a troubling reflection of the health of our ecosystem. The Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII), which examines how much of the earth’s original biodiversity remains, shows a global BII at 79%, significantly below the recommended “safe level” of 90% (Almond et al., 2020). So, we have an opportunity to make significant improvement in the practice of sustainability. To do this, we need a shared understanding of what sustainability means and then the willingness to transfer this shared meaning to the design and evaluation of interventions that aspire to contribute to sustainably improving lives.
As we think about the sustainability of programs, we face two related questions: Is the program environmentally sustainable; that is, does the program explicitly account for the resources and environmental services used? Second, are the outcomes and impacts sustainable? While specific outcomes will likely change as the program evolves, do those outcomes contribute to the sustainability of program impacts?
The Environment as a Closed System
To answer the first question, we must acknowledge that we live in a closed system, where the integrity of our environment sets the limits on our economic and social opportunities. As early as 1966, Ken Boulding encouraged us to integrate growth with limits into our thinking when he contrasted the cowboy economy to a spaceship economy; that is, to treat how we grow not as if we have unending resources at our disposal but as if we are all on a spaceship, where what we use and dispose is limited (Boulding, 1966). This requires that the design of programs articulate how the economic, social, and environmental systems are interacting.
Systems thinking can help trace the connection between economic/social change and environmental limits by allowing us to identify feedback loops and causal relationships. Evaluators often use systems thinking as they reproduce a program’s theory of change. This approach can also be used to embed a theory of sustainability into program theory. Just as we use linking hypotheses to demonstrate how activities lead to outcomes and outcomes to impact, we can use a theory of sustainability to trace out how the design of a program can lead to sustainable outcomes and impacts and how interventions affect limited environmental resources and services.
To assess whether program activities adhere to the boundaries (limits) of the environment, we can draw from ecological sciences and the role of biodiversity and its importance for resilience. Although resilience is rapidly becoming an overused word, if we understand resilience to mean the ability of a system to bounce back after a shock, then it is an important component of sustainability. Protecting and maintaining diverse ecosystems absorbs some of the service loss that may occur in the attempts to improve human well-being. An example of a diverse food system comes from a visit to the Huicholi who live in the highlands of the Pacific coast of Mexico. They relayed a story of a government official who approached the community to plant hybrid maize, arguing that the yields of the improved variety would provide more food for the community. The elders replied: “If we take your seed and replace ours, we put our community in danger. Your seeds may produce much more in a good year, but we plant many kinds of maize seed. If the rains don’t come, we have maize that will grow. If there is too much rain, some of our maize will grow. The diversity of what we plant ensures that we will eat; can you promise the same with your seeds?” When a biodiverse ecosystem receives a shock, it is more likely that the system can maintain its processes, absorb the disturbance, and retain its function and structure. If biodiversity declines, the system will have decreased ecological resilience and be in danger. Therefore, an intervention will not be sustainable if it diminishes biodiversity health, ecological resilience, and ecosystem vitality. The ecological services provided by the environment create possibilities in the economic and social sphere. Without these possibilities, economic and social systems would collapse. As we design for changes in economic and social spheres, we must also understand the nature and limits of our use. The environment is a closed system; it can’t expand as we modify economic and social systems to improve well-being. It is incumbent on us to design for improvements in well-being within this closed system or we will compromise intergenerational equity.
Catalyzing Capabilities to Ensure Sustainable Outcomes and Impacts
Different types of development interventions—whether livelihoods; food production; infrastructure; or water, sanitation, and hygiene—require that we draw on environmental resources and services that have an impact on the ecosystem. For example, when we introduce livestock into a community, we are concerned about how this increased population will affect land use, natural flora, and water supply. We may also be concerned about the introduction of disease, invasive species, and dependencies on external inputs. All of these influence the sustainability and resilience of the ecosystem. Another important component—perhaps a precondition—of sustainability for any intervention is twofold; first, it must respond to a need or value expressed by the community, what evaluators call relevance, and second, the intervention must be designed to extend the community’s capabilities.
Catalyzing or extending communities’ capabilities requires that communities are cocreators and become innovators, problem solvers, and managers. Communities are not just collaborators but lead actors (Mog, 2004). If the program is to be sustainable, the community must take over the roles of the NGO. Further, the program should create change by melding community assets with new knowledge, information, or external assets (Mog, 2004).
If a program is implemented without a commitment to this process, outcomes are likely to dissipate when external program management or funding ends. Elements of process that enable sustainable outcomes and impacts require that communities participate in identification of the problem, collaborate in the design of the program, and develop decision-making structures. Another important element is that participants understand and are a part of any new technology, techniques, or methods so that they are able to solve problems and adapt to changing circumstances. Woolcock (2000) extends capabilities to also include the assessment of programs. He suggests that instead of focusing on externally imposed performance indicators, assessments focus on how the community sees the program evolving over time. Evaluators can contribute to this process by working with the community to illustrate how capacity building has led to outcomes and impacts over time, and also to diagnose where failures have occurred and how to learn from them (Woolcock, 2000).
Learning, adaptation, and innovation are more than one-time changes. For example, a common objective for many NGOs is to improve livelihoods. From an economist’s lens, the binding constraint may be a lack of physical assets, so an asset such as dairy cattle is introduced. If no accompanying investment is made to further organizational and technical expertise, or to innovate in response to changing situations, then the cows will likely be consumed in a few years and no long-term change in livelihoods will occur. The ability of participants to learn, adapt, and innovate is the lynchpin to sustainable outcomes.
Marginalized communities are not without assets, both human and physical. A theory of sustainability should include the identification and use of local assets. Social capital is an important local asset in most global south communities, especially rural communities. Lin defined social capital as resources embedded in a social structure that can be accessed and/or mobilized in purposive action (Lin, 2008). These social relations have an economic value in that households may rely on social networks to exchange knowledge, provide safety nets, and create economic opportunities (Hartmann, 2014). Networks contain resources that increase capabilities—the ability to access resources and combine those resources in new ways. Networks influence norms and behavior such as adoption of new techniques or technologies, or participation in collective activities (Fitzpatrick & Akgungor, 2019). Program activities that deepen and extend these networks contribute to sustainable outcomes by endogenizing capabilities within the communities.
The third evaluative component of sustainability is the simplest but frequently is not carried out by NGOs and governments. This is the practice of revisiting communities several years after external funding and management of program activities has ended. One reason this is rarely done is structural: Funding agencies often require a midterm and final evaluation but not a postprogram evaluation. Furthermore, budgets for monitoring, midterm, and final evaluations are usually integrated into project proposals, but rarely is there a budget for postprogram evaluation. Final evaluations are summative, determining if the program was delivered as designed and if the outcomes detailed in the program’s theory of change were met. A postprogram evaluation, which usually takes place 2–7 years after the close of the program, examines outcomes and unexpected streams of benefits (and costs), and establishes their relationship to program activities. Impacts, while projected in program documents, usually are long-run phenomena that occur because of planned and unplanned sustained outcomes. The program evaluation provides an opportunity to test the efficacy of a theory of sustainability: Did the outcomes sustain and did they contribute to sustainable impacts? The postprogram evaluation provides insights for redesign and/or the confidence to scale up.
The postprogram evaluation is especially important when assessing how activities affect an environmental resource or service. It often takes time for a resource or a service to be degraded or altered and it takes time for a resource to recover. External support for a program may end before environmental harm is detected or before recovery of a resource or service is obvious. Papua New Guinea is a country with many ongoing mangrove restoration programs, one of which illustrates the importance of a postprogram evaluation. Mangroves provide communities with a buffer from extreme weather events and their extensive root systems serve as nurseries to maintain fish and shrimp populations. In response to extreme degradation of mangroves, an intervention was designed to educate the communities about the services the mangroves provide. The intervention also worked with the community to replant and reduce harvesting. The program outcomes assessed in the final evaluation were participants’ knowledge, and a target increase in the stock of mangroves. The expected impacts of the program were the restoration of fish and shrimp populations to improve food security and livelihoods, and the reestablishment of the buffer services of mature mangroves. However, no postprogram evaluation was conducted, so the opportunity to learn from this intervention was lost. For example, is understanding the services provided by mangroves enough for a community to change practices of harvesting? Will replanting and decreased harvesting continue after external resources end? At what point will the nurseries reach a sustainable yield? What protection do the recovering stands of mangrove provide during coastal weather events? This is just some of the information that could have been collected 3–5 years after the program that would have contributed to future design and effectiveness of mangrove restoration.
As discussed previously, a precondition for sustainability is the increased capabilities of participants/communities. Confirmation of enhanced capabilities will emerge after external support of the program has ended. Evidence may include the continuity and efficacy of governance structures to manage the program and of participants to adapt to changing conditions, demonstrate problem solving, and innovate. Evidence of emerging sustainable impacts—impacts that come about due to participant effort and resources—include continuous investment using community resources, such as asset transfers, training and mentoring, collective action, or maintenance of public infrastructure.
Postprogram evaluation will also reveal how the initial program may have stimulated change in other sectors. In this chapter’s Malawi case study, the postprogram evaluation revealed how the initial dairy program catalyzed backward and forward linkages, making it more likely that the nascent program would thrive. These spillover effects aren’t always obvious during planning and they may not be developed sufficiently at the final evaluation to be seen as an indirect benefit that supports sustainable change.
Evaluating programs that aspire to have sustainable impacts necessitates a framework that includes process, an understanding of the synergy between the intervention and environmental limits, and a commitment to postprogram assessment. The following case study of an asset transfer program in Malawi illustrates elements of program design that have enhanced capabilities but not accounted for environmental limits. This program provides an example of a postprogram evaluation that focused on process and the role that capabilities played in nurturing livelihood outcomes. This evaluation used social network analysis (SNA), a proxy for social capital, to measure relationships of reciprocity and trust and how these relationships become pathways for knowledge, innovation, and livelihood opportunities. SNA is also used to trace out the spillover effects of a program. This is important for sustainability because networks create a more diverse economic and social ecosystem, one that is more resilient to potential shocks.
Dairy Development Asset Transfer—Malawi
An older woman cupped my face in her hands and looked directly into my eyes. She said, “Look at me, I am a poor old woman, and I, me, put my granddaughter through college. I was able to do this because of my cows. I gave the morning milk to my family and those in need and I sold the evening milk to the association. In two years, I was able to send my granddaughter to college in Lilongwe.” Footnote 2
The goal of this program was to enhance the livelihoods among smallholder farmers, mostly women, whose income and access to resources put them at or below the poverty line. The project included an asset transfer in the form of a dairy cowFootnote 3 and training to enhance the capabilities of participant households. This training included care of the cow (nutrition, health, shelter), improvement in home gardens, and management skills. Households that received a pregnant cow agreed to pass on the first calf to another household that completed the training and was ready to receive it. The initial household also provided support and guidance in the care of the animal to the recipient household.
The theory of change for this community development intervention asserted that the transfer of the asset of livestock (physical capital) combined with a set of trainings (human capital) would enhance social capital and productive capacity among beneficiary households. This new productive capacity would then stimulate an increase in income. The model further assumed that participants, through collective action, would link to markets and sustain advances made in income. The ultimate goal was for the intervention to catalyze a movement out of poverty for the participants and the larger community.
This program began in 2009 with the final evaluation completed in 2012 and the postprogram evaluation in 2015. The purpose of the postprogram evaluation was to determine if participant capabilities and other outcomes increased while maintaining or improving the environment.
The evidence of enhanced capabilities among the participants included ongoing community governance of the asset transfer, innovation and problem solving, and continuous investment using community resources. Participants in the program were initially asked by the implementing partner, in 2009, to establish a governing committee to manage the transfer of livestock and facilitate ongoing training of new participants. From the close of the program to the postprogram evaluation, this committee had rotated in new members as terms expired, and successfully monitored and enforced the process of passing on the livestock.
The participants and key informants provided evidence of their application and extension of the knowledge and skills to support dairy production. This indicates the effectiveness of participants’ initial training and the community’s ability to extend and adapt knowledge over time. The program also trained community volunteers as community animal health workers and equipped them to support participants to manage basic animal health issues. These two complementary activities—the extension of participants’ knowledge and the embedding of a community-based paraprofessional—proved to be important to internalizing capabilities in the community. The postprogram evaluation revealed a decrease in livestock mortality and an increase in live births after the close of the program, indicating participants’ ability to solve problems and innovateFootnote 4 (Heifer International, 2012).
Another indicator of sustainability was the community’s continuous investment in program-related activities. The evidence from the postprogram evaluation included continuation of the asset transfer, active mentoring of new participants, and the use of collective funds to improve and enlarge the cooling facility.Footnote 5 During the 3 years after the program, the collection and chilling system increased throughput and maintained the community association’s reputation for high-quality product established during the program. Typically, one of the most common challenges for newly formed associations is financial management. The postprogram evaluation found that bills were paid, a savings account maintained, and payments to farmers were prompt.
While the program demonstrated institutions and capabilities that contribute to sustainable impacts, a complementary phenomenon was the stimulating effects this program had on other sectors. One of the surprises from the postprogram evaluation was the growth of backward linkages brought about by the program’s expansion of the dairy sector. This development became visible as we analyzed changes in social networks from the midterm to the postprogram evaluation. We expected the networks to become larger as more households in the communities were able to get a calf, the training, and support. But the postprogram evaluation found an increasing number of people in the networks who were not dairy producers but provided backward linkages: farmers providing inputs into dairy mash and feed supplements, and new hammer mills. The demand for transport for milk and inputs increased employment and contributed to these spillover effects.Footnote 6 We also observed spillover effects of knowledge. Eighty percent of nonprogram households in the network reported that they adopted an improved practice due to their relationship with a program participant. Nonprogram households also reported that they relied on the program-trained community animal health workers for information and vaccinations. These investments, which became significant after the close of the program, signaled the strength of the economic changes taking place in the livestock sector. These could be considered emerging outcomes, those that were unintended but occurred as a result of the program and the efforts and resources of project participants.
One of the clearly articulated outcomes of this program was the increase in income from advances in dairy productivity. As part of the postprogram evaluation, we examined the change in real net farm income for participants and compared it to a measure of living income (Fitzpatrick & Akgungor, 2019).Footnote 7 The calculation for the living income benchmark for this project was based on the Anker and Anker (2014) study of the living wage in the tea-growing area of Malawi. Because this project site was in the central region of Malawi, we made adjustments based on differential costs of food and housing. All prices were adjusted to a 2015 base, allowing for a linear measurement across time, similar to a poverty line.
The purpose of measuring changes in the farm income of households was twofold, seeking to determine (a) if positive change occurred and (b) if it was sustained after the end of the intervention. If participants were able to achieve a level of net income equal to or greater than the living income benchmark, and at least sustain this level of income after the close of the project, we can conclude that livelihoods have improved and have exhibited evidence of sustainability and resilience to unexpected events. Figure 1 illustrates changes in real farm income at baseline (2009), end of project (2012), and postprogram evaluation (2015).
One of the limitations of living income as a benchmark of improved livelihoods is that it does not account for how income is distributed among household members or over the year, which may have important implications for food security. Assessing household income over a multiyear period provides an estimate of the reliability of the income. It is therefore important that measuring income to a benchmark be done over time. Both of these issues are important for food security and household resilience.
We found that the change in net income for the program households was sufficient to afford participants a modest but decent living at the close of the project in 2012. When we measured net income in 2015, 3 years after the end of the project, net incomes had increased 60%, indicating a sustainable change in income. The increases that we saw in net income were likely to level off, at least in the short to medium run, as supply and demand conditions adjusted. What is important is that this infusion of capital allowed participants to increase incomes above the living income and, as such, increased the economic resiliency of this group.
Postprogram evaluation also allowed us to assess whether collective and individual capabilities increased. We did this by examining whether new institutions fulfilled their function, whether sufficient knowledge was transferred to maintain and increase the dairy population, and whether participants were able to pass on knowledge and support to new participants without the support of project personnel. Continuous investment also confirmed participants’ confidence and commitment to program outcomes. Last, while analyzing the role of social capital in facilitating many of these outcomes, we discovered that the program catalyzed spillovers into other sectors, further increasing the likelihood that this new growth will be sustainable. This postprogram evaluation took place 3 years after the project’s close, which provided enough time to assess the likelihood of sustainable outcomes and sustainable impact. Five to seven years would provide the time for testing innovations, revealing design flaws, and observing resilience. Waiting longer before postprogram evaluation would also provide more time to see how participants innovated in response to changing market conditions, climate, and the inevitable challenges of managing change in close communities.
As programs modify economic and social systems to improve well-being, sustainability requires that the design and implementation consider that we are operating in a closed system and that environmental resources and services are limited. To this end, the design and evaluations of a program should address two questions: Has the program been designed to maintain or improve environmental resources and services? Are there missed opportunities or unintended effects that were caused by program activities or that evolved after the program ended?
Recall that one objective of this program was to increase the income of participants and their communities through the development of a dairy sector. At the beginning of the program in 2009, 60 pregnant cows were delivered to the first round of participants. By 2015, when the postprogram evaluation was conducted, the communities had approximately 1200 dairy cows that were project related. This does not include the increase in dairy population that resulted indirectly from the program, namely the increases in Zebu-Jersey crosses or the male calves that were often sold to nonparticipants. But the design and evaluation of the program did not take into account the environmental impacts of such a large change in livestock population.
The environmental resources and services that a greatly enlarged dairy sector require include water for animal hydration and hygiene and increased water for producing dairy feed. The backward linkages that stimulated feed and fodder production put more marginal land into cultivation, potentially contributing to soil erosion and loss of fertility. Another concern was the pressure that the demand for feed and fodder put on the conversion of forests to farmland. These were not considerations when the program was designed and implemented. The environmental impacts of development interventions, especially those associated with improving livelihoods through the expansion of market activity, are rarely considered in the design stage or incorporated into a theory of change. A postprogram evaluation can estimate the environmental impacts because many do not become apparent until years after the project has ended. If an organization or government is committed to sustainable development and the primacy of the environment in enabling economic growth, an environmental impact assessment should inform the design of the program and a postprogram evaluation should surface the intended and unintended impacts on the environment. Identifying environmental problems can support work with communities to design remediation strategies.
A postprogram evaluation may also reveal missed opportunities to contribute to environmental health. For example, a major environmental and health problem in Malawi is the exposure to wood-based cooking fuels; about 98% of households depend on this source (Gercama & Bertrams, 2017). This has serious health effects and also contributes to widespread deforestation. In the long run, this deforestation creates food security risks as forests diminish, soil erodes, and regional droughts become more common. This program missed an opportunity to address this health and environmental problem. The increasing sources of dairy manure could have been used to make biogas for cooking and lighting. This would have created a demand for new products: biogas, biogas equipment, and dried organic fertilizer from the sludge. If attention to environmental impacts had been integrated into the design of this program, these opportunities would have been apparent and would have strengthened the sustainability of program impacts. A theory of sustainability embedded in the theory of change with explicit links from activities to outcomes and outcomes to impact could have revealed potential environmental concerns and incorporated plans to address concerns and opportunities into the program design.
Sloppy, opportunistic, and superficial treatment of the concept of sustainability has contributed to the ineffectiveness of many development interventions and has, in many cases, led to environmental degradation. As development professionals and government planners, we have an obligation to promote programs with sustainable impacts to improve the social, economic, and environmental returns on investments, to be respectful of the time and resource commitments that participants make in the expectation of improved well-being, and to contribute to intergenerational equity.
If outcomes are to be sustainable, interventions need to deepen the capabilities of participants; they will be the ones to maintain the program, to make it dynamic—they are they innovators, the problem solvers. Otherwise, the cows are eaten!
Development professionals and governments should incorporate two interrelated elements of sustainability to the design and evaluation of programs. First is incorporating the primacy of environment into interventions, and second is formulating outcomes and impacts that result in streams of benefits that continue beyond the life of the program. Finally, to know whether sustainable impacts occurred, a commitment to assessing this work well after the programs have ended is essential.
To secure a stream of benefits after the close of a program, an intervention should deepen the communities’ abilities to create and manage governance structures, solve problems, and innovate. Postprogram evaluation allows us to determine whether governance structures have fulfilled their functions and whether outcomes have continued. In the case presented, we observed the income of the participants increasing 3 years after the program ended. This indicated that participants have managed, solved problems, and created new opportunities. This postprogram evaluation also revealed an intervention that contributed to environmental degradation. Well-meaning interventions focused on improving human well-being often overlook negative impacts to environmental well-being or assume none will occur. We are not accustomed to putting the environment front and center and we are often ill equipped to project the impact of interventions on the environment in the long run. Environmental boundaries must be incorporated into initial program planning, and when our planning isn’t sufficient, evaluation plays a role in integrating knowledge of the damage or potential damage back into the redesign process.
While the results of this study pertain to a specific project, they also provide preliminary evidence of the importance of catalyzing and engaging physical, human, and social capital in an intervention to influence the structure of a local community in a way that leads to a sustainable set of new opportunities for the most vulnerable. When this occurs, outcomes are more likely to be sustainable because the intervention triggered new skills and institutions that enhanced capability. We see this in the continued asset transfers, the deepening of social networks, the growth of backward linkages, and the participants reinvestment in program activities. These enhanced capabilities and innovations allow for endogenous change in the communities that is regenerative, signaling a capacity for sustainability.
Poverty rates increased in 2020 in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the pandemic has been global in its reach, the vulnerable have become more so. This reveals how tenuous the climb out of poverty has been and how little resilience has been created by seven decades of international aid.
This story is drawn from the author’s personal experience.
The cows and transferred calves are the property of the women in the household.
One example of innovation was the cross breeding of Zebus (an indigenous cow) with the program Jersey cows. Jersey are known for the high fat content of their milk, but Zebus consume less water and are more robust in a rugged environment. Although milk production with the crossbred cows was lower, the incidence of disease declined significantly.
The program supported participants in establishing a milk collection and chilling center by acquiring milk chilling equipment while the participants contributed locally available resources and labor to construct the collection and chilling house.
Analysis from the postprogram evaluation showed that a 1% change in income of participants resulted in a .78% change in the income of nonparticipants in the network.
Living income is a concept adopted from the work of Anker and Anker (2014). Living income is different from a poverty line in that it encompasses the idea of a “decent living,” one that measures the ability of households to meet all their basic needs including food, water, education, housing, healthcare, clothing, and a provision for unexpected events.
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Fitzpatrick, E. (2022). Assessing Sustainability in Development Interventions. In: Uitto, J.I., Batra, G. (eds) Transformational Change for People and the Planet. Sustainable Development Goals Series. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-78853-7_7
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