promoting increased & more effective funding in Africa
In March, 2012 AGAG held its annual retreat and the theme for this year was evaluation and learning. SUSAN GIBBS of the Wallace Global Fund, served as a Conversation Starter on the panel, “Views from the Field” and is author of this guest blog. What do you think?
Many funders seek to use their grant dollars and convening power to partner with advocates to advance progressive social change. Needless to say, the more transformative the agenda, the tougher it is to show impact in one- or two-year grant cycles. Social change requires advocacy, and advocacy is notoriously difficult to measure.
Does that mean funders should steer clear of supporting advocacy? I would argue the opposite. And I would pose the provocative question: Do we set grantmaking objectives for the world we want to see, or the world we can measure?
Advocacy in support of social change is not clear or clean. It is multivariate and chaotic. It is subject to overlapping pressures and actors. Its path is circuitous. It proceeds in fits and starts. It can take decades. And once success is achieved, there are always threats of reversals.
In addition, the connection between advocacy and transformative social change is indirect. For example, by my count, 18 African nations have passed legislation banning female genital mutilation/cutting. However, we can’t simply declare victory now that these bills have been signed. In fact, we are seeing some contradictory short-term effects such as the practice being driven underground or across national borders. In some settings, we are seeing the practice being performed on younger girls. Funders must see advocacy – in tandem with long-term community-led empowerment efforts – as a strategy over the long haul. Funders must be guided by the communities leading the charge.
Another challenge associated with advocacy – and strategies for evaluating it – is the fact that it often provokes fierce, explicit, and intentional opposition, and this opposition has become globalized. Progressive advocates in Kansas and Kampala are encountering some of the same actors, messages, and funding flows. Success in the short term can have the perverse effect of galvanizing advocates on the other side. How should we best measure that?
Should these measurement challenges cause us to throw up our hands and give up? Definitely not. Despite the obvious methodological complexities, there are paths forward. For starters, we need to employ longer timeframes when evaluating advocacy. We should focus on measuring social trends rather than individual grantee outputs. We should measure the organizational capacity of advocacy organizations, looking at such metrics as transformational leadership; the ability to course correct and innovate; and success in stewarding and deploying scarce resources effectively. In the words of Tanya Beer at the Center for Evaluation and Innovation, we need to “allow for uncertainty and emergence.”
As a funding community, we need to connect more and learn from one another and fund more advocacy evaluation, not less. Hopefully AGAG can help our community progress. As with the advocacy approaches we fund, there is force in numbers. Just because our evaluation measures and methodologies are challenging does not mean we should scale back our ambitions.
One of the sessions at the recent AGAG Annual Retreat on “Evaluation and Learning: Navigating the Range of Approches” explored the issue of supporting indigenous communities and the importance of understanding how to engage with them, learn from that engagement, and tailor your approach to be more effective. The session was the result of collaborative work between the Christensen Fund, the MacArthur Foundation, Global Greengrants Fund, and the Kivulini Trust, all doing work in this important area. One of the resources for more information is Indigenous Peoples Issues and Resources.
The AGAG Annual Retreat is one of the rare opportunities where grantmakers interested in Africa come together to share with and learn from each other. The other important thing that happens at the Annual Retreat is the formation of new relationships between colleagues. Despite the trend to make virtual connections, nothing is more valuable than the relationship equity that is built from spending a few days of “face time” talking with and getting to know others in the field.
This year the AGAG Retreat will focus on “Evaluation and Learning: Navigating the Range of Approaches.” For funders working in Africa, it is a must attend event for a host of reasons, beginning with the chance to connect with colleagues including those based in Europe and Africa.
The agenda will feature six evaluation case studies from a diverse group of funders. Funders working in Africa and concerned about evaluation should not miss such a relevant and rich opportunity.
Jennifer Greene from the American Evaluation Association and Florence Etta of the African Evaluation Association are among the gues speakers. Check it out. You will be sorry you missed it. For a detailed agenda and information about how to register, go to www.africagrantmakers. org