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“Social Intervention towards Sustainable Development”

Background VARD has been implementing the project "Social Intervention towards Sustainable Development" (SISD) with financial support from Strømme Foundation from January 2002 in two sub-districts of Jamalgonj and Sunamgong Sadar in Sunamgonj district aiming at improving the living standard and socio-economic security of poor people. On completion of three year period of the project both partners decided to carry out a mid-term evaluation to study to what extent the project has achieved its objectives in terms of reaching the poorest of the community on issues relating to sustainable livelihood, basic human rights and education of children. Purpose/objective The specific objectives include:i. Determine whether or not the activities have been accessible to the poorest communities of project intervention areas.ii. Examine whether or not the service delivery mechanism has been conducive to reaching vulnerable groups especially women and children.iii. Examine and assess the effects and impact of the projectiv. Examine the specific objectives of the project in relation to income and employment and whether these have helped them to live an average life in the project areas.v. Prepare a set of recommendations based on findings for use in the future. Methodology Participatory approaches were followed at all levels with VARD staff assisting the team in conducting Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) sessions. The following approaches were adopted:a. Unbiased Group/Client selection for the evaluationb. PRA (clients from both credit and education programs)c. Visits to individual membersd. SWOT Analysis with project staffe. Group Discussions with senior staff Key findings Poverty targetingThe overwhelming members targeted in the project are indeed poor and very poor. Flash floods that occur every 2-3 years, are seen as hindering efforts of the poor to come out of poverty. People do not have adequate scope of work in farming in view of the fact that the district is generally a "one crop" area and that most areas remain under water from flooding, for about six months.Physical progressThe project has in general achieved the set targets during the time frame with regard to savings, credit, housing, tree plantation, training and development education. The training provided to the members seems inadequate relative to the needs of the client population.Education programThe adolescents have acquired good progress in terms of social awareness and seem to be effectively campaigning to bring about changes in their social life. The challenge is to retain and involve them in the ongoing development activities.2MicrofinanceSavings performance is satisfactory but it appears these savers have potential of more savings. Savings remain blocked as they cannot withdraw these as and when they need. Credit size is reasonably high. Talent financing (TF) loan system is generally very traditional in nature and does not show potential to attract those in wage employments. Overall the microfinance program is well managed.TrainingStaff training seemed inadequate. They do not have updated knowledge on microfinance. Staff in the education program appear well skilled and equipped on the PRA system which VARD imparts from its in-house sources.Project managementCompared to the volume of project activities, management support from the senior staff is inadequate. It appears they are not in a position carry out their respective duties and responsibilities during the normal office working hours. The finance and accounts section is staffed with experienced professionals and they generate useful reports and are able to explain any issues relating to microfinance program and other financial matters. Recommendations a. New savings product: Introducing voluntary savings product may be explored after carrying out a small market research.b. Investing in livestock and poultry: Concentrate on livestock and poultry that feasible in the area with good market potential and thus income which can help poverty reduction.c. Housing loan: Housing is a priority area that calls for further strengthening. Housing loan for the poor should be considered which can make a positive contribution to controlling poverty.d. Talent financing (TF) loan: TF loans may be reviewed to utilize the fund earmarked for it to serve the poorer with regular loans instead of the few better off clients. VARD can support TF clients from its regular credit program.e. Raising productivity of staff: Productivity of field officer has to be raised at least to 350 clients per staff, current delinquency rate has to be further brought down, portfolio at risk has also to be contained within 5%.f. Adolescents to be included in other development programs: The adolescents could be provided (after this program is over) with some kind of group development activity like sewing and embroidery and linking them with local markets in greater Sylhet.g. Advance training for Staff & project participants: MF staffed should be equipped with updated knowledge to improve project performance. Project beneficiaries with more sectoral training e.g. poultry/livestock, cattle fattening, goat farming, vegetable gardening, fish culture, handicraftsh. Strengthening governing body: VARD has emerged as an important NGO in the country. Its governing body has to be further strengthened by including professionals. Comments from the organisation This was a mid-term evaluation to assess if the project was on track to achieve the planned objectives. The findings and recommendations were discussed and an action plan was drawn up together with the Partner organization to introduce the needed changes that are feasible with the available resources. Both partners studied the area of capacity building needs of staff and participants and have planned accordingly. A special program has been developed for adolescent girls and it is now in the pilot phase.The recommendation on housing loan was reviewed, and it is SF's view based on experience that the limited resources available should focus on economic development activities to generate more income to enable participants based on their priorities to invest on house improvement. However, SF will continue to look for resources to provide flood protected houses to the most vulnerable and poorest families.SF noted that the evaluation has significantly missed to review the impact and progress made in the education sector, which will have to be covered in future evaluations.