“Empowering the Powerless through Community Organizing Program (EPCOP)”
Background "Empowering the Powerless through Community Organizing Program (EPCOP)" was first started in 1998 with financial support from Strømme Foundation. The current phase of the project from January 2005 to December 2008 is being implemented by five (5) local YMCAs coordinated by the National Council of YMCAs in four districts of Bogra, Gopalgonj, Netrakona and Dinajpur in Bangladesh. The project aims to empower the target people socially and economically organizing them into groups and raising their social awareness and household income and employment opportunities through training and loan support.As per funding policy, SF has a provision of evaluating the projects implement by various organizations. Purpose/objective SF assigned an independent local consultant for the mid-term evaluation and following were the objectives- The present status of the project- To what extent the project activities are still relevant and appropriate to address priority needs and problems of the target people- How far the aims of the project have been achieved- Assess the level of awareness and participation of group members in social activities- What impacts the project has achieved for far- Assess the management capacity of YMCAs in systematic management of the project- Assess the effectiveness of the monitoring system and supervision of the project; study- Identify the key lessons and make recommendations for any improvements Methodology The evaluation was conducted following participatory approaches focusing mainly on qualitative analysis. The consultant besides review of project documents also had discussions with the project participants, project staff and management committee, and for observations visited the project locations. Key findings ?? Inappropriate balance between social and financial interventions with insufficient social interventions to give the required impetus to achieve the desired social changes.?? The tripartite partnership framework: SF ???? NCYB ???? local YMCAs appeared not to have worked satisfactorily. Unlike regular partnerships between SF and other NGOs, here SF had not get an opportunity for direct interface with the implementing local YMCAs, denying SF the possibility to observe performance of local YMCAs in the field in a timely manner tosuggest and follow up necessary and remedial measures for effective and efficient implementation of the project to maximize outcomes/impacts with available resources.?? Project has suffered due to weak organizational capacity of local YMCAs, poor quality of microfinance staff, project management, especially in the microfinance part of the project. Planning, monitoring, supervision, financial management, bookkeeping and accounting were quite weak.?? Nearly 50% of the groups have been inactive, with 60-70% of group members not making regular savings, more than 30% of the outstanding loan overdue and loan repayment rate between 60-75%. As a result the local YMCAs were in a crisis situation on Revolving Loan Funds as SF had to suspend further funds, until earlier repayments became regular and on-time.?? Formation of groups, support and maintenance of groups were weak, leading to lack of group discipline among majority of groups.?? The role of NCYB appeared confined to occasional visits to local YMCAs without providing the necessary technical assistance to overcome various weaknesses that hindered optimum performance. Recommendations ?? Revisit the tripartite partnership strategy to make it more functional and effective so that the implementing organizations i.e. local YMCAs remain accountable to NCYB and SF streamlining specific responsibilities.?? Bring necessary changes in organizational policy, procedures, management structure and personnel responsibilities of the implementing organizations to improve efficiency, effectiveness and professionalism.?? Make a rational balance between education and financial components that would contribute and complement to yield the desired impact.?? Emphasize more on group discipline and norms and savings accumulation through motivation. For this purpose, senior staff should make more frequent field visits to groups.?? Undertake intensive capacity building initiative to improve management capacity of local YMCAs.?? Arrange more training and hands on technical assistance for the staff to improve their competency in microfinance.?? Find out a pragmatic solutions to continue financing the local YMCAs especially those which are comparatively better and which can be improved, to prevent the situation getting worse. Comments from the organisation The above project has been under the supervision of NCYB since 1997 at that time with only 2 local YMCAs but later the project has expanded to include 5 YMCAs. According to plans, another 5 local YMCAs are in the pipeline receiving small support from NCYB. This evaluation studied, as a sample the working of 3 local YMCAs: Bogra, Kaligram and Gopalgonj YMCAs to assess the general performance, implementation capacity and operational strategy. Since SF has not had any direct contact with the local YMCAs on the one hand, and to learn so very late the shortcomings, problems and especially the extremely critical situation of the project on the other hand, has put SF in a very difficult situation. Based on the findings and recommendations of the evaluation, SF will negotiate with the Partner: NCYB if SF could have direct contact and have separate contracts with each of the local YMCAs which could be improved and temporarily suspend the ones that are very weak and show poor capacity.