Enable Ed CIC has had the privilege of both working with and carrying out various independent project evaluations for large and small NGOs. What has become apparent is the exceptional value for money that many small NGOs provide.
Enable Ed believes passionately in providing pro-bono or low-cost work for small organisations. Often small organisations do not have the budget to do an independent evaluation of a project and that’s where we, and others, can support. Some funders believe in the importance of independent evaluations (but we need many more), and I would give a massive shout-out to UK aid for initiating the Small Charities Challenge Fund, though it is a huge disappointment it was axed in 2021 as part of the funding cuts to UK aid.
Enable Ed CIC has had the privilege of both working with and carrying out various independent evaluations for large and small NGOs and their projects (most often in the context of education – our speciality). What has become apparent in our evaluations is the exceptional value for money that many small NGOs provide.
Given this, Enable Ed now tries where possible (resources are limited) to provide pro-bono or low-cost work for small organisations. Often small organisations do not have the budget to do an independent evaluation of a project and that’s where we, and others, can support. Some funders believe in the importance of small NGOs and the value for money they provide (but we need many more), and I would give a massive shout-out to UK aid for initiating the Small Charities Challenge Fund, though it is a huge disappointment it was axed in 2021 as part of the funding cuts to UK aid.
To explore how to get value for money for an organisation, the context we use is the 4Es: Economy, Efficiency, Effectiveness with Equality (and sustainability).
To support other NGOs to think through ways they can ensure value for money, I am going to share some examples from the organisations we have worked with.
Looking at effectiveness, one characteristic of small NGOs is a long-term commitment (genuine development takes time) to a particular geographical or focus/niche area, often vulnerable communities not addressed by larger NGOs. As a result, these NGOs often form strong relationships with the communities they serve. This enables both “bottom-up” development and the piloting of projects – Test and Learn – which can then be scaled up.
Caroline Walker, the brilliant CEO of Together We Learn, which supports projects in North West Ethiopia told me, “If you stay in the same location and keep working with the same communities and same stakeholders, you learn from your mistakes and develop better practices from start to finish, and you’re around to see it’s still having an impact or to be held accountable if the impact starts dropping off.”
Enable Ed has done a lot of work with RedEarthEducation in Uganda, which provides teaching and learning in over 100 government schools in Masindi and surrounding areas. Changing the quality of teaching and learning takes time, a lot of training input and significant follow-up and support. The Teaching Early Grade Reading project took up to five years but the effectiveness speaks for itself.
There are occasions when there is a trade-off between effectiveness and sustainability. Exeter Ethiopia Link (EEL) funds school librarians in Ethiopia and believes this to be an effective intervention. The annual cost of a librarian is £220. This provides a job for a librarian, 70% of whom are female, and a library with a safe place to study. The average monthly footfall is 600 and books loaned 120. The sustainability therefore can be found in the economy of the initiative in enabling EEL to self-fund.
For efficiency, there is a natural temptation with some small NGOs to ensure all the money directly goes into project running costs and as a result, overheads should be avoided. However, central management, which I advise is best done locally within the country, along with strong Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) will result in improved efficiency and effectiveness. Timely decisions, adaptive working, and using data to reveal what works and what doesn’t will lead to lower overall costs due to the lack of wastage and funding of good projects. To give an indicator, in UK aid’s current Girl’s Education Challenge projects, the average % of the total project budget allocated to central admin was 14.8% and MEL 11%.
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A key strength of small NGOs is their ability to be flexible in their programming to meet individual needs. A study by the Lloyds Bank Foundation found that small organisations in the UK demonstrated tremendous energy, flexibility and professionalism and were there for the people that needed them most, again demonstrating equity. I have seen similar ways of working in small NGOs across the international development sector. One of many possible examples would be Kids Klub Kampala who provided a remarkable 2.7 million food parcels to 58,030 vulnerable families during the Covid lockdown.
Further efficiencies can be found in some remarkable support that small NGOs provide each other through formal and informal networking. The, at times, ‘life-saving’ Small International Development Charities Network has over 2,250 members on their Facebook page at last count. I am also part of Small but Significant, a group of small NGOs working together in Ethiopia – there are many other similar networks.
Finally, we come to economy, a real characteristic of small organisations is volunteerism and the huge added value that brings to the charity (ensure it is recognised in funding bids and we often monetise in evaluations through the likes of Pound Plus Methodology or Social Return on Investment). One organisation I admire from a distance (but am yet to work with) is EDUSPOTS who specialises in community/volunteer-led education and has trained over 400 volunteers to support 15,000+ children in 50 underserved areas of Ghana (another example of a small organisation really ensuring the equity of development).
So, if you are a small NGO, when you next evaluate, really reflect on the value for money you potentially provide. If you happen to be a funder, I promise you this: small NGOs can be an amazing source of value for your pound and often are closest to communities on the ground.
For more information, do contact Mark Smith: [email protected].