Research tells professionals not to under-estimate the impact of small charities

10 august 2015

Schools, orphanages, wells and fishponds in developing countries constructed by enthusiastic small NGOs have a better than expected lifespan. That is the conclusion of research commissioned by Dutch NGO Wild Geese Foundation, an organisation that supports “private initiatives”, or small development projects by individuals or very small aid agencies.

The research surveyed 93 projects which were initiated five, ten or fifteen years ago. Of these, 78% were still physically present (meaning that the building machinery was still standing many years after construction) and 69% of the projects visited were still being used for their intended purpose.

The study focused on four countries, and it showed that projects in India – with scores of 97% and 90% respectively – far outperformed those in the three other countries. Kenya – respectively 58% and 50% - scored significantly less, while projects in Ghana (67% and 53%) and South Africa (86.5% and 59%) returned very good scores.

Researcher Sara Kinsbergen of Radboud University (who spoke at a Dóchas conference in 2010) did not find a clear explanation for the difference between the four countries, and highlighted that the number of failed projects is too small to draw robust conclusions about causes.

“Sometimes the government did not live up to promises made, other times the project was too big, or sometimes local partner decided to do something else," said Kinsbergen at the presentation of the report.

Importantly, she also found no clear relation between the size of the budget or the experience of the Dutch organisation, or of the local partner organisation, and the project’s success later on.

"I had imagined that with older projects, there would be an increased chance of project partners withdrawing from the project. But we found that partner relationships endured and that financial support from the Netherlands continued for many years.”