Somalia: What has the money achieved?

20/03/2015

In 2013, £1.6 bn of international aid was pledged to Somalia: more than double the country’s gross domestic product. In the capital, Mogadishu, some high-profile investments—such as the upgrading of the airport and port facilities—show this money at work. But elsewhere, the impact of such spending is less visible and therefore faces tough questions from both Somalis as well as the international community. The linkages between meeting immediate needs – water, roads, clinics – and longer term goals of improving lives and securing peace and stability are complex. Harder still, is establishing long-term impact.

What is the impact?

Rigorous impact evaluations are few and far between. With so many agencies, organisations and a lack of access, mistakes can be repeated: schools might be built without teachers or boreholes drilled without sustainable management. That is why it is essential that both negative and positive lessons are disseminated.

As different parts of Somalia make steady progress towards stability, it has become more important than ever to evaluate carefully and honestly critique the impact of aid.

Local knowledge

Most research and evaluations are commissioned by donors or implementers; the findings are sometimes not made public and there is little incentive to advertise failure. Local organisations are often contracted to conduct research, but their role is usually limited to data collection. While recognising that such groups are not immune to bias or vested interests, their skills could be better utilised. They have access to communities and existing networks which can provide feedback and insights which outsiders may easily miss.

The Somalia Stability Fund is a multi-donor (UKAID, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, European Union, Norway and UAE) fund designed to support peace and stability in Somalia, predominately through Somali partners in government, non-governmental organisations and the private sector. So where does one begin? How can a fund ensure meaningful investment, with maximum impact? How can it be accountable not just to donors, but to Somalis on the ground?

Comprehensive evidence, research, monitoring and dissemination are essential to avoid the pitfalls of the past and to share positive lessons learned. Developing the local evaluation aspect is a key part of this.

Spending wisely, spending well

With this in mind, the Fund appointed the Heritage Institute of Policy Studies (HIPS), the first Somali-owned and managed think tank, to set up a research, evaluation and learning unit. Its task: to study a sample of funded projects and, simultaneously, contribute to an assessment of the entire portfolio. Researchers will be able to access tools allowing them to explore a variety of data, sourced through multiple and diverse methods. The Stability Fund is committed to release the results of all the evaluations, irrespective of whether they are good or bad.

Both recipients and donors of aid have a duty to ensure it is well spent. Only through rigorous evaluation can impact be accurately assessed. That way when someone asks what impact the money has achieved, they will be able to get an answer they can believe.