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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

        

Money makes the...?

http://www.comminit.com/drum_beat_203.html

 


It is difficult to have a discussion with people in international development without the refrain of 'if only we had more money we would be a lot more effective' being sung - loudly on most occasions. It is a song that communication for development folks sing with particular gusto. For some reason we are [or think we are] the bottom of the funding fund chain.

Well, as the saying goes - 'be careful what you wish for...' It will be very interesting to see what happens with the substantial - of course never enough, almost by definition, never enough - investments by The Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria [The ATM Machine as some refer to it - assuming it gets its next tranche of funds], The Gates Foundation, the recent announcement by President Bush of USD 15 billion for AIDS and other large scale funding processes that are underway.

Not that we have not had a lot of money to spend on overall development. One recent report I read estimated that the World Bank and IMF had spent and/or loaned and/or invested 30 trillion dollars [is that right?] since they commenced operations. Likewise the total spending over the last 30 years by the 20 largest bilateral agencies must be massive. Does anyone know that total? How about spending over the same time frame by the 50 largest international not-for-profits or non-governmental organisations? The numbers are huge - and still we are really struggling: 20 years of growing HIV; terrible stats for people living on less than 1 dollar a day; hardly a dent in the maternal mortality rates; growing environmental degradation; and child immunisation rates heading the wrong way. You can pick your issue and feel the migraine quality pain.

Recently we featured on The CI web site a very brave report from The Panos Institute, which is a CI partner organisation. Focusing on HIV/AIDS communication, Panos argued not only that money is not the problem but that too much money may be part of the problem.

"With levels of spending on HIV/AIDS increasing year on year, donor personnel are under intense pressure to keep transaction costs down, and to prove maximum impact of the funds they spend. Institutional constraints generally require relatively short project funding cycles. Projects with concrete deliverables, like posters, leaflets or high-profile events, are invariably favoured. As those within the donor community are testifying...these constraints are becoming more intense, not less. In-country, small scale partners are often used to funnel resources, although their capacity to do this while also remaining accountable and responsive to the local community maybe questionable..."

    



It is not just the amount of money available for funding that is an issue but how that money is spent. Take the following two communication examples that have been brought to our attention. Following the Panos lead both are related to HIV/AIDS but they could be on any development issue or priority. They are presented anonymously as the point here is the implication of these strategies for introducing large levels of funding not a critique of individual development initiatives. There is no value in finger pointing when we could all be the target for the extended digit.

The first illustrative example relates to matching funds. A supposed central tenet of development is that communities and governments should determine national priorities. This is also a central principle for most development communication practice. Though we may all seek to influence those priorities it is the role of national and local government and community processes to decide on the national and local priorities and the subsequent allocation of national and public resources. But, what happens when matching funds - a seemingly increasingly prevalent funding strategy - are introduced into the equation?

A high HIV/AIDS prevalence country's government faced this dilemma with its HIV/AIDS communication strategy. Priorities were established. Partnerships were built. Strategies were developed. Resources were allocated. Then an external international funding agency put 10s of millions of dollars on the table for a new, large communication activity that they had developed. There was a catch. In order to receive these funds, the government had to provide matching funds - not one-for-one but a considerable amount of money from a budget already under severe strain. A new organisation had to be created with these funds. So, national priorities were re-jigged and planned partnerships were down-graded. Under pressure from the people in government who desired increased influxes of very hard currency and a significant boost to their budgets, the HIV/AIDS communication strategy was 're-formulated'. Not surprisingly it was the local and national organisations with deep national and local roots that ended up having their partnerships 'downgraded'.

The more external money that is available and the louder the cry for 'sustainability' the more matching funds arrangements will be sought. But they can back-fire. The result may be governments increasing the extent to which they adopt international priorities and agendas, and decreasing the extent to which international funds support national and local priorities. Does the increased level of funding make these concerns irrelevant or more important than ever?

Before moving onto our second illustration - not exclusively communication but with a significant communication component - I'd like begin with some observations on what makes for effective development communication practice:

I am not sure how many people share this perspective on what make for effective development communication practice. Effective communication action on development issues is a bit-by-bit, piece-by-piece process. There are no large, big fixes and panaceas. Village to village, shanty-town to shanty-town, women's group to women's group, policy change to policy change, Presidential intervention to family meal chat, radio report to song lyric, drama script to elders meeting - it is the whole tapestry of processes that make for effective action. No one process can or should dominate. It should resemble a patch-work quilt rather than a designed carpet. Essential to this process is local leadership - committed local people providing the drive, vision and inclusion required for effective action. Which brings us to our second example.

What happens when that dispersed and grounded leadership is enticed from a number of those local and national indigenous processes and placed in one well funded, externally created organisation? This happened in a small developing country. Again the issue was HIV/AIDS. External funding sources provided many millions of dollars for a new organisation, which then went about recruiting all the best people in the country. The existing local and national groups suffered significantly. One cannot blame any individual for seeking better remuneration but was this a sound investment strategy by the external funders?

Of course, the issue here is not the value of substantial increases in the overall amount of money available but the best way to invest resources. I am neither arguing for less money nor less emphasis on getting more money. But the reality is that big resources often come with ropes rather than strings. And the nature of these investments, mirrored in many many other cases, heightens the need for a debate on strategy not money.
 

    


It is the strategy that really matters. No amount of cash or loans can cover a bad strategy. Let's continue with HIV/AIDS. We can invest all the funds we like in a vaccine - and let's hope we develop a vaccine very soon - but we had better also be investing in parallel action to dramatically improve our ability to address the issues of stigma, discrimination, gender and other significant issues that will otherwise undermine the efficacy of vaccines. These are communication roles and it is very difficult to see such investment at present.

We had also better think long and hard about how to ensure that vaccine availability is long term not short term. To witness how this can become a problem, just look at the child immunisation trends. With blame being laid at the door of donor fatigue, competing development priorities, disintegrating health systems in the face of government restructuring and other issues, child immunisation rates appear to have stagnated and in the opinion of many are falling. In the rush to get as many people immunised as possible in the 80s and early 90s, the children of the 2000s and 2010s appear to have been compromised.

We also need to think equally hard about who makes the core strategic decisions on fighting HIV in the future - when the funders move on to other issues, when HIV is no longer flavour of the decade and when the realities of what it will take to get wide-spread vaccine coverage become apparent. When these and other issues come to pass who will argue for HIV action - who will be it's best advocates - who will ensure long term focus and action? The answer of course is those most affected - and they are the ones who should be guiding the strategy now. But that does not appear to be happening. There does not appear to be a significant investment strategy to support building those alliances and networks. So that when an announcement is made of a USD 200 million investment in scientific HIV research we see no equivalent [even half or a quarter - please!] investment for addressing stigma, putting in place long-term structural systems and significantly engaging and building networks and alliances of people affected by HIV so that they can drive the strategic development and implementation process. These are communication tasks and the absence of them will significantly undermine the value of a vaccine.

Such arguments can be equally applied to other development priorities and issues. This is not just an HIV issue but HIV does significantly illustrate these concerns.

Or maybe it is unrealistic to expect the processes described above - ones that draw local resources into internationally determined programmes and priorities - to be resisted in the face of access to significantly increased funding. After all if you were the Government Minister making the decisions in each of these cases what would you have done? Does the availability of the resources over-ride development principles that probably appear remote and theoretical when the cash is in the bag?

Or maybe not? What do you think? What are the insights from your work and experience?

Warren Feek
wfeek@comminit.com
June 27, 2003