Working towards project sustainability should be everyone’s goal

By Br. Alfonce Kugwa

Sustainability of the project lies in the hands of the community.

Project participation means the ability by the beneficiaries to take part in the project identification and implementation. It is also about empowerment and the facilitation of local decision-making and ownership of the project by locals. Most projects fail to take off or immediately collapse once the donor pulls out.

The issue of sustainability of community funded projects is of great concern both for the church and her funding partners. Sustainability is the ability of the project to continue running without external aid. Catholic Church News has observed that a lot of donor funded projects fail to sustain themselves once the donor pulls off. There seems to be a syndrome of wanting to continue to cling on the funding partner or donor for sustainability. Unfortunately, donor projects are time framed and have to come to an end one day and it is the responsibility of the beneficiaries or communities to ensure the life of the project. Many communities have received different aid for humanitarian assistance in terms of livelihoods projects such as nutritional gardens, savings clubs, solar projects, bicycle and boreholes. Very few of these are still running today.

For example, Nemangwe Secondary School in Gokwe South is stuck with bicycles which Catholic Relief Services (CRS) donated to the school to assist students who come from far away. Students who received bicycles are those who come from a distance of six kilometres and beyond. While the gesture by CRS was a noble one, the Headmaster for Nemangwe, Mr. Alfonce Mugabe, said most students had no capacity to repair the bicycles especially during the Covid-19 period. This, he said, forced many students to return the bicycles to the school where they are lying idle.

Bicycles lying idle at Nemangwe Secondary School in Gokwe South.

“The candidates could not raise funds to maintain the bicycles especially during the pick of Covid-19. So 104 out of 113 bicycles were returned to the school and are lying idle. They cannot be used because students cannot afford to buy spare parts,” said Mr. Mugabe.

The installation of solar power in most hospitals has also proved to be a challenge as most of them have stopped working due to lack of maintenance. The same applies to community boreholes, and nutritional gardens most of which have also collapsed. The then CADEC initiated Savings Clubs were significant for most communities in Gweru and Masvingo before they died a natural death and they are now a thing of the past.

The donor’s intention in establishing community projects is to support the needs of particular communities by reducing poverty among people. However, the question is, why sustainability is a challenge in most projects? What needs to be done to make sustainability possible? What could be lacking during project implementation that leads to its collapse?

Why is project sustainability a challenge and what needs to be done?

Community owned projects usually continues to run even after the withdrawal of the donor.

The Vicar General for Masvingo Diocese who is also Ex-Officio for Caritas Masvingo, Fr. Walter Nyatsanza commented that the challenge of sustainability has become more pronounced for several reasons with low income for the donors and increasing demand for the same funds as a result of refugees and displaced persons as well as general donor fatigue.

Fr. Walter Nyatsnza, the Ex-Officio for Caritas under Masvingo.

“The funders are no longer getting large sums of funds as they used to do and the demands for the same funds are also increasing overseas with refugees and displaced persons. There is now general donor-fatigue amongst our donors because they have supported our projects for a very long time,” Fr. Nyatsanza said adding that what needs to be done is what we have always requested that donors capacitate our local implementing partners so that they are able to generate funds locally.

He said what has been expressed over the year is but funders seem to be unable to capacity build local offices to do that.

“If we run small projects this would assist our offices to build up our local resources. Once the donors withdraw, it would be difficult to continue new projects because of lack of resources and technical know-how. If people are well resourced and capacitated, they will make sure that the project continues but what is lacking during implementation is proper capacity building,” Fr. Nyatsanza added.

The Caritas Coordinator for Chinhoyi Diocese, Fr. Johanes Zevhito weighed in saying sustainability of projects was hampered by unavailability of financial support to maintain the projects. Coupled with financial incapacitation is lack of project leadership in terms of instigators to drive the projects beyond donor support timeframe. He said involvement of local key figures such as Chiefs, headmen, Agritex officials and lead farmers will help in sustaining community projects when the donor pulls out. According to Fr. Zevhito, the knowledge gap within the beneficiaries is usually toxic in driving the project. He suggested that donors or funding partners should develop appropriate exit strategies which include ongoing formation for committee members, training of committees on CBM, commissioning or official handover of projects to the community before project end.

Sr. Blandina Makuvise, the Coordinator for Caritas Gweru, stated that some non-governmental organisations use needs based approach which emphasise local deficit. According to Sr. Makuvise this approach does not lead to sustainability because there is no complete project ownership by the community.

“In this case people usually consider the project to belong to the funding partner or donor which does not create a sense of ownership,” she said.

Sr. Makuvise pointed out that it is critical for the donors to consider the asset based approach whereby communities participate in making decisions in the formulation of program design especially in issues that affect their daily lives as this create a sense ownership and hence lead to sustainability.

Catholic Relief Services Head of Programmes, Sekai Mudonhi, clarified the issue saying donors expect the community structures to assist in maintaining the projects. She said each project has a life span or cycle which has a beginning and an end. Mudonhi said a key component of CRS projects will be ensuring sustainability after the project closes.

According to Mudonhi: “CRS works through local partners to strengthen existing capacity to ensure sustainable and responsive growth. Projects will engage and continue to build the capacity of local partners, local government, and private sector partners. CRS will make clear the end date for this project, as well as its intentions, and will work with participants to define strategies for sustaining its benefits.”

Mudonhi said the following actions will be taken through the life of project to ensure its sustainability:

  • Collaboration with Government of Zimbabwe at district and ward level. CRS and partners will continuously keep the relevant government entities informed of project activities and involved at various times, such as start-up meetings, project reviews, learning events, etc.

Every project will include a strong focus on coordination between communities, local vendors, and sub national level government structures like Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development (Livestock and Veterinary Services, Agritex), Ministry of Public Service, and Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises (Department of Small to Medium Enterprise). They will be involved in many trainings and throughout implementation to build local capacity of agricultural extension services, particularly linked to the project’s interventions.  From previous projects, CRS has found that following the conclusion of the project, government agents/officers will be available to support community sustainability of interventions

  • Clear communication: From the beginning of the project through its implementation, CRS and partners will be very clear with beneficiaries, host communities, and local government regarding the timeline, objectives, and completion of this project to avoid confusion and disappointment.  
  • Working within and strengthening existing systems: By working with local partners, the project is assured a local ally who has been able to work well within the local system including traditional government structures, state government structures, and religious leaders and will be able to complete the objectives while working hand in hand with the communities to guarantee success.  A local partner has a constant presence in the districts, particularly working with and in communities, and they are well-placed to continue the work after the project has closed. Moreover, a local partner will be present in all of the trainings which will build their capacity to facilitate these activities and provide them with a skills package that can be attractive to donors.

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