Comment: Measuring the impact of private sector-led development in the Niger Delta

Last year I worked on an impact assessment for the Foundation for Partnership Initiatives in the Niger Delta (PIND).

The assessment was led by Adrienne Gifford at the Initiative for Global Development and sought to assess the impact of the first five years of work carried out by PIND and its sister organisation in the US, Niger Delta Partnership Initiative (NDPI).

NDPI and PIND are seeking to catalyse systemic change in a region that has suffered from conflict and a lack of economic opportunities for the majority of those that live there. Their three core programme areas are Economic Development, Peace Building, and Enabling Environment Development.

As part of the assessment team, I travelled twice to the Niger Delta to conduct interviews and see in person what the projects looked like. I have to admit that I was a sceptic as to the levels of success that we would find but I ended up deeply impressed with the approach adopted by PIND and NDPI and with what they had already achieved.

We realised fairly quickly that traditional approaches to monitoring and evaluation, such as counting the number of ‘beneficiaries’, were not going to provide a clear picture of the changes that were underway. For a start, ‘beneficiaries’ did not feel like the right term to describe those individuals and groups we met who were active agents of change themselves. Secondly, what NDPI and PIND were aiming to achieve was a knock-on effect where people encouraged others to adopt new behaviours, attitudes and technologies, spreading the change far beyond those who had immediate contact with the organisation. Thirdly, NDPI and PIND focus on building genuine relationships and partnership with those working in the Niger Delta, the value of which is not easy to quantify but which is absolutely necessary to develop a bank of trust on which to build. Such an approach enables trial and error, meaning that projects can adapt and learn, rather than sticking to a pre-determined plan that fails to take into account an evolving local context.

And so the assessment took an approach that sought to pioneer new methods of measuring impact – looking at rates of adoption, rather than focusing on trying to attribute change to different actors. This approach also recognises that systemic change takes time and that although initial take up can appear low, there will be a tipping point at which adoption accelerates and the impact becomes sustainable and systemic.

Many development projects are time limited and required to demonstrate an impact within a relatively short timeframe (3-5 years). Donors are often impatient to see social returns for the money they have invested. But the evidence from a range of disciplines (from marketing to economics) shows that reaching that tipping point can take much longer.

I hope that the approach we have taken in this impact assessment demonstrates the importance of giving sufficient time to development projects and recognising the value that building relationships has in catalysing and sustaining change. Other development institutions and private sector companies looking to support development initiatives have much to learn from the successes and challenges that PIND has navigated.

You can read the full report here.