More Context-Driven Solutions

August 23, 2017

by Milan Bala

In the field of international development, practitioners are always eager to achieve large scale and sustainable impact at a reasonable cost. To achieve this impact, various strategies are forged; new ideas are tested, tested ideas are implemented, implemented ideas are monitored, and sometimes those monitored ideas are either shunned or enhanced for better results. Although I focused on monitoring and evaluation during my internship at Global Communities in Ghana, I was fortunate to closely observe and occasionally participate in such programmatic aspects as new idea development. Among these, what really excited me was the focus on context driven solutions.

While the importance of a context driven solution is unquestionable, its incorporation into the overall program design is often challenging. My summer experience at Global Communities not only reinforced the importance of context driven solutions but also helped me understand how these solutions could be embedded in the program design. Most importantly, I learned about the nuances of such solutions and their impact through the program evaluation of the Water and Sanitation Health Program for the Urban Poor (WASHUP) initiative, where localised solutions were deployed to generate demand for and construct toilets and boreholes. From the initial interactions with the beneficiaries to the identification of natural leaders in the communities to enhance outcomes, each step turned out to be critical for the success of the program.

Now, the above-mentioned steps and facts may seem intuitive and obvious but the program evaluation led to multiple interesting findings such as the fact that women and children are the bedrock of a WASH intervention. Specifically, the role of women in promoting sanitation in the community is so critical that few WASH interventions in Ghana have been successful without the leadership of local women. Similarly, the data demonstrated the significantly higher and marked participation of women compared to that of men. In addition, women were also more likely to continue using the services as well as encourage others in the community to avail WASHUP services. In one of the communities I visited, the women who were part of the Global Communities’ WASHUP program regularly held weekly meetings to discuss improved sanitation, actively monitored the hygiene and sanitation in their community, and very interestingly, learnt to cook with soybean, leading to better health outcomes and more economic opportunities.

Though very critical, the role of women in household hygiene is not singular. Consequently, it is the implementation of solutions that assume overarching importance in Ghana’s context. For instance, for the construction of Individual Household Latrines (IHHL), depending upon the availability of raw materials, whether to use bamboo, cement, tin, or any other material. Whether enough water is available in the region to facilitate the construction of flush toilets. Whether to use interpersonal communication, mid-media, or mass media depending on the role of women in society. Multiple contexts determined the way forward and the data collected during this project was used to design and implement programs focused on health improvement and economic empowerment of women, making these new programs demand driven rather than supply driven.

And while context driven solutions represent a robust design, implementation of such solutions is pricey and often affects their efficiency. Discovery of these solutions is both time consuming and expensive. At times, the impact may not justify the time, manpower and money invested. Therefore, in such a situation, it is better to implement tried and tested solutions.

Undoubtedly, this 9 week practicum has been fascinating and has enhanced my knowledge, but I leave Ghana with curiosity and with many questions in my mind. Having seen first-hand, the benefit of context-driven solutions, I will be using the upcoming part of my Masters program to think and determine the ways to efficiently converge the supply and demand driven methodologies in program design.