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New Horizons Society

F or be t t e r l as t i n g l iv e s an d l i v el i ho o ds
A Cambodian NGO registered with the Ministries of Interior and Social Affairs

WHO’S FOOLING WHO? This April Fool Day’s will be auspicious for 3,159 and more disabled people in Cambodia. It will be when their association of the past 6 years with AUSAID ends. Their “luck” runs out on this day. They have not been chosen as one of the 11 successful of 30 applying organisations in the AUSAID lottery process used to dispense overseas aid and development. The money available has also been reduced as the global downturn has weakened the Australian Dollar, so cutting its overseas aid budget, passing the burden on to the poor and weak despite pledges from donors not to do this. Little Sar Ismak, pictured front left, will not understand that, nor will her family1. They were just one of 480 poor disabled families, living with multiple vulnerabilities, who were in the 2009 plan that must now be cancelled. They will have to wait in the hope that either other donors can be found or they must do without and survive on their own. Ismak is aged 7 but looks much younger. She was born with deformed legs needing surgery and physiotherapy to stand and walk. If she can acquire better mobility, maybe she can go to school. Maybe, that is if her family can afford the costs of schooling not to mention food and other essential living items. They were to have started a new livelihood, to increase their income. They were to be assisted with training, support, and funds to do this, but not any more. It may not be fair to single out AUSAID for choosing the lottery approach to decisions about how its money should be disbursed. Many donors do the same, so much so that few question its sensibility. Sam Walter Foss’s ancient homily comes readily to mind: “They follow in the beaten track, And out and in, and forth and back, And still their devious course pursue To keep the path that others do.” It is capitalism brought in to the aid and development industry based on the assumption that free competition has worked so well in creating wealth in the world, it should have the same effect in developing countries and for poor communities. Events of late, the

Although Sar Ismak’s condition is not due a landmine or ERW, LSAF does allow all kinds of disabled people to be covered and her community was in the plan to start in April. NHS anticipates up to 60% of the 480 families would have been direct landmine or ERW survivors.


global meltdown, the lack of regulation, etc., suggest that such a basic premise may be wrong. For Sar Ismak’s family and many like hers, it was never right. The lottery is a process whereby donors announce that they have money available to give out, for certain purposes; interested NGOs must submit proposals to show what they can do with the money, and then various bids are duly assessed and the winners announced. It is “patchwork quilt approach to produce a fine linen!” It is highly subjective; it is easily manipulated, and more by accident than design does it match the country’s and people’s needs and priorities. It is also highly inefficient in human resources diverted away from where efforts should be devoted. For the 2009 AUSAID-LSAF round 30 organisations put together their best brains to prepare proposals taking days or even weeks, putting to one side their real work to assist or provide services to poor beneficiaries, and for 19 of them it was to no avail in the end. When the UK Government’s Aid Agency DfiD released their worldwide Global Transparency Fund in 2008, 450 organisations applied, and just 38 succeeded. The lottery approach is not just a truly vast waste of human effort, it is also unfair to local NGOs and new arrivals on the scene. It favours the big established international NGOs, with their own funds and fundraising specialists. Furthermore as donors either require or look for “co-funding” contributions to top up their money, while at the same time placing strict limits on the amount of organisational running costs that can be charged, it means that it is very hard for many local NGOs to produce genuine viable project plans. Yet due to the fact that they do not have “international” overheads, the unit cost per beneficiary served in real money terms is usually far less. So the question arises - what is the alternative to the lottery approach? It is simple, just go back to doing what is normal in public services around the world. Planning what needs to be done; for whom; prioritising and allocating resources; then implementing and co-ordinating action; finally inspecting to see if the plan worked and learn lessons for next time! The lottery approach does little of this. In fact as money tends to be announced and available annually, by the time last year’s round is underway, minds are soon switched to the next round. No-one ever looks back over five or more years to see the net effect. So if a particular geographic area or beneficiary group do not happen to have an NGO working with them, they miss out. Conversely those communities where there are active NGOs get helped over and over again! Not only is the quilt made up of patches, but the holes are left in it, while some parts get second and third patches! The lottery approach is much favoured by the army of international consultants; NGO leaders and development agency staffers who are extremely well-paid for their efforts and make up the “evaluation” committees that pluck out the winners. Very often they are drawn from the same pool especially if you track back on past employment, commissions, and connections. They can write glossy reports, full of jargon, that always score top marks in the lack of readability tool on your computer. Even some of us native English-speakers with graduate-level education have to study them carefully before we can begin to boil them down to simple concepts and statements that can be translated and understood in foreign languages, and by people often with little or no education. Here is one true example of a typical gap in communication – the government must “instigate open employment policies”, when translated back from Khmer in to English said “We must find jobs for people in houses without roofs!”


Setting aside the jargon, there are three approaches to overseas aid and development generally and specifically to the disability sector that Sar Ismak’s family need to understand. They are: “doing for”, “doing with”, and “doing by”. AUSAID-LSAF is entrenched in “doing for” with a token gesture towards “doing with”! Our organisation wanting to work with Sar Ismak, is the only one of the 10 NGOs AUSAID supported in 2008 that is firmly committed to “doing by”, and was marked down accordingly this year. Maybe it was also due to no longer having the Australian Business Volunteers on the scene as they, if here, would also take up this issue and may do so yet (see later). “Doing For” has its origins in immediate post disaster or conflict intervention, where the outside world charges in to a country with personnel and materials to relieve the plight of victims. They are the experts, they know best, and often are. They are needed but for a limited time. “Doing With” follows when host governments and native people in the country are able to begin to run things for themselves, but they still “need” outside help. The dilemma here is how to decide when, where, and how they should be left to their own devices. Unfortunately too many of the experts from the outside world are still in the country and have a vested interest in staying there. So “doing with” is usually “doing for, but you go along with us, if you want our funding!”2 “Doing By” is quite different. Governments or people are ready to go their own way. The best NGOs in the “doing with” stage genuinely encourage and prepare for this stage, even if they do themselves out of a job and income. It is in development jargon, the only longterm sustainable future. This is why it is called the “development” approach. All three stages can be illustrated by the work with poor disabled people. “Doing for” is the post-shock medical treatment and support to overcome trauma. “Doing with” is working with victims and their families to cope with and minimise the effects of their new disability, usually called “rehabilitation” or “service provision”. “Doing By” is when the victim becomes a survivor and is able to take charge of his or her life again; to be able to reach his or her maximum potential, to be self-sufficient, and for circumstances to be conducive towards those ends. This why our project that AUSAID rejected was called “Self-Actions by Poor and Disabled People Toward Inclusive and Empowered Societies”. It was the only one of its kind submitted. It may well be that this approach is either not understood, or simply rejected by those grounded in rehabilitation, who made up the majority on the evaluation committee. The approach was of course well understood by Australian Business Volunteers, John and Fran Digges. They spent more than 7 months full-time working alongside many beneficiaries, in several tours of duty, towards accomplishing that end, and though now back in Australia they remain good active supporters. They are very disappointed that AUSAID is ending its support when the new enterprises they initiated are wanted still and were to be introduced in 2009-10. Indeed Sar Ismaak’s neighbour, Ismael Mohhamed and his family, who look after cows for richer people, was interested in starting the “natural compost” enterprise. They have a ready supply of the raw material which now is just a health hazard. Natural compost makes

2 For a fuller analysis, please read Action Aid report “Real Aid” by Romilly Greenhill, Patrick Watt, Jesse Griffiths and Jasmine Burnley.


money for families; saves buying harmful chemical fertilizers, and for some farmers allows their produce to be sold at a premium price with the “organic” label.3 It is quite possible the AUSAID-LSAF evaluators were mindful of a recent “independent external evaluation” that actually was conducted by a person from the “rehabilitation” school, with little development experience. In his executive summary, he praised one such organisation no less than three times, whereas he could not find one worthy comment for our organisation with its vastly greater membership. He and AUSAID failed to declare his interest that he founded and worked for the three-times praised organisation for many years; was still connected to it, and later went to work for UNICEF as a consultant within the Ministry of Social Affairs. He spent, by the way, just 3 hours, visiting our project for his evaluation study. The AUSAID-LSAF Evaluation Committee consists of an AUSAID official, a representative of the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Director of the Disability Action Council, and the two Australian Red Cross employees administering the fund. Most are not disabled and it is not clear if any have any “development” credentials, as opposed to relief/welfare or rehabilitation. DAC does not even include “development” in its mission even though it has been accepted internationally as on of the three main ways by which disabled people are served.4 Although the published plan stated that an announcement would be made in the third week of February about which organisations would be awarded, as at today’s date (21 March), it has still not been issued. Therefore, it is not possible to study the deliberations, and obviously if the 1 April start date still applies, the outcome will be a fait accompli making it impossible for representations to be made to AUSAID in Canberra. However it is known that of the 10 organisations supported by LSAF in 2008, one we know (us, LMDS-NHS) is dropped, therefore at least two new ones are added. The committee must be able to demonstrate clearly that both new NGOs offer overwhelming measurable benefits to landmine survivors which outweigh the benefits that NHS would have provided if awarded and the harm done to the network of 135 self-help groups with 3,159 members by not doing so. LSAF for LMDS in 2008 provided 80% of its overall funding. If the NHS project had been approved, it would have been 70% of its so-far guaranteed funding, hence a critical loss. It will be interesting to see if NHS is the only one of the 10 supported in 2008 to be dropped. An analysis of the other nine shows: • • •

None have their origins in development, although some have adapted in to it to obtain funding. None are mass membership-based, or run by disabled people themselves – most are just service-providers. For three of the four long-time players in the sector for many years AUSAID is a small element in the overall well-funded position all three enjoy.

The Arabic names are because this target village is in the Cham Khmer Community which is very poor, in fact 11 such villages were taken out of the 2008 project at AUSAID-ARC’s request, with an expectation to be included in the 2009 round now rejected. 4 DAC describes itself as “a semi-autonomous national coordinating body in the disability and rehabilitation sector .” Please see also Poverty and Disability – A Review of Literature, by Ann Elwan, World Bank Social Protection Discussion 1999, page 35 “Approaches that encourage increased participation of disabled people, their families and their communities seem to hold out the most promise”.


Two are not even disability organisations, and it needs to be made very clear as to why they are supported, and what they offer to help build the capacity of the sector to promote the interests of disabled people. One organisation has or had as one of its major functions the relief hand-out of food for the World Food Programme, which can and does conflict with development goals. One is the organisation to which the “independent” external consultant has a long association and which he praised in his executive summary three times. He has admitted publicly that DDP and CABDICO have struggled to form self-help groups: “CABDICO and DDSP are trying to get a few (up to five) self-help groups in one
commune to come together to form a federation. The process is very slow and hasn’t made much progress (except in Mongkul Borey), despite having such modest goals.”5

To most outsiders, the astonishing fact about DAC and the four big INGOs that have been well-funded for 15 years, is that there has been no effort to help the Ministry of Social Affairs establish a National Council on Social Work. So there is no social work profession; no formal accredited training institutions, no national standards, and of course no inspection regime.6 The absence of such institutions does of course perpetuate the same INGOs as alternative unaccountable public service providers. “Despite their stated intentions to promote sustainable development and local capacity, donors have often behaved in a way that has either had no impact on local capacity or,worse, has eroded it.”7 This claim of Action Aid is clearly vindicated by this example. DAC, its principal INGO backers and their donors cannot escape responsibility for this serious omission. It is notable that the only other mass membership local NGO based on active participation of disabled people, rather than mainly passive recipients of services, CNVLD, the disabled sports organisation suffered a similar fate as NHS with AUSAID in the past, and now no longer applies for funding to it. It means that AUSAID does not support either of the two genuine localised organisations that replaced former INGOs, which is contrary to the aim of promoting local development capacities. AUSAID does support one localised NGO – CABDICO – but that was formed by Handicap International, one of the three big current players. CNVLD and NHS by choice do not associate with the big players due to key differences in mission and philosophy. NHS is CNVLD’s most important partner in Kampong Chhnang province for sports and wheel-chair racing. The AUSAID-LSAF 2008 Guidelines specified: “Community-based social and economic rehabilitation of persons with disabilities including mine & ERW survivors, i.e. physical rehabilitation services, outreach programs, social services, and

Steve Harknett – e-mail to NHS, AUSAID et al. 12 January re: LSAF evaluation where he questions if the LMDS/NHS then 109 groups actually exist. 135 groups sent delegates for the annual conference 15-16 February 2009. 6 The failure to build a national social work institution is also contrary to Indicator 37 of the 2005 Paris Aid Declaration, to which Australia is a signatory “The long-term vision for international engagement in fragile states is to build legitimate, effective and resilient state and other country institutions. 7 Op Cit 1, Page 26


arts and sports activities.” It is also the provincial centre for living arts with sister NGO EpicArts. The AUSAID 2008 Annual Report says “The Australian Government has outlined its firm commitment to including people with disability in the development process.” It is not clear how many people with disability sat on the LSAF committee but it was clear they were in a minority. It is equally clear that by removing NHS from its partners, AUSAID is excluding the largest most active membership of 3,159 disabled people in the country – and maybe that is the root cause of the rejection. Other disability NGOs are wary of its success, just as they are of that of CNVLD. When the Cambodian Government reported on 3 June 2008 to the Standing Committee on Victim Assistance and Socio-Economic Reintegration in Geneva, the Ministry of Social Affairs stated that its second priority (after the basic rights of disabled people which was listed first) was the formation of self-help groups. Therefore it seems odd that the only organization that has a proven record of doing this, with 135 such groups, should now be rejected by Australia, which is given special mention for its financial support…… for the national plan!8 AUSAID-ARC cited two main reasons for marking down the NHS application in its assessment. To some of us, those should have been reasons for marking it up! One was described as the “evolving situation” referring to the changes in management from INGO to a local NGO. When NHS’s predecessor INGO ran out of funding in mid2008 and the salaried staff simply left, it was 18 senior beneficiaries that assumed responsibility and took over all implementation tasks including that of the 2008 $58,397 LSAF project. AUSAID-ARC, to their credit, allowed them to do this and the members thought that they had more than proved that they were up to the task. This may not be so but evidence questioning their performance has not yet been provided. More significantly NHS openly recognises that it does needs to strengthen its management with key personnel who do not run away; who can be relied upon, and thanks to a small Australian NGO “Stepsafe”9 and a Dutch NGO Maagdenhuis, they now have funds to appoint their own Executive Officer. AUSAID-ARC were made aware of this development before the evaluation process, as these new grants not only contribute to the co-funding target but also top up the running costs which AUSAID limits to no more than 20%. Such a blanket limit, regardless of the nature and labour intensity of activities, affects the viability of some projects, especially those of local NGOs. The second reason is even more mystifying, because it is based firstly on a hypothetical situation, and secondly a failure either to respect the choice of beneficiaries to spend money in the way that they consider is best or to accept that “micro-finance” is a highly effective means of alleviating poverty in vulnerable groups. The relevant AUSAID-LSAF rules state it will support: “Improving livelihoods, i.e. vocational training, access to labour market, and income generating activities (except micro-credit activities)” NHS and its predecessor do not have a formal micro-credit system but the fact is members in self-help groups, and the membership as whole, insist that issuing money in the form of
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Statement by Cambodia on Victim Assistance, SCVA-StatusImplem-3June08-Cambodia-Text-en


repayable loans is the best way for them to escape poverty10. They are very conscious that money given and taken as grants, for one-off consumption, has little lasting effect and actually is not appreciated, regarded as “hand-outs”! Moreover, the money stays in the ownership of the self-help group; sometimes grants are given to the very poorest, and sometimes loan repayments waived when new enterprises have failed. Despite that the 135 groups have amassed over $130,000 in revolving funds from awards of several donors since 2003. However due to the sudden ending of INGO support last year, they no longer have technical support to help them manage the fund, hence the hypothetical question “Would AUSAID allow them to accept the offer of free support from a microcredit agency?” The notification letter of no-funding for 2009 gave the answer and added that to do so would end any future prospect of AUSAID funding. If the reason for AUSAID’s ban on microcredit is due to the vulnerability of the target groups, whoever has decided that obviously feels that he or she does know better than either the beneficiaries or experts in the field. It is vital therefore that the development cycle is better understood. These target groups do not normally qualify for microcredit due to meagre assets for collateral and no pedigree in new enterprises. So the NHS model starts them off, but only on a very modest scale, just US$60 per family. If and once their enterprise takes off, they will have improved their wealth and pedigree, so opening the door for them into formal micro-credit and larger loans. This then stimulates greater economic activity and private investment which is the real long-term solution to development, not aid! It is interesting that even in the current global financial and banking meltdown the premier worldwide example of successful microfinance “Grameen Bank” has no such problems. AUSAID may in fact have something to learn from them and NHS beneficiaries - despite those concessions to certain members it has maintained a 90% return, making the advances from AUSAID last for many years. Is this not “development” in its finest and purest form? Finally, Sar Ismak is lucky to have survived to the age of 7. 124 Cambodian children in every 1,000 do not attain age 511. She will be even luckier to survive much longer, now that her family will not be able to benefit from the “Eat Safe, Drink Safe, Live Safe” preventative health programme; or receive a mosquito-net to reduce the chances of malaria or dengue fever; or have the chance to improve their food supply and nutrition with the new livelihood and all the other benefits that they would have obtained. Let us hope that should she perish, the sacrifice is compensated by another child surviving in her place. Can AUSAID guarantee that?

John Lowrie, Senior Consultant Advisor, Acting Secretary-General, March 2009

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Endorsed by the NHS Governing Council at its meeting on 7 March 2009 2008 National Census Child Mortality Rates


The New Horizons Society is an organization of federated self-help groups dedicated to promoting equality; ending poverty, and securing life-changing opportunities for our membership of mainly disabled people.