I have just returned from a week in Uganda with the Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC). The GEC is a UK Department for International Development (DFID) initiative, which aims to improve education outcomes amongst 1 million marginalised girls, in 18 countries including Uganda. The Uganda programme works through in-country voluntary and private sector providers who deliver a range of interventions – including advocacy with parents, investment in school facilities and economic support for families – in tailored, locally-sensitive packages of investment.
The GEC is a work in progress. Projects are about 18 months into their operations. But it was clear on my visit that there are three key elements that are driving the success of the programme so far:
1. Local presence – there’s a team working on the GEC in the UK, but our delivery model doesn’t involve much travel by UK staff; a little, as in this week, but not much. Rather, in each of our countries we have a team of locals who do the work on the ground. In Uganda, Elizabeth Nyivuru leads our local team. She’s a brilliant, funny educationalist with over 35 years’ experience in Uganda. She knows everything about education there, and everyone who is involved in it. She also has a brilliant way about her. I saw her this week being as natural and impactful with pupils in a rural classroom, as she was with senior Government officials at a workshop we ran. Elizabeth is our eyes and ears, and our local coordinator across the six Ugandan GEC projects. Without her we simply couldn’t do what we do.
2. Policy alignment – sometimes development projects work in a bubble. They can see themselves as bright shiny things, operating in grey and questionable local environments. But if development projects are to make a sustainable impact, they need to be joined up with and aligned to the local political and administrative infrastructure. If they don’t they will shine, but eventually fade. At our workshop I was delighted that, as well as all the GEC providers, we had lots of people from local and central government, all talking positively about what the GEC was doing. A year ago this would not have happened as there had been insufficient time to engage local stakeholders. Over the last year great progress has been made on this front and the GEC is increasingly being accepted as being consistent with local policy priorities and, indeed, able to help local policy makers and education administrators achieve their own objectives.
3. Strong controls – the GEC finance team has been criticised for being too tight with money and too stringent about financial controls. I thought of this when I took a ride to a school in Kampala in a brand new, wheelchair-friendly bus, funded by GEC. Whilst on board, I remembered that our finance team had pushed the project really hard before they bought the bus on whether or not it was commercially the best deal in the local market and the best value for money for DFID. Such challenges can be difficult at the time and can test relationships. However, I’m convinced it’s the right thing to do. It’s important that we are accountable for every penny that is spent through GEC.
I had a great week. I may have added some value in workshops and meetings, but I’m very aware that the main beneficiary from my presence in Uganda was me. It was a privilege to be there and a huge encouragement for me to see what’s happening through the programme. We’re on a journey with GEC and based on what I saw, I believe the programme is heading in the right direction. Local presence, policy alignment and strong controls are three of the key things that I think are getting us there.
David Armstrong is a Partner in PwC and leader of the Girls' Education Challenge Fund Manager team. He has a PhD in economics and leads PwC's thought leadership on International Development issues.
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