Breadth vs Depth: our strategic choice

Poverty in Africa is multi-dimensional and widespread. With Covid-19 on top of the existing impacts of the climate crisis, there is a real risk that over the next 10 years the conditions for vulnerable families will worsen, and that millions more will fall back into poverty.

by Donald Mavunduse Director of International Operations

Current predictions are that the majority of countries in Africa are likely to miss the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals targets set by the United Nations. If that were to be the case, there would be grave consequences for the communities where we work, and possibly a widespread loss of confidence in the ability of international organisations to address poverty in Africa effectively.

It is in this context that Ripple Effect (alongside others in the development sector) has wrestled with the strategic question of whether we prioritise addressing the severity of poverty on individuals, the scale of poverty – or both.

From the regular reviews we have conducted, the overriding findings are that our programmes achieve significant positive changes in specific communities. For example, at the start of our Improving Nutrition and Livelihoods for Children and Mothers project in Western Kenya, no family ate more than a very limited diet of only three types of food a day. Three years later, 84% were eating at least seven types of food a day.

But our impact is often localised and not widespread across the six countries where we work. Replicating quality across different countries requires us to be more effective at adopting practices that have worked elsewhere. As a result we have decided upon a central, defining strategy to reach many more people than we have to date, by expanding in ways that are sustainable, keep quality intact and are relevant to different contexts.

Farmers standing along a contour line of soil
Farmers from four different Ripple Effect groups in Burundi come together to create contour terraces, which help prevent soil erosion

How can we extend our reach effectively?

More collaborations

At present, 70% of our work is delivered by Ripple Effect front-line staff. To reach the numbers of families we want to work with, we will be collaborating more with other organisations in areas where we don’t have a direct presence.

We have good examples of the effectiveness of this approach in Ethiopia, where we are working with the Dawuro Development Association (DDA), a respected local organisation, to deliver a nutrition project. Working with them reduces our costs per family by almost one-third, compared with when we deliver training directly. What’s just as important is that locally-based organisations often have a permanent presence, which means that the implementation of our training will be supported for longer.

Training up peer farmers

We plan to strengthen the skills of peer farmers so they can train more people in their communities. We will find new ways to help farmers share their skills and experience with others who are not in direct contact with our Ripple Effect staff. We will also be training communities in community-led monitoring and evaluation so they can track their own progress.

Using technology effectively

Penetration of mobile phone use across Africa is estimated to be 70 to 80%. Many farmers may not have smartphones, but there is significant potential for making much more use of voice calls and text messaging to support face to face training. We already use mobile phone contact for internal processes such as speedier gathering of reporting and impact information.

In 2020, we collaborated with the Kenyan app developer Yielder to digitise our nutrition and health training materials. This has enabled the Kenyan team to continue training peer farmers despite the travel restrictions of Covid-19. We will be extending this mobile outreach, and will also be using phone technology to help farmers making important financial decisions, such as finding the best local market prices for their produce.

Social enterprise

Spreading development assistance across the countries we work in is not just a question of money. There is a huge demand for high quality agricultural inputs that are affordable for farmers and friendly to the environment. We plan to develop social enterprise ventures which can offer reasonably-priced organic seeds and fertilisers.

Doing more of what we do best

Aiming to reach more people is, quite simply, good development practice. We should not be providing services at a level that can be achieved just as well by community-based organisations: that’s not a wise use of resources and it can lead to dependency.

As we see it, the scale of the challenges is so vast – for example, in relatively developed Kenya, 60% of the population is still classified as ‘poor’ – that our main goal must be to bring Ripple Effect’s well-proven programmes to as many people as possible.

Our current projects already enable profound, life-changing progress in the communities where we work. So while we will continue to refine our programme delivery, we believe we should focus our resources on extending our impact more widely, creating greater breadth of engagement.

Donald 1

“Aiming to reach more people is, quite simply, good development practice.”

Donald Mavunduse Director of International Operations