Learning about Exit Strategies in Southern Africa
By Kara Greenblott
Kara Greenblott was formerly the programming section manager for C-SAFE's regional office in Johannesburg, and is now a freelance consultant working for C-SAFE from the US.
The author would like to acknowlege the work of the C-SAFE members and their contributions to the development of this article.
The topic of 'Exit Strategies' confounds and eludes emergency and development practitioners alike. In the dynamic context of southern Africa, the mere mention of 'an exit' when discussing food programming can cause panic among communities, non-governmental organisation (NGO) staff, government and other stakeholders. This was the prevailing attitude when C-SAFE - a consortium of international NGO's working in southern Africa - decided to conduct a learning activity (see box 1) around Exit Strategies in April 2005.
An example of a keyhole garden, named based on it's shape
At that time, southern Zambia was showing early signs of another drought, and indicators suggested the need for increased assistance to affected districts. In Zimbabwe, C-SAFE members were also preparing for a possible scale-up of activities following parliamentary elections (which had stifled activities for several months), in response to projections of increasing food insecurity related to recurring drought conditions. Similarly, member agencies in Lesotho faced a scenario of ongoing food insecurity in the majority of participating communities. And finally, the HIV/AIDS pandemic continued to plague all three countries, complicating prospects of exiting food programming in the near future.
Learning Spaces - a deliberate focus on Learning
During 2004-2005 (ending September), CSAFE received limited funding to develop learning activities around select themes that the Consortium members had identified as 'high priority'. The vehicle for delivering these activities was called Learning Spaces. The regional Learning Spaces initiative took an interactive approach to identifying, discussing, disseminating and encouraging the application of better practices and lessons learned on a variety of themes. Topics included Targeted Food Assistance in the Context of HIV/AIDS (featured in the May 2005 issue of Field Exchange); Food-for-Assets programming with an HIV/AIDS Lens; Lessons Learned from Working as a Consortium; Exit Strategies for Developmental Relief programmes, and many others.
The Exit Strategy learning events were part of C-SAFE's regional Learning Spaces initiative, and were funded by USAID-FFP and private funding from C-SAFE's members. The outputs from Learning Spaces are available on the C-SAFE website at www.c-safe.org
Why Talk About Exit Strategies?
So why talk about Exit Strategies given indications of continued, if not increased need? And how can we have realistic discussions of exiting when our operating environment and funding situation still appear uncertain?
C-SAFE's recently published a document on exit strategies1 based on learning activities in April 2005. Participants at the learning events were encouraged to think of an Exit Strategy as a Sustainability Plan, which has inherent benefits irrespective of timing and context. Whether at the design phase of a programme, or in the midst of phasing out, promoting sustainability is something that we all aim for. And an effective exit plan is integral to that process.
Learning events held in Lusaka and Harare revealed that NGO members of the Consortium in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Lesotho had begun to strategise on Exit Strategies for the C-SAFE programme. However, due to the daily pressure of managing the substantial Title II emergency programme, members had not yet articulated their exit plans, nor had they begun the critical process of identifying exit activities, i.e. developing a timeline, establishing benchmarks, and monitoring for progress.
Participants from C-SAFE Zambia, Zimbabwe and Lesotho, as well as colleagues from the World Food Programme (WFP), the donor community and local government brought an interesting range of perspectives to the table at both events. The facilitators presented the 'basics on Exit Strategies' which drew heavily from a FANTA Technical Note2 published late last year, as well as the Education Development Centre's (EDC) publication 'Hello I Must Be Going' from 2002. Promising practices were featured from each of the host countries (Zambia and Zimbabwe), with action planning in the final session to strengthen existing Exit Strategies, and to begin thinking about the design of Exit Strategies for C-SAFE's follow-on programmes.
Lessons learned from C-SAFE Malawi were also presented by one of the workshop facilitators (who had previously worked for that Consortium). The message here was that Exit Strategy planning should begin at project inception and that a late start risks haphazard implementation of the strategy, and the increased likelihood of a difficult transition for communities once you have left. The NGO members of C-SAFE Malawi have since transitioned to a Development Assistance Programme (DAP) - entitled I-LIFE - for a term of five years.
C-SAFE Zambia featured the development of World Vision's community-based Nutrition Support Groups (NSGs) as a vehicle for ensuring the sustainability of programme outcomes in a post-C-SAFE environment.
Integral to this type of Exit Strategy is an emphasis on capacity building. The NSGs receive training in basic nutrition and health, centring on Home Based Care, Growth Monitoring and Promotion (GMP) and vegetable gardening. GMP is used to provide nutrition/ health education to mothers of young children along with monthly weights charted to assess progress. GMP also identifies children under age five in targeted geographic areas who are eligible for admission to C-SAFE's targeted food assistance programme. In addition, groups receive practical training in entrepreneurship and fundraising to facilitate their sustainability once C-SAFE has left their community.
The development of NSG's is typical of a 'phase over' approach to exiting, in which the Exit Strategy is centred on building the capacity of a local organisation, which will eventually assume responsibility for programme activities and sustaining programme outcomes. Through group reflection and analysis, the workshop participants identified aspects of the Strategy that could be strengthened. Most apparent was a need to intensify monitoring around the capacity of the NSGs to assume programme responsibilities, and a need to establish benchmarks for gauging their progress. Drawing lessons learned from NSGs that had already 'spun off' was also discussed, and will prove invaluable for younger NSGs as they gain autonomy.
C-SAFE Zimbabwe featured Food-for-Assets (FFA) programming as a prospective Exit Strategy, and prompted heated discussion over what defines an Exit Strategy and what are the requisite components. The Zimbabwe Consortium showed how FFAactivities can help lay the groundwork for sound Exit Strategies. And again, through group reflection and analysis, the participants identified ways to strengthen the Strategy. The need to conceptualise an Exit Strategy in a more holistic manner was noted, with a view towards setting benchmarks, and monitoring the community's capacity to maintain newly created (or rehabilitated) assets prior to (and post!) exit.
The Zimbabwe NGO participants also raised the issue of how to plan for a programme exit, given the unpredictable and unstable operating environment. This underlined the importance of flexibility in developing an exit timeline, as well as the need for scenario planning when developing the plan in an uncertain context.
C-SAFE Lesotho, whose programme is exclusively focused on Food-for-Assets, challenged the assumption that Exit Strategies should be aimed at the community, and instead argued that the success of their keyhole garden programme lies in its intentional focus on the individual household. C-SAFE Lesotho's unique programme involves a nine-month training curriculum for food insecure households on how to build and maintain a 'keyhole' garden - named on the basis that its shape resembles a keyhole.
With sustainability in mind, the construction of the garden utilises readily available and affordable components (i.e. manure, bones, stones and aloes), and emphasises water conservation in its maintenance. The gardens are resistant to dry weather conditions, and provide high yields of vegetables year round using only waste water (reducing stress on households to use limited water supplies for their plants). And given the height and circumference, the gardens are easy to manage and maintain, even for the elderly and infirm.
The 'assets' left behind are two-fold: the garden, and just as importantly, the knowledge/ skills to construct and maintain it. The C-SAFE Lesotho keyhole garden and training curricucurriculum were designed by CARE/TEBA, and are suited specifically to the dry climate of Lesotho. The team claims that Exit Strategy thinking was implicit to the design of the programme, with households only able to graduate once they had a functioning garden with skills to maintain it, hence no further need for NGO inputs. The team from Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Lesotho recently reported an estimated 25% of participant households have replicated the gardening technology through the creation of additional garden plots, and many non-participant families are also adopting the technology (with no incentive provided by CRS) as a result of observing the benefits gained by their neighbours.
Exit Strategies in the Context of HIV/AIDS
With all three countries where C-SAFE operates experiencing high prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS, the learning activities and guidance document (What We Know About Exit Strategies)4 make a concerted effort to identify and discuss factors to consider when developing Exit Strategies in an HIV/AIDS context.
The guidance emphasises that in this context, it is necessary to assess (and monitor) how these factors will affect the capacity of a community to care for its chronically ill, orphans and vulnerable children (OVC), and other destitute members, and to consider both its current and future capacity, especially if the Exit Strategy involves handing over aspects of the programme to local partners or communities.
Developing Exit Strategies in high HIV/AIDS prevalence context requires more concerted planning and monitoring. Applying an HIV/AIDS 'lens' can help staff consider and address the constraints in a systematic fashion. Benchmarks to gauge the communities' progressive ability to use and maintain newly created assets, and to care for their chronically ill and destitute should be monitored at regular intervals. Ongoing monitoring of the benchmark indicators will provide essential programme learning, and help determine whether it is indeed feasible to phase down and out according to the exit timeline, or whether adjustments need to be made. The last benchmark along the continuum of self-reliance may also be identified as the community's graduation or exit criteria.
Where 'phase over' to a local organisation or government is being implemented, the transfer of responsibilities to local partners should be done in a staggered manner, to reduce the shock of multiple transitions and to draw/take advantage of lessons learned from earlier exits and apply them to later ones. And finally, postexit monitoring is vital to ensure that we continue to learn about the effectiveness of our exit strategies and whether programme outcomes are indeed as sustainable as we had intended.
Participants at the workshops noted that it will not always be possible for the chronically ill to regain sufficient health to become productive. And while some do, HIV/AIDS continues to affect the community as more adults die (leaving orphans to be cared for), and those previously healthy become sick - both outcomes placing an increased burden on the community. While C-SAFE's Targeted Food Assistance and FFA programmes continue to adapt to the HIV/AIDS context, it is clear that longer-term resourcing and flexible, innovative programming will be needed to create sufficient resilience and viable Exit Strategies for high prevalence communities.
What is C-SAFE?
C-SAFE is a Consortium of three international NGO's (CARE, Catholic Relief Services and World Vision) working in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Lesotho. In Zambia, ADRA was also a member until October of 2005.
C-SAFE applies a 'developmental relief' approach to its programming efforts -- addressing emergency food security needs (via Targeted Food Assistance (TFA)), while simultaneously building productive community assets (via Food-for -Assets (FFA)) which is intended ultimately to improve community resilience to future food security shocks.
The Developmental Relief approach was based on the understanding that vulnerability to food insecurity is due not only to current shocks, but also to an underlying fragility of livelihood systems, and exacerbating factors such as the HIV/AIDS pandemic. For this reason - C-SAFE makes Food-for-Assets (FFA) (intentionally replacing the term Food for Work) a focal point of its programming -- the assets being the key to building future resilience both at the household and community levels.
Programming initiatives include Targeted Food Assistance to chronically ill (used as proxy for HIV/AIDS), malnourished under fives, and orphans and vulnerable children (OVC's). There are also a wide variety of Food-for-Assets activities such as training in conservation farming, the development of community grain storage and homestead gardens, as well as more traditional FFA activities such as rehabilitation of feeder roads, bridges, and other community infrastructure
Watering a keyhole garden
So why are Exit Strategies important? When planned with partners in advance, they ensure better programme outcomes and encourage commitment to programme sustainability. Good Exit Strategies can help resolve tension that may arise between the withdrawal of assistance and commitment to achieve programme outcomes. And, Exit Strategies can help clarify and define a sponsor's role to host countries and local partners as being time limited, reducing the potential for misunderstandings and future dependency.
Irrespective of the operating environment and/or nature of programming, C-SAFE and non-C-SAFE participants alike learned a number of lessons from this process. In particular, planning an Exit Strategy from the earliest stages, keeping it flexible, and monitoring its progress using benchmarks will improve programme outcomes and their sustainability -- a goal to which all practitioners aspire. As one workshop participant noted, "We should think of the Exit Strategy as a 'Sustainability Plan' since sustainability is really what we're after."
For further information, contact Kara Greenblott, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
1What We Know About Exit Strategies: Practical Guidance for Developing Exit Strategies in the Field. Developed by Alison Gardner, Kara Greenblott and Erika Joubert.
2Rogers, Beatrice and Macias, Kathy, FANTA, Programme Graduation and Exit Strategies: A Focus on Title II Food Aid Development Programmes, November 2004.
3Levinger, Beryl and McLeod, Jean; Education Development Centre, Inc., Hello I must Be Going: Ensuring Quality Services and Sustainable Benefits through Well-Designed Exit Strategies, October 2002
4See footnote 1
5An HIV/AIDS Lens for Food-for-Assets Programming was developed by C-SAFE in early 2005 and is available on the CSAFE website: www.c-safe.org.
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Reference this page
Kara Greenblott (2006). Learning about Exit Strategies in Southern Africa. Field Exchange 27, March 2006. p31. www.ennonline.net/fex/27/learning