Want to scale up? Change-proof your program! Lessons from the GEF (PART 2)

When we at the GEF IEO looked at how impact was scaled up in GEF-supported interventions, many of the interviewees used terms such as “magic moment”, “luck” or “perfect storm” when referring to how scaling-up happened “spontaneously” through serendipitous circumstances, even when the project itself had no concrete plans for scaling-up. On the other hand, we also know how seemingly successful programs can quickly fall apart under political and economic changes.

How do we reduce the negative effects of such changes – and maybe even turn them into “lucky” positive outcomes? In the previous post, we talked about how contextual factors such as high political priority and a sense of ownership among key stakeholders can be developed through program activities, thus catalyzing support that can weather these changes.

In this post, we discuss how sometimes the solution is not in more program activities, but in using the existing context to your advantage: first, by choosing the right institutions and individuals to partner with, and second, by leveraging current priorities and trends to align with your program’s target outcomes.

We’ve heard a lot about the key role of champions – in this evaluation, we found how critical it is to find and empower those champions within specific types of institutions. What kind of institutions should you look for? Here are a few characteristics that we found to be important: political or economic traction; a long-term outlook; and capacity, experience and wide geographic reach to implement.

Political or economic traction

People and institutions with political or economic traction (or both) possess the power to convene, broker with, and influence other stakeholders. This power is particularly important when multistakeholder cooperation is necessary for scaling up impact. Several interviewees mentioned how working with the Ministry of Finance was key to getting other ministries and donors make environmental issues a priority for discussion.

Champions at various administrative levels ensure efforts are sustained. For example, the main champion for Senegal’s Ecovillages initiative was the country’s president himself, which led to an expansion of this approach from 10 pilot villages to more than 400 villages within seven years. When the champions are both technically competent in the relevant field and placed in key implementing roles such as the environment minister, this also facilitates scaling-up, as seen in Costa Rica’s Payment for Environmental Services (PES) program, which has put 1.2 million ha of forest under PES contracts over 17 years.

When the GEF failed to work with the right people and institutions, scaling did not happen. For example, the Sustainable Land and Ecosystem Management (SLEM) Program in India chose to work through state-level land use committees to develop land use plans. The terminal evaluation noted that these committees had no convening power, therefore mainstreaming did not happen in other government agencies as planned.

Long-term outlook

In interviews, GEF stakeholders indicated the importance of partnering with institutions that intend to sustain the momentum of the scaling-up process beyond one project. Both this evaluation and other research have found that the scaling-up process can take an average of 10 to 20 years of sustained effort before target outcomes are achieved. With a long-term outlook, institutional support is not subject to political and economic changes, but instead adapts to stay aligned with the vision of scaled-up impact.

The multi-phase GEF-supported Amazon Region Protected Areas (ARPA) Program in Brazil and Coral Reef Rehabilitation and Management Program (COREMAP) in Indonesia have each had long-term commitments from a wide range of international donors, NGOs, private companies, and other stakeholders since their inception. This broad-based, long-term support has helped sustain scaling-up initiatives through severe political and economic crises, such as a presidential impeachment and budget freeze in Brazil, and the Asian financial crisis in Indonesia.

Interviews highlighted how the GEF’s sustained strategic vision to eliminate invasive alien species over almost 20 years allowed the GLOBALLAST initiative to eventually scale up ballast water standards globally amidst the extended negotiation processes among governments and shipping companies.

Capacity, experience, and wide geographic reach to implement

The use of existing structures and mechanisms for implementing an intervention make scaling-up more sustainable and cost-effective. Such structures and mechanisms typically have a long-term presence and wide geographic coverage. They therefore have the capacity and experience to implement and follow up on interventions over a large area beyond a program’s lifetime or any political term. It is also more cost-effective for a project to not have to establish new structures and mechanisms.

For example, when implementing Costa Rica’s PES program, the government used its strategically located protected areas field offices to house the forest engineers who would be reviewing applications from landowners. In the Bangladesh climate change mitigation case, the country’s existing network of trusted micro-finance institutions was one of the decisive factors in the expansion of the solar home systems in rural areas.

What about luck?!

So you can choose WHO you work with to harness the comparative advantages of existing actors in your program’s context. But luck—having the right people come together at the right place and time—still has a lot to do with it, right?

A few interviewees pointed out that you CAN in fact orchestrate “luck” or perfect timing to a certain extent -- by always looking out for trends and developments that can be linked with your program’s objectives. In at least 5 of the 20 cases we looked at, political regime shifts actually provided opportunities for the scaling-up of new approaches to become a government priority. In at least 7 cases, the political priority to scale was motivated by external events such as a natural disaster or national crisis.

In Ecuador, Conservation International leveraged the newly elected president’s socialist leaning to introduce PES in forests as a poverty alleviation program for farmers, rather than as an environmental conservation program. In Bangladesh, a GDP growth of more than 6% and frequent power outages made the promotion of solar home systems a priority for the government.

The same strategy works within implementing institutions. The GEF-supported Andean Biotrade Project finished just as the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF), its executing agency, was reorganizing their M&E system. The new system highlighted the positive results of this project across CAF’s country offices. During this same period, the environmental agenda became more salient among development banks, because the Conference of Parties of both the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity were both hosted in Lima, where the project was based. Leveraging these favorable circumstances, a CAF director championed the initiative, convincing the bank’s vice presidents to mainstream the concept of a green economy within CAF. As a result, CAF’s green finance portfolio increased from 5% in 2014 to 20% in 2018. The project itself has scaled up in the form of a regional partnership forum currently focused on cocoa, while spinoff projects are under implementation in Colombia and Peru.

Political and economic changes may threaten your program’s success. But by developing and harnessing political priorities and a sense of ownership among key stakeholders, programs have been shown to weather such changes and continue scaling up. High political priority and a sense of ownership can be developed through participatory activities and knowledge dissemination among key stakeholders at different levels of governance, as seen in Part 1 of this post. On the other hand, these two drivers can also be harnessed in the existing setting by choosing program partners with the right characteristics, and looking out for opportunities that align with your program objectives at the right time. These options may not completely change-proof your program, but as our cases show, they can certainly do a lot in turning the tide your way.

Read more about how the GEF has helped scale up impact.

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