I was four years old and late as usual for my ballet class, hurrying down the steps of the Harbor Club, where the most affluent people of London would meet for their day’s exercise and post-workout cocktails. As I rushed down the steps, I saw before me a beautiful face I would recognize anywhere. Princess Diana was returning from a tennis class and oh…my…god, I whispered in awe, hello… hello princess Di-di-anna! She picked me up, smiled at me, and graciously suffered my four-year old chit-chat as she brought me back upstairs before escaping to a more private setting. Forget ballet! I ran and looked for my mother and squealed with glee as I recounted my meeting with the princess.
Many of us have since grown up in the shadow of her altruism, inspired by the scene of her bowing over the hospital beds of children mutilated by discarded landmines. And yet that very same altruism has, overtime, become a much more complex issue, riddled with neo-colonial tendencies that disregard the agency of our beneficiaries. The aid world has become increasingly attuned to new principles of philanthropy that value effectiveness over simple charity, and that respects countries’ rights to control over their own socio-economic development.
This is where M&E comes in.
For those of you reading this and not working in development, monitoring and evaluation (“M&E”) is, simply put, the qualitative and quantitative study of a program’s performance. M&E measures the impact of a program on its target population, thus allowing both organizations and donors alike to assess the value of the program and identify its specific strengths and weaknesses. With the multitude of aid work operations seeking support, M&E permits donors to put money where it will best be used. It also allows organizations to identify and to tackle programs’ weaknesses and thus improve performance.
As a Global Health Corps fellow working in Rwanda for Health Poverty Action (HPA), I’m currently running a Geographic Information System (GIS) project that will map the district’s schools, existing sanitation facilities, conditions, and needs. It will also help measure the impact of newly installed ECOSAN toilets on the health of the schools’ student bodies and the surrounding populations. The map will thus inform all stakeholders of HPA’s contributions to the health of the local population. Moreover, in sharing the maps with local governments and partner organizations, the program will help reduce aid duplication and ensure aid effectiveness by identifying the populations most in need of aid.
Finally, M&E allows an aid worker like me to play a role in public health I can be comfortable with. In acting as one-year M&E consultant for HPA, I can contribute objective opinions about their programs and offer strategies for improvement. The goal is for me to leave the organization stronger than it was when I first started, after a year’s work of empowering the staff and building their capacity to continue their efforts in the most efficient ways.
Ultimately, my work in the background offers the right tools to a Rwandan staff to do field work in their own communities. So while I first started inspired by a princess’ altruism, every day, I’m more and more passionate of working for an up and coming generation of effective aid workers.