I joined the STAGE project in November 2018 as the Knowledge Management officer, working on monitoring and evaluation, and then also became the gender, equity and social inclusion (GESI) adviser. I have seen all the interventions right from the beginning of the project, working at the managerial level and also working in the field with the implementing partners.
We developed the project based on feasibility studies and lessons drawn from previous work on community-based education. We realised that there were significant barriers at the household, community and system levels that were impacting negatively on girls’ education.
Our aim was to support the education and training of over 17,000 highly marginalised, out-of-school girls living in remote communities. We focused on three main outcomes: learning, transition and sustainability. We hoped to build individual capacities, involve communities and support the transition of girls into school and their choice of work. We wanted to see significant reductions in the barriers experienced by these girls and a situation where communities had champions who would provide continuous support for the girls beyond the life of the project.
The first challenge arose at the start of the project – identifying the girls who would need support. This was particularly true for girls with disabilities who were often not ‘visible’ or included in social gatherings. We carried out detailed mapping and validation to ensure we had reached all of the girls who needed support.
A second challenge was getting communities to ‘buy into’ our project as we were challenging the status quo. There was some initial apprehension at the community level and so we considered the potential tensions that might arise and engaged social service providers and traditional authorities. This strategy really helped. We didn't just enter the community, we also worked at the national and district level. Once these relationships were in place, it was easier to get buy in at the government, district and community level to our plans to standardise the curriculum and build community-based education.
We also worked to build the girls’ life skills – beyond literacy and numeracy – so we focused on building their confidence, tackling issues of sexual and reproductive health and strengthening safeguarding and reporting mechanisms.
We soon realised that existing, national policies were not always present at the local level – parents simply weren’t aware of them. So, we worked to fuse these policies into our work, empowering communities, reducing the barriers to girls’ education and, importantly, embedding them within communities for the future (when we were no longer implementing our project).
The partnership model was useful. The project was a learning process for everyone. We shared best practice. The delivery partners all came with different strengths (and weaknesses!) and we worked together as a team to bring the most benefit to the girls and their communities. Safeguarding, GESI and value for money requirements were all a challenge initially but we put training in place to build capacity. We decided to increase the frequency of training during COVID-19 and put in place a strategy to get weekly reports from each partner.
All of these measures helped to build capacity across the board. Local NGOs are now consortium members for other projects, sharing and increasing skills and knowledge.
Being part of the wider GEC was also helpful. We were able to gain learning from across the network of projects and through the technical and guidance documents. We could access data from across the portfolio and feed into the broader agenda ourselves, taking part in peer-to-peer learning and global conferences.
In terms of advice, firstly I would say, start with accurately identifying your beneficiaries. Use mapping tools that look at different categories of vulnerability and marginalisation to make sure you are reaching the girls who most need support.
Secondly, engaging the community is key. If you can ensure that the community makes their own commitments and their own contributions – in whatever way they can – you can be more confident that they feel ownership and that changes will last beyond the work of the project.
Finally, working with the Ministry of Education (MoE) is also important. We have found this to be a great benefit. There can sometimes be a disconnect between the school (supported by the MoE) and the community (supported by the Department for Social Welfare). And in the middle of this sit the girls who are facing barriers to education and are at risk of dropping out. So, both organisations need to work together and often it will come down to CSOs to try and make that connection.
I think the biggest legacy of our project has been transforming the lives of these 17,000 girls who now have the skills and knowledge to sustain themselves and make their own life decisions. 8,000 girls have transitioned into primary or secondary education and 9,000 girls have been trained on a non-formal track, with over 80% moving into their chosen employment and vocational pathways. Crucially, we know that most of these girls have children, and they are already transferring these skills to the next generation. These girls will drive change in their communities.
Personally, I have learned a lot through working on this project. My own capacity has been built and I have had the opportunity to work with many teams, collaborating with other CSOs, local organisations and national government departments.
I think moving forward this has encouraged me to stay in the development sector, continuing to do more research on tackling the issues keeping children out of school.
Overall, we should take the lessons of the GEC and countries should be prompted to look at those who have been left behind, maintaining funding for these types of programmes, based on data-driven policies and value for money. Advocacy and engagement within communities should also remain a key focus. By doing this you will know that your work will continue after you have left.
You can read the Final Reflections Summary Report here