Building trust in government: Afghanistan’s National Solidarity Programme (NSP)

A case study from our Future of Government series This case study is part of a series aiming to review alternative management and governance practices, with a view to explore different ways in which governments could better meet citizens' needs.

After the fall of the Taliban, the NSP was created in 2002 to give Afghan villages a democratic local administration with strong female participation, together with access to basic services. The NSP supports the participating villages with up to US$60,000 community funding for local projects.

The challenge

In 2002, Ashraf Ghani, the current president of Afghanistan, became the finance minister after the fall of the Taliban in December 2001. At that point the country stood in great need of good governance and community-building. And after 14 years of war, the need is just as great.

The initiative

One initiative that the Afghan government took was to create the National Solidarity Programme (NSP). It aims to “develop the ability of Afghan communities to identify, plan, manage and monitor their own development projects. The NSP works to empower rural communities to make decisions affecting their own lives and livelihoods”. [1]

The NSP’s main objective has been to build, strengthen and maintain Community Development Councils (CDCs) so that they can become effective institutions for local governance and socioeconomic development, initiating their own small development projects. It was intended that the growth of CDCs would help to build trust with the rural population in small villages.

Ashraf Ghani had followed his friend Scott Guggenheim’s work in the Kecamatan Development Programme in Indonesia. He wanted to try something similar at home. He invited Guggenheim to Afghanistan and, in early 2002, they began to the NSP.

The NSP project cycle for each participating community has five phases. These are generally completed within a two-year period:

  • Phase I – the NSP facilitating partner assigned to the province (typically an NGO) contacts the community to inform them of the NSP and to start the mobilisation process.
  • Phase II – the facilitating partner enables fair and open elections to take place to establish the CDC.
  • Phase III – the newly-elected CDC consults with the members of the community to reach a consensus on a list of priority sub-projects, the Community Development Plan. Selected sub-project proposals are submitted to the NSP for funding.
  • Phase IV –NSP block grant funds are disbursed to cover the purchase of materials and services. The CDC undertakes sub-project implementation and reports to the community on progress and use of funds.
  • Phase V – Programme partners assess the technical quality of completed sub-projects and document lessons learned.

The public impact

As of February 2016, the following progress had been made:

  • Nearly 35,000 communities had elected CDCs, of which all but 200 or so had been financed (at least partially) – there were nearly 300,000 male and just over 150,000 female members, elected by secret ballot across 361 districts in all of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
  • Nearly 90,000 sub-project proposals had been financed (at least partially) of which 77,280 had been completed.
  • Over US$1.6 billion in block grants had been disbursed to the NSP’s CDC sub-projects.

What did and didn't work

All cases in our Public Impact Observatory have been evaluated for performance against the elements of our Public Impact Fundamentals.

Legitimacy

Stakeholder Engagement Strong

The project has internal stakeholder support, as it was initiated by the Afghan government, through Ashraf Ghani, and is being operated by the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD). The project also has external support from the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA).

Political Commitment Good

The programme was an initiative of the interim government of Afghanistan, With Ghani's aggressive advocacy, the NSP “got off to a promising start, attracting a top crop of talent from the international aid community. A daily stream of radio messages proclaimed the ‘largest people's project in history’, stirring local anticipation”. [2]

Policy

Clear Objectives Strong

The objectives of the NSP were measurable (e.g., the number of rural communities with CDCs and the number of with block grants). The expected outcomes set in the third phase (e.g., a minimum of 70 percent sampled communities recognising CDCs as a legitimate institution and at least half the beneficiaries being female) addressed relevant issues.

Evidence Good

In late 1990s, Scott Guggenheim, an employee of the World Bank, pioneered the Kecamatan Development Programme in Indonesia. It succeeded “in its twin goals of enabling small development projects and strengthening local governance ... when the Suharto government collapsed, the World Bank had to suspend most of its aid programs, but Guggenheim's program was able to continue operating. The reason was that, unlike other aid programs, the Kecamatan Development Program could function even when there was no central state to work with. The World Bank coined the term ‘community-driven development’ to describe this development model”. [3]

Feasibility Fair

During the first phase, there was no clarity on the feasibility, but Phase III has a specific and massive budget. The NSP has a number of sources of funding, including:

  • IDA grants.
  • The Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF).
  • The Japanese Social Development Fund.
  • Bilateral Funds.

For example, the 2012-13 government budget allocates NSP US$208 million in funding, making NSP the largest development programme in the country.

Action

Management Strong

The NSP has strong management structure in place. The MRRD serves as the executive agency. There is an NSP steering committee, an inter-ministerial committee established to provide advice on overall programme direction and policies. The NSP has one implementation unit comprising the HQ, six regional coordination units and 34 management units. The HQ has an executive and operations directorate overseeing nine departments.

The MRRD serves as the secretariat for the steering committee.

The 31 facilitating partners are responsible for:

  • The establishment and capacity building of the CDC,
  • The oversight, monitoring and technical assistance in the planning and implementation of the communities.

An international consultancy firm is contracted as the Financial Management Agent (FMA) to manage the NSP’s bank account and financial operations. Four individual international consultants provide technical assistance in a variety of key areas.

Measurement Strong

After the implementation of Phase I in 2007, the Afghan government and international donors “requested that the impact of the programme be rigorously evaluated by independent researchers, resulting in the creation of the NSP Impact Evaluation (NSP-IE)”.

The NSP’s impact is monitored by the facilitating partners, through the NSP-IE, and relevant indicators are used to capture the outcome of the project. “The NSP impact evaluation (NSP-IE) is a multi-year randomized control trial designed to measure the effects of implementation of the second phase of NSP on a broad range of economic, political, and social indicators. While there have been a number of qualitative studies of NSP, the NSP-IE is the first large-sample quantitative assessment capable of providing rigorous estimates of program impact.” [4]

Alignment Strong

Following the completion of the first phase of the NSP, the Afghan government and the international donor community proposed to have an evaluation mechanism in place. This indicates that these stakeholders were cooperating to ensure that the impact of the NSP was properly measured.

The MRRD executes the NSP, the World Bank and a consortium of bilateral donors provide the bulk of the required funding, and the partner NGOs facilitate the NSP. A secret ballot is conducted for the election of gender-balanced CDCs. Moreover, the Afghans are also playing their role and contribute ten percent of the project costs.