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Reshaping a Development Story to Fit Donors’ Concerns

You forgot to say gender! “A program officer from a European foundation recalled the time she had gone to a school where her foundation was asking women to talk about the projects they had submitted as part of a leadership training program on gender equality. One woman stood up and said “The project I have submitted is to get cooking equipment so I can teach kids to cook. Lots of my students have no one at home – their parents are working abroad, and the children don’t know how to cook. And besides learning cooking, they will each get a good meal as part of the class. This is a real need. I have figured out how to do this and what equipment I will need and it costs this much.” And then she sat down. We said, no, that is not the kind of project we are looking for. You need to think about gender, you need to think about making students aware of gender equality and about changing people’s attitudes. But she was stubborn. She stood up again and said, “But I know what I want to do, I need your help. This is important - it will help these girls and boys stay in school.“ But soon she figured it out. She ended up rewriting her proposal and saying she’d have an equal number of girls and boys in the class thus ensuring gender equality, and that she would give talks during the class about liberty and gender equality, and then she re-submitted the same budget for the cooking equipment she needed. She got the grant.”


VAT = Value Added Text

A staff member of a local USAID grantee told us: “Everyone wants to report on good results – we are all players in a chain. Once I was asked to prepare a success story. So I took a report from a beneficiary NGO I worked with. Knowing the NGO very well, I was aware that their report was nicer than the reality but in general it was true. So I polished it a little bit more, emphasized good things, deleted those that were not so good and sent it to the HQ of my organization. At HQ they polished it further and submitted it to USAID. Then it was redone again and presented to the U.S Congress (or something like that, I’m not exactly sure). Finally the story was published as a success story from my country. I read it in a local magazine. I was impressed with the NGO and the success they had and only at the end of the story when the name of the organization was mentioned I realized that this was in fact the organization whose report I had received and then sent on to HQ. I couldn’t recognize it. I call this type of reporting VAT – “value added text.“ Everyone in the chain added a little value to the result, and everyone is happy.”