Capital: Do tell us the focus areas of your Organization in Ethiopia?
David Throp: Plan International is one of the world’s leading child development humanitarian organizations. It works in about 50 countries on such programs in the developing world. We recently wrote a new five year country strategy in consultation with our stakeholders. We had consultations with government ministries, regional bureaus and communities and came up with four main areas of intervention. One is addressing issues related to child survival. It mostly focuses around health, water, sanitation and livelihood. The aim of such a component is to reduce child diseases and death.
In fact, Ethiopia has made great improvements over the last 20 years in reducing the child mortality rate. But it is still a country where around 300,000 children under the age of five die every year. Therefore, this remains the main target and focus of our program.
The second component of our program is related to education. There are two main sub-components to that. One is improving the quality of primary education. We are observing some progress in that area due to our previous activities involving the building of primary schools. Though the building of schools is important, we want to go beyond that. We are trying to work with the government, parents and the children themselves to improve the real learning experience in classrooms. The quality of teaching, especially the child friendly approach to instruction, the curricula and a safer teaching and learning environment are some of the areas considered in need of improvement. That is a real necessity if we are to assist in the development of their academic potential. The other is what we call ECCD (Early Childhood Care and Development). This sub-component concentrates purely on the upbringing of the youngest children going up to and including the eighth graders. This looks at parenting practices in nutrition at home and some kind of preschool education. But it is an attempt to obtain a holistic developmental approach for the youngest children particularly from birth up until primary school age.
The third component is all about trying to change attitudes about harmful cultural practices. We are looking at issues like female genital mutilation, early marriage, sexual abuse and other related things which actually limit children’s proper development and their future opportunities in life. We think that these are the issues that need to be addressed. The government is using all means available in trying to address them and there are improvements over the years in all of these areas. There are many legislative acts in place to prevent such practices; however, some of these harmful practices are actually legal in Ethiopia and are still widely practiced. So, we are trying to work at the community level by involving all concerned including children, the youth, elders, community leaders, religious leaders and other community segments. We are trying to change attitudes and reduce harmful practices one step at a time. The fourth and final component of our program is emergency response. Historically, Plan International has not had much engagement with humanitarian work here in Ethiopia. We know that Ethiopia is a country that experiences, from time to time, droughts and other natural disasters which require an emergency response program. To tackle these, we are working with the DRMFSS [Disaster Risk Management and Food Security Sector] within the Ministry of Agriculture and regional authorities to actually run nutrition and livelihood programs for drought affected communities. That is the reason we have, almost a year ago, started humanitarian work here in Ethiopia. In general, that is how I would describe our work here.
Capital: Where do the funds to implement all those programs come from?
Throp: The funding comes from around 20 countries in the Developed World that actually advocate and raise funds for the programs we carry out globally. For instance Plan Canada, Plan Australia, Plan Japan and so forth mobilize funds for the programs we implement in the 50 developing countries. In the case of Ethiopia, we collaborate very closely with about 10 fund-raising countries. We bring in quite a lot of resources from the UK, Australia, Canada, Germany and so on. The work here in Ethiopia is really in support of the Government development agenda, specifically in relation to efforts to improve the lot or fortune of the children.
Capital: You have informed us that your organization has launched a five year country strategy. Is there any additional element to this strategy, apart from what we have discussed above?
Throp: It is those that I have raised and described above. I think all the NGOs, Government organizations and donors are in the process of doing as relevant a job as possible. So, at Plan International we have a process where once every five years we stand back and review what is happening; we note the changes in development, in government policies and approaches and reflect on what has been achieved so far and also on how to proceed in the future.
For instance now, we have the GTP [Growth and Transformation Plan]. Every five years, we go through such a process of checking where we are relevant, useful and as effective as possible in the country strategy we have developed. Based on this assessment, the country strategy has embedded those four main programs I have described above. Probably, the other aspect to it is geography. We have been working in four areas; the Amhara, Oromiya, Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples region and the City Administration of Addis Ababa. Though these four areas are where we implement our main strategy, we want to further add one more area in which to extend our work. We are looking to work with one of the emerging regions of the country. This is part of the plan although we haven’t got to that stage yet; but we are looking at the possibility of starting work, in the next three months, in one of the following regions which are Afar, Benishangul Gumuz, Gambela or the Somali region. We are trying to expand in that respect. The money we are bringing in and the number of beneficiaries we are reaching are also expanding. I think last year, we have brought in more than USD 17 million which is approximately equal to 295 million birr benefiting more than eight million children under the age of 18. That is the number of people positively affected by our work. We would be delivering our services in an ever increasing number of Weredas if we start working in a fifth region after we conclude the assessment or analysis this year.
Capital: The government of Ethiopia has introduced a new Civil Society Law (CSL) which has put a cap on expenditure related to the administrative and development works which is a ratio of 30:70 four years ago. How do you describe its impact so far?
Throp: What happened was that the figure was stated in the original document which came out in 2009; but there was no directive. This led to confusion because, there was no clear or detailed understanding on how to calculate the ratio. And then last year, just over a year ago now, the directive to implement it came out. The directive was issued in July 2011. Then after, it became actually known to everybody by the end of 2011. We are saying we can work with it. The first thing I want to say is that the general intent of the CSL is to make sure that Ethiopia benefits as much as possible from the aid money that comes in. As far as I know, we fully support that. My colleagues in the NGO and Civil Society also fully support it. Therefore, there is no problem as we are all in agreement. As I stated earlier, there were a few problems in initially understanding and in the putting into effect of the guideline. We did have a discussion, I think, with the CCSA [Charity and Civil Society Agency] and so we think that we can go [with it]. I also think the main thing is to find a way to work within the directive which doesn’t inhibit Ethiopia’s development. We are all trying to work under the government’s plan with the all of the technical line ministries in education, health and food security in relation to programs and projects. My understanding is that we always predate the legislation. We always work under that arrangement. We have always been asked for an arrangement in which the work was approved and signed before you start doing it. It is an issue for all of us; CSA, line ministries, and the NGOs themselves have to keep the discussions ongoing and find out how to work successfully under the directive.
Capital: Your organization has been sponsoring the Great Ethiopian Run (GER) for the past three years and renewed a contract for the coming three years. What are you planning to achieve from sponsoring such a program?
Throp: Yes. I think this is one of the most enjoyable aspect of our work because there is such a great heritage of running, here in Ethiopia. It is part of the national culture. The GER is a fantastic organization and there is a whole lot of support for it by the society at large. We attached ourselves to it to further promote what we think is an important message related to children. We have been sponsoring the children’s GER, (not the main race) for 10 kilometers and have been doing so for the last three years. We have a campaign called learn without fear. It promotes the idea that children need a safe environment in school in order to be able to learn properly. So, issues of punishment, bullying, sexual harassment and the various things which make schools an unpleasant and dangerous environment are addressed. Such an environment will certainly limit children’s ability to develop properly. We have been talking about that for the last three years. We have just renewed the arrangement for another three years. And now we have a new campaign called “Because I am a Girl”. It is a global campaign. It is not something we came up with here in Ethiopia but something that is being carried out in the 50 countries we operate. As the title itself indicates, the campaign is all about girls and young women. It also explores and addresses the particular difficulties, discrimination, prejudices and the more limited opportunities young women and girls face in their life simply because they are born female. So it means “Because I am a Girl” I have less opportunity to go to school; it’s more likely that I am married off at a very young age which can and will limit my opportunities in life and so on. That is the message behind the slogan. It is great to be identified with the Run.
We have two particular messages to spread in Ethiopia. One is about education. Tremendous progress has been made in Ethiopia in relation to the primary education enrolment rate if you look at the trajectory over the last decade: you will notice that massive improvements have been made but there is still quite a high degree of gender disparity if you go through the regional data on how many children (boys vs girls) are going to school. It is not only about enrollment but also completing your education while performing well (without dropping out.) Therefore, the campaign tries to increase awareness about the importance of educating young women and girls as a potential for the future growth of Ethiopia. They are vital actors in the development plan of the country, indeed, of any country. We need to create that opportunity for young women and girls through this campaign. The Ethiopian society has to recognize the potential of its offspring in their ongoing effort to modernity. For that to happen we need good education without gender discrimination. That is the main message we would like to convey through sponsorship of the event throughout the country. The race will take place in Addis Ababa in the coming November at the National Stadium. We are also in talks with our stakeholders to launch the event in Hawassa, Bahir Dar and Adama. It is not a one-time show or a one-off thing but should and must be continuous. This is a global campaign that will stay for at least three years. So, we will do everything that can be done for the success of this activity since the run is a highly visible event which can and does get everybody’s attention.
Capital: Are there other ways to promote your organization’s good cause?
There are many ways. We also work to promote the same messages through our projects, programs, different pieces of research and reports that can be published and shared. Such efforts are ongoing at a national as well as global level.