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Lessons on sustainable development finance from Tajikistan

Gulbahor Nematova

Gulbahor Nematova works for UNDP in Tajikistan.
Date: 
22 May 2014
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Gulbahor Nematova works for UNDP in Tajikistan.
Computer training class - World Bank photo collection (Creative Commons licensed via Flickr)

Next up in our financing progress series is a blog from Gulbahor Nematova of UNDP in Tajikistan, outlining four lessons on how countries similar to Tajikistan can best make use of development finance, both internally and through international, or 'South-South' cooperation.


Here in Tajikistan, debates about ‘sustainability’ apply mainly to projects funded by donors. These debates started more than a decade ago, but only a few projects have ever achieved sustainable outcomes. And these are projects that have been funded by donors with, first, a long-term commitment to support a certain area of development and, second, the flexibility needed to meet the challenges posed by the changing development climate in this country. They include the Access to Justice in Tajikistan project funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC); the HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria control programme funded by the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM);  and the Rural Growth Programme funded by the UK Department of International Development (DFID), which I saw at first hand while working for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Tajikistan.

I believe that these projects hold four lessons on how countries like Tajikistan can make the most effective use of development finance in the future.

First, development finance should strengthen existing traditional structures, rather than creating new ones. For more than a decade (1996-2008), donors in Tajikistan supported the development of local governance through the creation of community-based organisations (CBOs), such as common-interest groups, village development committees, community development centres and so on – all intended to support the implementation of a certain project. They often worked in parallel with traditional local governance and self-governance structures, while their core functions often overlapped with those of formal local government and local self-government structures. Since the adoption of the Law on Self-Governing Bodies in Tajikistan (2009), however, donor focus has shifted from support for CBOs to support for formal local governance and self-governance structures. As a result of this donor withdrawal, many CBOs have become dysfunctional. So, would it not be more efficient if donor funds were used to strengthen the existing traditional structures?

Second, development challenges are multifaceted, and sound solutions require thoughtful partnerships. Donors like SDC are mindful of the CBO experience in Tajikistan. All SDC projects, therefore, support both policy development and the implementation process. They are implemented by two or more partners, who are brought together on the basis of their comparative advantage. For example, the local-level legal aid and legal awareness activities for the Access to Justice project are implemented by Helvetas, an international non-governmental organisation (INGO), while the policy dialogue and capacity-building components are led by UNDP. DFID put into place similar partnership arrangements for the Rural Growth Programme, based on the different strengths of the participating organisations. Here, the local governance component was led by UNDP, while GIZ led the private-sector development component.

Third, development funding must be continuous, or at least build on past achievements. It is hard to achieve sustainability through the short-term funding of a stand-alone project. Instead of stopping the funding of a project during its embryonic stage, it is more rational for the donor to fund an existing initiative that requires only a small investment to move forward. Here, the continuous funding provided by SDC and DFID is very likely to generate sustainable outcomes in enhancing access to justice and supporting the development of the private sector respectively. The same is true of GFATM: it has been the combination of continuous funding and sound partnerships between UN agencies, INGOs and the Government that has made the elimination of malaria in Tajikistan by 2015 a highly achievable MDG target.

This building on past achievements goes beyond the progress of one country. Promoting ‘South-South’ and/or ‘triangular cooperation’ is a promising area for more effective development finance in the future. South-South cooperation enables beneficiary countries to learn from the experiences of their neighbours – in the case of Tajikistan, the other countries of the former Soviet Union that share a particular history and legacy in common. For example, UNDP’s support for the participatory district planning process in Tajikistan replicates experience from Armenia. Such replication has enabled Tajikistan to be mindful of the bottlenecks faced in Armenia and, therefore, to minimise the potential risks (delays, costs, etc.) and inefficiencies while adjusting the experience to the national and local context.

Fourth, the ultimate outcome of development finance is confidence building. Sustainability is about people’s trust and confidence, initially in themselves, and then in the institutions of which they are a part, and finally in their government. The District Development Planning process supported by UNDP in Tajikistan has achieved tangible results by bringing people closer to the Government, enhancing trust and confidence in the capacity of the Government to meet their needs. When such trust is established, potential conflicts are less likely. When the people in the target districts gained confidence in existing structures and systems, they came together to mobilise local state and non-state resources for local development priorities – resources that far exceeded the project’s targets. With trust and confidence are in place, there is high level of ownership over the results achieved. 

I believe that donors will see greater returns on their investments, and far more sustainable outcomes, if these lessons are taken on board when planning and allocating development funds to country in the future.