Agent Provocateur is Global Insights’ op-ed section.
Over the past year and a half, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened hunger and poverty in many parts of the world. According to the World Bank, by the end of 2021 about 100 million people are expected to have fallen back into extreme poverty. The Bank expects that the per-capita income lost in 2020 will not be fully recouped by 2022 in about two-thirds of emerging-market and developing economies.
Foreign aid from governments and multi-lateral institutions will remain vital for helping the most vulnerable countries return to the path of sustainable development. But many needy communities will likely be overlooked. Large-scale grants and loans do not always trickle down to meet the very specific needs of poor villages. Whether it be constructing a new school, improving access to water and sanitation, or providing income-earning opportunities in the form of egg-laying chickens, small-scale projects are difficult for major donors to identify, fund and oversee. The Geneva-based 1% Fund for Development helps to fill this gap.
A Fund open to everyone
The concept is simple: you contribute just one per cent of your income to the Fund, which then relies on volunteers to evaluate proposals for development projects (the Fund does not support COVID relief projects). The best proposals are then submitted to the entire membership for approval. This builds a strong personal connection between individual donors and the beneficiaries, who share regular updates with the Fund. You can see where your money goes, learn about the challenges of development, and connect with the lives of some of the world’s poorest and most disadvantaged people.
Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan recognized the value of this approach. “The 1% for Development Fund demonstrates that every one of us can contribute to overcoming extreme poverty and supporting the Sustainable Development Goals,” said. “By donating 1% of their income and becoming directly involved in the selection of projects, its members have shown that each of us can make a difference.”
Editorial Note: As part of our editorially independent reporting in the public interest across the globe, Global Insights Magazine seeks to highlight the planetary concerns of the International Geneva community ranging from conflict mediation to conservation and climate change. We would like to point out that we receive no support from either the Swiss government or Geneva. (See article) If you would like to contribute to our efforts, including our Youth Writes educational initiative, please DONATE.
The 1% Fund was born in 1976. Concerned that developed countries were not reaching the UN General Assembly’s target for official development aid of 0.7% of their GNP (today the OECD countries allocate on average only around 0.3% of their GNP), a group of international civil servants decided to practice what governments preached by contributing 1% of their salary to development projects.
Since then, the Fund has disbursed more than CHF 8 million to support over 800 projects that empower local communities to improve lives and livelihoods. (The Fund works with NGOs and communities and never directly with governments.) Most of the projects cost between just CHF 5 000 and CHF 20 000. Because the Fund is fully managed by volunteers, it can operate with zero overhead costs.
Designed to give a better understanding of community needs
Development is hard to get right. Money can be wasted, and building trust between donor and recipient can take time. Projects can underperform due to a lack of local managerial or technical skills. Cultural biases, for example placing limits on the participation of women or certain classes of people, can also get in the way of success.
“This is why 1% focuses on small, targeted projects that can deliver very visible and measurable benefits,” explains Fund President Chris O’Connor. “Analyzing a project proposal in close detail, interacting directly with the people who will carry out the project and requiring regular reports and photos demands both time and commitment. But this rigorous approach works – usually – and also gives Fund members a better understanding of community needs and successful project implementation.”
In January and July of this year, the Fund approved projects totalling over CHF 210 000. A few examples reveal the diverse range of needs that 1% is able to address:
- Renovate toilets for the 3,800 students of Djignabo secondary school in Senegal, for CHF 10 054;
- Build a micro solar-power system to provide electricity for a primary school and an economic activity centre in the village of Poa-Loaga, Pakistan, costing CHF 7,357;
- Provide training on agricultural practices and nutrition to 100 women farmers in a region of Ghana that suffers high levels of malnutrition, for CHF 17,817; and
- Ensure safe drinking water for 10 rural village communities in Tamil Nadhu, India, for CHF 9,295, benefiting some 40,000 people.
A closer look at a project focused on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) demonstrates how the Fund works in practice. In 2018, following an evaluation by a panel of members and approval by the General Assembly, the Fund supported a project by the Ghana Young Artisans Movement (GYAM) in the hot and tropical region of northern Ghana. The aim of the project was to improve access to potable water and sanitation in order to reduce infectious diseases, promote school attendance and free people up from water-related chores to earn more income.
The project started by constructing a 30,000-litre rainwater harvesting tank. When completed, this quickly ensured access to safe water for 600 pupils and nine teachers from the local schools, who no longer had to travel long distances in search of water during school hours. The project also built a four-seater Kumasi Ventilated Improved Pit Latrine, giving students (especially girls) safe and hygienic access to toilets for the first time.
In addition to this physical infrastructure, the project provided a variety of training sessions. A forum was held where community leaders, school management committees, teachers and others discussed a range of institutional and practical issues, thus ensuring their ownership of the project. Four local artisans received training on how to build the tank and the latrine. Three other people received training in maintenance. Other training sessions focused on sensitizing school girls about menstrual hygiene.
GYAM kept the Fund informed of progress through detailed financial and narrative reports as well as photographs. It highlighted lessons learned and best practices, such as how ensuring that women’s role as caretakers of the project could promote gender parity. GYAM also detailed the various challenges the project encountered, such as the unexpected increase in the price of hardware materials that had to be sourced from the regional capital (the cost over-run was covered by non-1% sources of money). Through this close interaction, Fund members truly became partners with this remote community in Ghana.
For those of us who live well, it can be hard to imagine how these relatively small sums can have such a powerful impact on the lives of so many people. But they can, and they do. The world overall continues to get richer, and many countries are already bouncing back from the pandemic. But hundreds of millions of people continue to live in extreme poverty. As individuals, we can contribute by supporting one village at a time in building the foundations for better lives and livelihoods. Engaging actively with like-minded people to fund and monitor small community projects is an effective and satisfying way for individuals to have an impact on global poverty.
During the first half of his 27-year career with the United Nations, Michael Williams managed media relations and public outreach for the UNFCCC, CITES and other environmental conventions. He then worked with the Group on Earth Observations before serving as chief of communications and public affairs at the World Meteorological Organization. He is currently retired and lives in Switzerland.