• Inside Development

Plan: ‘Customized, long-term solutions to end the cycle of poverty for children’

By Pauline Zalkin24 March 2011

Schoolchildren in Bangladesh where Plan International holds one of its programs. Photo by: Plan International

Plan International was selected as a Devex Top 40 Development Innovator based on a poll of thousands of global development professionals who are part of Devex, the largest network of aid and relief workers in the world.

Announced on April 18, Devex Top 40 Development Innovators is an impressive listing of the world’s leading donor agencies & foundations, development consulting companies, implementing NGOs, and advocacy groups.

We asked each of the Innovators four questions to learn how they stay ahead to the curve and tackle old development challenges in new ways. Here’s how Plan responded:

‘Plan works side-by-side with communities in 48 developing countries to deliver customized, long-term solutions to end the cycle of poverty for children’

If you had to condense it to just one or two sentences, overall, what is it that makes your organization innovative?

Plan is a 73-year-old global organization working in thousands of communities throughout the developing world to support children and families in overcoming the cycle of poverty and injustice. Our established roots in 48 developing countries enable us to build long-lasting relationships and engage members of the community to determine their greatest challenges. We develop sustainable solutions community by community with a level of engagement and a long-term outlook that is unique among international development organizations, in order to ensure a better future for the world’s most vulnerable children. Our solutions are designed to be owned by the community for generations to come, and programs range from clean water and health-care projects to education and child-protection initiatives.

Can you provide a specific example of something your organization has done that is particularly innovative?

  • ICT4D: In keeping with our community approach, our commitment to integrating ICTs is also implemented from the bottom up, ensuring thatICT use is linked to real development needs and priorities and appropriate for those who are participating in an initiative or a project. A recently published report drawing on Plan’s experiences with ICT4D includes a checklist focusing on 10 key areas to think about when planning ICT-enabled development efforts – such as context analysis, defining needs, choosing a strategy, undertaking a participatory communications assessment, and building and using capacity – as well as places the checklist into a four-stage process for ICT integration.
  • Youth engagement and participation: As one example, the Violence Against Children project is being co-implemented by Plan and Save the Children – in partnership with local community-based organizations – in West Africa and takes place over four years (2008-2011) in seven countries: Togo, Ghana, Benin, Guinea, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire and Gambia. One important tool being used by the project to better track and understand the kind of violence taking place in these countries is SMS-based collection of incident reports and subsequent mapping efforts. Preliminary results indicate that participating in the project has strengthened youth to combat the personal violence they experience and, at times, perpetrate themselves. In addition to the personal changes at the level of the participants, the VAC project has also built a civil society of youth who engage politically with their peers, families, schools and communities around issues of violence. The youth have also made violence against children part of the public agenda by partnering with media sources who feed their media into mainstream channels. In addition, they’ve been able to create alliances between youth and adults to advance their cause, sharing their experiences and opinions with high-level policymakers, including government officials and the U.N. special representative on violence against children.
  • “Because I am a Girl” campaign: As part of the campaign, Plan is producing one report each year until 2015, documenting the challenges that girls face, as well as the potential to reverse their situations. Reports produced so far include a focus on girls in conflict situations; girls and the global economy; and girls and access to technology. Since its inception in 2007, Plan’s BIAAG programming has improved the lives of more than 100,000 girls worldwide through the following such programs: 224 Better Life Option Program Centers have provided life skills education to 5,599 girls in Nepal; in Guinea, a Plan project to reduce adolescent pregnancy has seen a drastic increase in the contraceptive prevalence rate in girls and young women – from 6 percent to 75 percent; and Plan’s Village Savings and Loans programs have given 10,000 women in Cameroon access to basic financial services – meaning that they can better care for their children.
  • “Universal Birth Registration” campaign: Working with children, families, communities, partners, and governments, Plan has facilitated the registration of over 40 million people in 32 countries. Innovative techniques were and still are being used to ensure registration efforts continue to be successful, such as providing mobile technology, using various media and community events channels, harnessing local knowledge and systems, involving children and giving them the tools to spread awareness, and challenging defunct administrative systems.

Looking ahead 10 years, what are some of the innovations in international development that your organization wants to be a part of?

  • Increased use of mHealth and mobile education initiatives in program design and implementation.
  • Increased use of program mapping and GIS technology to facilitate communication, share knowledge, raise awareness of Plan’s work, and coordinate with partners.
  • Use of mobiles and other ICTs to support monitoring and evaluation of our programs – improve program quality and “beneficiary” input into our programs.
  • Bringing together our work in areas of youth engagement, youth employment/workforce development/income generation, and governance/participation, and using ICTs as one of the tools to support/enable these areas to have a bigger impact.
  • Continue innovation partnerships with universities and research organizations (ICRWUNC and Syracuse) to help build staff capacity to implement programs on the ground more effectively, and to enable us to better analyze and share results of our programmatic impact.

One factor in driving innovation at any organization is the talent you hire and the partnerships you make. How does your organization take into account innovation when it comes to cultivating talent and partners?

  • E-learning professional development opportunities available to all staff.
  • Staff participation in external courses and seminars.
  • Encouraging staff to write and share their learnings about innovative Plan programs with colleagues from around the world through participation in various conferences and forums.
  • Celebrating innovation and creative pilot programming through annual internal awards.
  • Avid use of Twitter and blogging and other social networks to discuss and keep abreast of the field of ICTs and where development is going in general. We’ve developed key partnerships in the area of ICTs through use of these social media tools. We have a fledgling ICT4D internship program, and we’ve been able to recruit top students from schools at the national level using student and university networks, allowing students to work remotely, keeping in touch via email, Skype, and document sharing tools.

Check out the full listing of all Devex Top 40 Development Innovators on Facebook.

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