Jakarta, May 9, 2011 - What relevant lessons can Indonesia’s PNPM Mandiri, the largest CDD program in the world, offer to Afghanistan’s National Solidarity Program (NSP), the second largest, and vice versa? Which features and challenges do they have in common? What practical advice can be shared in the areas of competitive block grants, decentralization, female empowerment, project monitoring, and so on?
These questions were among many posed during a visit in early-May by a delegation from Afghanistan to study different aspects of PNPM and share their experiences on related topics with their Indonesian counterparts. The visit was different compared to previous visits by foreign delegations in several ways. First, it was organized within the framework of the G20 initiative on South-to-South knowledge exchange supported by the Government of Indonesia (GOI). Second, it was conceived from the start as the first of three visits that would build on each other with financial and technical assistance from AusAID and the World Bank-supported PNPM Support Facility. Third and perhaps most importantly, it was designed as an innovative two-way learning, collaborative, and long-term process rather than as a one-off event that merely highlighted the success stories.
The visit, involving both meetings in Jakarta and field visits, provided some essential information to the Afghan delegation as they further scale up and improve aspects of NSP. For example, the group that traveled to Aceh had the opportunity to meet with the governor of the province and understand firsthand how communities were able to recover and reconstruct quickly in the wake of natural disasters. They also learned some useful lessons on how Aceh was able to reintegrate former combatants into its communities, despite the difficulties posed by a complex political landscape. In Nusa Tenggara Barat Province, another group got to see how the village planning, prioritization, and implementation cycle works in detail within PNPM and to consider which features that are different in Indonesia might be relevant for Afghanistan.
Finally, both groups were able to meet facilitators and beneficiaries of PEKKA, an autonomous NGO linked to PNPM that focuses on empowering women in situations of vulnerability, particularly widows. Conversations with villagers reinforced the idea that large community development programs do not meet the needs of all members of a community and that a program such as PEKKA supports disadvantaged members who ordinarily receive little attention. Having suffered decades of war, Afghanistan has a large population of internally displaced people, returnees, and widows who can greatly benefit from a program like PEKKA.
The Afghan delegation also presented their experience in a couple of key areas: Management Information Systems (MIS), complaints handling, and facilitator training, all critical challenges for the GOI since the quality of facilitator training and MIS has suffered as PNPM scaled up significantly starting in 2008. Of special interest to the Indonesians were the concrete steps NSP took to revamp and simplify its MIS and develop its corps of facilitators into well-trained and respected professionals.
Given that the visit emphasized two-way learning, sufficient time was built into the agenda for reflection and discussion of ongoing challenges and lessons learned. As Wais Barmak, Afghanistan's Deputy Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development observed, “this is a unique opportunity for similar programs to share experiences and to reflect on what has been working or not working.” Initial insights – which will be followed up in future visits – were also shared on the pros and cons of multi-year budgeting versus yearly budgeting and the status of both NSP and PNPM as they evolve and as discussions on their future role take place.
On the basis of oral and written feedback and a report prepared by the Afghan delegation that will document what they have taken away, the next visit will be planned. It is also expected that a delegation from Indonesia will travel to Afghanistan in the fall of 2011 to learn more about NSP and continue the process of South-to-South exchange. Slamet Seno Adji, the Secretary to the Minister of National Development Planning of Indonesia, commented at a press conference organized to discuss the visit’s findings, “this focus on exchanging experience on community-driven development is one of the concrete ways we are realizing the vision of learning across countries, which is an important priority for the G20.”