HONIARA, November 28, 2013 - Yesterday, officials from the national government and eight provincial governments that are implementing activities under the Solomon Islands Rural Development Program (RDP) concluded a two day workshop to review the program.
RDP was launched in early 2008, and has three main components: (a) investments in small-scale, community infrastructure in more than 90% of the wards in the country; (b) agricultural and livestock support services to farmers; and (c) access to finance for rural businesses. The workshop focused mainly on the community infrastructure component, in particular, the community-driven development (CDD) approach which is being used to implement the component.
Community-driven development (CDD) puts the responsibility for project identification, implementation and sustainability in the hands of the beneficiary communities themselves. Communities get together to identify their highest priorities, design projects to meet their needs, manage project funds, construct infrastructure, and plan for the operations and maintenance of their new rural services.
The benefits of the CDD approach include: enhanced accountability as communities manage their own funds; stimulating demand for better government services; more cost-effective due to leveraging community resources; etc. In the long run, the aim is to move communities away from a hand-out mentality and towards an approach where services and assets are well cared for, and used as a basis for further improving the living standards in rural communities.
The workshop provided the opportunity for government line ministries that are involved with the implementation of RDP, the provincial governments, project staff and development partners supporting the Program to share perspectives based on their experience with the CDD approach that the RDP is using.
The workshop generated discussions around lessons learnt, successes, and challenges relating to implementation of RDP from donors, the Project Management Unit, right down to the community and village levels. Participants were able to identify key solutions that can be used to address those challenges.
Findings of a recent evaluation of the RDP that was conducted across 87 communities in four provinces were shared. Whilst the findings identify specific challenges the Program is facing and highlights areas for improvement, it shows an overall increase in satisfaction with access to health, education, water and electricity services in RDP communities of more than 90%, and a reduction in travel time to water sources of more than 10%.
Women who have participated in RDP, in particular members of the Subproject Implementation Committees that manage the subprojects, have significantly benefitted by gaining increases stature in their communities and becoming more active in their communities, and outside.
The World Bank, the donor which is supporting RDP implementation, shared at the workshop international lessons in the evolution of Community-driven Development Programs that it is involved with in other countries including Indonesia, Timor-Leste and the Philippines.
It identified challenges that are similar to issues that RDP has, and highlighted international best practice solutions that can be applied to those problems.
The two-day workshop was organized to help Government and its development partners in the RDP to plan and design the next phase of the Program, being proposed to allow RDP to continue operating when phase one comes to a close at the beginning of 2015.
Speaking at the close of the workshop on Wednesday, Permanent Secretary for MDPAC, Jeremiah Manele acknowledged the support of development partners in the last six years towards rural development in Solomon Islands.
Mr Manele said the geographical disparity in Solomon Islands is a huge challenge, which means that development approaches like the CDD is relevant to the country. He encouraged continued dialogue on how best to approach development in this context.
Temotu Premier, Father Brown Beu who was among other premiers and provincial secretaries at the workshop said he now has a complete view of the RDP arrangement, and challenges it had experienced over the years. He said issues of ownership, maintenance and the political will is important.
“I will return to my provincial executive and look at what we need to do to support community projects that are funded by RDP and other donors, because there is need for the province to take ownership of these sub-projects to be able to support communities to manage and sustain them”, he said.
Senior Operations Officer for the World Bank in Solomon Islands, Erik Johnson said the workshop really helps the government and the Bank with ideas that will be considered for design of the next phase of RDP.
“The workshop identified issues of inclusion, better awareness and information about the project, coordination at the ward level, better training and capacity building for project staff in the field, issues with technical design, transport, procurement, co-financing, and how much to bring the RDP into the provincial governments. These are important for when we consider the second phase of RDP.”
The RDP is a US$ 37 million program supported by the Australia Government, World Bank, European Union, International Fund for Agriculture Development IFAD, the Solomon Islands Government, with co-financing and contributions from members of Parliament, Members of the provincial Assembly and local communities.
Over the course of four funding cycles in eight of the country’s nine provinces except Renbel, about 300,000 people - more than half the population - will have benefitted from program investments including in water supply, classrooms and health aid posts.