An independent evaluation of the Finnish Refugee Council’s (FRC) development programme has shown that the work implemented by the organization is, relevant, cost-efficient and effective. Among their final recommendations, the evaluators highlighted that the Finnish Government should increase the financial support given to non-governmental organizations’ programmes to make it possible to achieve similar positive results in the future.
Finnish Refugee Council’s development cooperation is mainly focused on the education of adults and refugees. The work of the organization during 2010-2015 benefited directly about 79 000 people in five countries – Uganda, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Thailand and Myanmar. In addition, the FRC’s Ebola information activities in communities and educational radio programmes reached hundreds of thousands of people. It is estimated that the FRC development cooperation programme positively affects even larger population because the empowerment through literacy and livelihood skills impacts target populations in many areas of life.
The number of beneficiaries of FRC’s work during the period was almost double against the number planned under the original budget (worth € 12.2 million) of the development programme programme. However, from 2016 onwards FRC’s budget for international assistance has decreased by 40 per cent as a result of reduction of the Finnish Foreign Ministry’s development support to NGOs.
The independent evaluation points out that reduction of the support to Finnish Refugee Council or any other NGO under evaluation cannot be justified with the alleged lack of results.
Therefore, as the NGOs have had to reduce and terminate their projects as a result of the support cuts, the evaluators recommend that the development support to the evaluated NGOs should be increased.
NGO work empowers and reduces conflicts
Refugee Council is one of the few Finnish organizations whose activities focus on education for the refugee adult population. The evaluators noted that the work of the organization clearly meets the target group’s priorities and has led to positive results.
According to their findings, the FRC development programme has achieved significant results. These include, for example, reduction of internal conflicts within communities and families, increased number of people involved in the decision-making processes and the fact that the income generated from the small businesses supported/facilitated by the programme has increased social cohesion amongst the refugees.
It has also been highlighted how self-esteem of participants to FRC education programmes was strengthened; correlations between enhanced self-esteem and improved beneficiaries’ health and nutrition have been found as well.
“In my opinion, our greatest achievement is the extent and effects of the long-term work that we have done together with our local partner in delivering the adult literacy programme to all parts of the country. Whilst many other similar post-crisis programmes and programme support have been now downsized, the importance of Finnish Refugee Council’s work has increased even more. The Government of Liberia and other organizations are clearly aware of this”, says Markku Vesikko, the Country Director of Finnish Refugee Council in Liberia.
FRC intervention and results have been considered relevant also because they are consistent with both the target countries’ national policy objectives and the official development policy of Finland. Field visits and observations indicate that the FRC’s programme focuses on reducing inequalities by empowering refugees, and that its work focuses particularly on vulnerable groups such as older people and persons with disabilities.
Education is the foundation for the future
The evaluators note that the skills acquired through the FRC literacy, life skills and technical trainings serve as basis for the beneficiaries’ strengthened self-confidence and for improving their practical problem-solving abilities. This gives participants more opportunities to positively influence their own communities; as an example among many others, the support to their children’s school work and attendance was reported.
According to the evaluators, this is not enough to change the society unless people establish and act through their own organizations or join existing ones. On the other hand, the evaluators admit that it is challenging under unstable conditions and/or in refugee contexts to promote the development of the host country’s own civil society. For example, establishment of refugees’ own organizations are not permitted in (some) refugee settlement areas.
The evaluation states that beneficiaries who received small business trainings are strongly committed to their businesses and are likely to continue to do so. The results of FRC’s support are sustainable also because the skills acquired through education continue to be useful when the refugees return to their countries of origin or move out of the refugee settlement areas.
Employees skilled and committed
FRC activities have been estimated as very cost-efficient in target countries as well as at the head office. Employees of the organization are described as skillful and committed to their tasks.
The evaluation shows that it is unlikely that FRC would have been able to set up alternative management and implementation strategies more cost-efficient than the ones applied; FRC operational frameworks are considered economically the best possible. For example, in Liberia, the FRC has developed digital data collection and monitoring assessment methods to enable remote monitoring of the activities.
”These help to save costs and reduce the risks related to the programme implementation. Local programme activities can be maintained for months without our presence in a community, if, for example, Ebola outbreak or raining season prevent the travelling to the field”, Markku Vesikko says.
The evaluators acknowledge that the countries targeted by FRC allow the organization to pay special attention to forgotten refugee crisis.
On the other hand, the evaluators also suggest that in the future FRC should select its target countries among those refugees resettled in Finland come from. In this way the organization could more effectively influence the public discussion on refugees in Finland. FRC has taken note of this recommendation, but, at the moment, any expansion of the development cooperation programme into new areas is not possible because of the budget cuts.
FRC will also continue developing and improving monitoring and evaluation procedures for reporting the results and learning purposes, as recommended by the evaluation.
FRC development cooperation programme 2010-15 was evaluated under the Evaluation of the Programme based support through Finnish Civil Society and is one of the first six evaluations on the 22 Finnish Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) receiving multiannual programme-based support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) of Finland.
This evaluation was conducted by Niras and commissioned by MFA; its purpose is to provide evidence-based information and guidance on how to 1) improve the results-based management approach of the programme-based support to Civil Society, and 2) enhance the achievement of results from Finnish support to civil society. FRC programme.
As per OECD/DAC criteria for evaluating the development assistance, this evaluation focused on relevance, efficiency, effectiveness, impact and sustainability.