By Hannah Graham, Managing Director, CGA Technologies
It is my enormous privilege to write this post as the new Managing Director of CGA Technologies. I’ve worked with this incredibly committed team of people for over a decade now, initially in South Sudan, later across East Africa and most recently West Africa.
This extraordinary group has taught me a lot of things – chief among them is why we do this work. The question of ‘why’ is particularly important because it informs our approach to development. As we think about the improving the quality of life of the communities we serve – in many cases, communities that we come from, or that include our own friends and neighbours – we consider what it would take to reduce the impact of the poverty so many face, to strengthen the services they’re entitled to, and to strengthen the accountability of service providers to them. Rarely can an intervention in only one area or sector yield the sort of impact on individuals that would be felt if we worked holistically and sustainably, trying to draw together the threads of education, social protection, health and beyond.
The bulk of CGA’s work is on the implementation of programmes and systems, but one of our recent research assignments in Sierra Leone on the barriers to education faced by Out of School Children reinforced this approach. The Government of Sierra Leone made great strides in boosting access to education when it made both secondary and primary education free; but many of the most marginalised children (particularly girls, children with disabilities, and children who have lost parents) still face insurmountable barriers to attending school. While some barriers to education may be addressed at the school itself or by the Education Ministry – and indeed, the Government of Sierra Leone has set out progressive plans to do so through the Radical Inclusion Policy – many of the most vulnerable face challenges within the home or community which changes at the school cannot address.
Be they financial or linked to protection and wellbeing, some of the barriers stifling the 'demand' side of education can only be addressed through simultaneous support from social protection systems, sexual and reproductive health services, and child protection mechanisms. Without the involvement of the latter, many children who have never attended school and who aren’t on the radar of teachers or officials will also simply slip unnoticed between the cracks of national systems, and won’t even be identified as needing support in the first place. Without working holistically, across sectors, joining up data and systems to first make sure that all those who need support are being targeted, not just those who are visible, and then tracking the outcome and impact of such support, we’re only ever addressing part of the problem.
One of the things people often mention when they talk about CGA’s work is our 'energy'. I think this is underpinned by our ambition. When we think about the development impact we strive for, we want to not only avoid silo-ing ourselves by sector, but also to show how it’s possible to push preconceived notions of what’s 'feasible' in terms of scale. In any context, we strive to work nationwide, through national systems where relevant and appropriate. We want government to lead this work from the front, at all levels – from central, national-capital level, down to local authorities and even individual offices or facilities – and to do this throughout the country.
Only by starting from the perspective of knowing who those individuals are who require support and services, and with the assumption that their needs lie across sectors or ministries, are we going to enable those who most need support to access all that they need to truly improve their wellbeing.
Only by striving for national change, led by empowered and informed officials at all levels, will we bring about change systematically and sustainably, in a way that’s accountable to citizens.
I look forward to setting out more about how we are already working to do this and plan to build further on this approach.
Hannah Graham is the new Managing Director of CGA Technologies.