For a country of its size, Vietnam is very diverse – culturally and geographically. There are over 54 ethnicities sprinkled over the hilly north and beachy central to the forests in the south. Although Vietnam has jumped to a lower middle income country status after being one of the poorest 2 decades ago, there are millions of people who live barely above the poverty line and lead extremely vulnerable lives. Nearly half of the them belong to ethnic minorities and comprise two-thirds of the extreme poor in Vietnam. Plan International is an organization that aims to build a solid foundation for children to grow in a society that protects and respects their rights. Keeping the core value of promoting child rights, Plan Vietnam works in the remotest of areas with the largest ethnic minority groups (EMG) to address this problem of social exclusion.
Social exclusion can take several forms. For instance, the standardized curriculum in schools is in Vietnamese, which is as foreign a language to children from EMGs as it is to me. Naturally, these kids are at a disadvantage leading to higher dropout rates. The public health infrastructure in rural areas are either inaccessible or barely meet the criteria for proper treatment. A child from an ethnic minority is three times less likely to survive within its first 5 years than a child who is not from an EMG. Also, only 10-40% of births in EMG mothers are assisted by a skilled attendant as compared to 94% of births in non-EMG mothers. All of this could be because of geographical barriers in EMG locations or mere stereotypes – regardless, it is an aspect that requires attention and that is what Plan Vietnam is attempting to address by providing access to and knowledge about basic facilities to children.
I am amazed by the organization’s global spread of working in over 50 countries across the entire spectrum of child development – education, health, gender equality, emergency assistance, hygiene, protection and many more. It takes an incredible amount of passion and perseverance to move towards this mammoth mission. For an organization as big as Plan, which implements hundreds of projects related to child rights, it is imperative to have a strong foundation in Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) that can assess the progress of each project and ensure that all efforts are aligned with the overall goal. And that is where I fit in.
As an M&E Specialist Fellow, my primary focus is on strengthening the M&E framework at Plan International Vietnam. So “strengthening” could mean a lot of things, which is why I chose that word. Plan Vietnam just started its fourth Country Strategic Plan (CSPIV) that is going to direct its work from 2017 to 2021. Stepping into this new CSP, the M&E team has envisioned a different strategy for analysis and evaluation. Currently, all projects are quite decentralized with a separate team working towards results mainly for donor/partner reports. Without changing this structure, we want to integrate an M&E platform that streamlines efforts across all projects to create a standard analysis of results – kind of like an internal mechanism to understand the progress of Plan International within Vietnam.
As we move towards identifying barriers in development and implementing well-designed projects to address these barriers, we need to know for sure whether our efforts are actually creating the impact we hope for. Solid M&E systems provide exactly that certainty. Apart from measuring progress, it builds confidence for policymaking decisions, encourages accountability and improves practice. Can’t say no to such a good deal! I want to end with a picture of a room at the Plan office – pretty encouraging no?