In our line of work, there are many reasons why a program may end — it can be from both challenges and opportunities. Development isn’t easy: working with governments requires political commitment; what works at small scale may not deliver results when expanded significantly; and funding is needed not only to launch new programs but also to continue regular delivery.
On the flip side, it’s possible that joint commitment — from Evidence Action, governments, and donors — may enable us to solve a challenge for the long-term.
We’re in business to improve wellbeing and reduce poverty, and when we’ve enabled that to happen, we hope to be able to step away with confidence that the impact of a program will endure.
Currently, our exited programs fall into the first bucket — but given our progress, particularly in supporting governments through Deworm the World, we’re optimistic that we’ll soon have a track record of exit for the second.
We’re committed to transparency and sharing the learnings we gain as we evaluate promising interventions through our Accelerator. When an intervention doesn’t measure up to our standards at any point, it’s deprioritized.
Our thresholds are high, and we stick to them — stepping back from ideas that don’t deliver truly game-changing outcomes. That’s because we’re always looking for interventions that have the greatest potential for impact and the best value for money.
Here are a few case studies of our exited programs, including the reasons we decided to exit or not further scale.
Winning Start: A Level Learning Field for all Kids
In 2014, Evidence Action initiated the Winning Start program, which was designed to connect unemployed youth volunteers to primary schools, where they conducted foundational literacy and numeracy sessions using the proven Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) approach. We partnered with the Government of Kenya to launch and support the Greatness United – or G-United – national youth service program built on the Winning Start model. We worked with our Government of Kenya partners, particularly the Ministry of Education, to refine G-United to effectively address several key national priorities, including improving education outcomes, creating enriching personal and professional development opportunities for young people, and, importantly for Kenya, promoting national cohesion across the country.
From 2014 through 2018, G-United maintained strong political and financial support from the Government, and the program successfully deployed four cohorts of talented, committed youth volunteers across Kenya; across cohorts, over 2,000 volunteers directly engaged over 50,000 struggling learners in literacy, while building cohesion through homestays in local communities in nearly half of all counties in the country. Across cohorts, volunteers reported that 65% of learners engaged in learning sessions progressed by at least one reading level; in both Kiswahili and English, the percentage of illiterate learners fell by over half, and the percentage of learners achieving proficiency more than doubled.
In 2019, insufficient resourcing resulted in both G-United and Winning Start implementation being put on an indefinite pause; given resource constraints, and our strategic shift toward large-scale health delivery interventions, we have decided to wind down and hibernate Winning Start for the foreseeable future. We will continue sharing lessons from our experience with Winning Start over time.
No Lean Season: Reducing Seasonal Income Insecurity
Every year, millions of agricultural laborers and their families face hunger during the lean season – the period between planting and harvest when farm-based jobs are scarce. Between 2008-2011, a research team from Yale University, the London School of Economics, the University of Sydney, and Innovations for Poverty Action conducted an experiment to explore whether offering rural agricultural laborers in Bangladesh small grants or loans during the lean season would cause them to migrate for work and consequently improve their lives. They found that households that received the money were substantially more likely to send someone to work outside the village during the lean season, which significantly increased their caloric intake.
In 2014, we partnered with researchers to replicate this study and, following positive results from that round of experimentation, worked with a local non-profit in Bangladesh to turn the evidence into a small-scale program we called No Lean Season. No Lean Season provided a loan of roughly $20 to agricultural laborers, conditional on their migrating to find work. Despite the initial evidence, we had many outstanding questions about the program’s overall impact, including questions about the types of health and economic effects that large-scale migration might produce both in villages that sent out workers and in towns and cities that received a sudden influx of new labor. We and our partners committed to progressively testing No Lean Season to assess the program’s cost-effectiveness before making a decision on whether to scale it.
In 2017, we worked with our partners to test No Lean Season at scale for the first time, issuing loans to over 40,000 agricultural laborers. Unfortunately, the results from this round of research showed limited impact. We openly discussed our hypothesis that this may have happened due to implementation challenges observed during the RCT and we decided to undertake a second round of “at-scale” testing.
Unfortunately, in 2018 we encountered other challenges, including an issue with our implementation partner that necessitated the termination of our relationship with them. After weighing the costs of rebuilding No Lean Season against other opportunities available to Evidence Action, and against the disappointing results from the 2017 randomized controlled trial, we made the difficult decision to terminate No Lean Season. It remains unclear whether migration subsidies are a cost-effective solution to seasonal poverty among farmworkers and while we are committed to sharing data and lessons from our experience that may help answer this question, we are not pursuing No Lean Season for scale-up.
Community Health Promoters (NEEP): Simple Nutrition Messaging for Mothers
In 2014, we designed and evaluated NEEP – a program designed to provide poor households with critical information about infant feeding, such as what types of affordable and readily available foods are good sources of key nutrients, how to prepare foods in the most optimal and hygienic ways, and advice on breastfeeding.
The goal of the information campaign was to reduce child-stunting and malnutrition which are major issues in Africa and Asia. The campaign was designed to take advantage of Dispensers for Safe Water existing rural delivery system to share the information cost-effectively and, if the intervention was found to be impactful, at scale. NEEP was modelled on a similar and effective program in Malawi which was found to reduce infant mortality and improve height-for-age outcomes among young children.
We piloted NEEP in Western Kenya and partnered with Marco Vera-Hernández from the Institute for Fiscal Study (IFS) to evaluate it. The findings are documented in an evaluation report that is now available online.
A significant contamination challenge limited the evaluation which generated inconclusive results. Consequently, we are no longer pursuing NEEP as a potential new program. We will be sharing lessons from our experience with and evaluation of this intervention over time.
No Sugar by Young 1ove: Innovative HIV Education in Botswana
Across the world, and in Sub-Saharan Africa in particular, women and girls bear the brunt of HIV infections. Transactional, cross generational relationships, which are relatively common in Sub-Saharan Africa, are among the key drivers of the disproportionately high rates of HIV among young women and girls. This is because older men are more likely to have HIV than younger women and girls and younger women are less able to negotiate safe sex practices with older men.
In 2014, the Botswana based organization Young 1ove designed and pioneered an innovative program, No Sugar, to raise awareness among primary school girls about the dangers of “Sugar Daddies”—older partners offering financial gifts in exchange for a sexual relationship. No Sugar was premised on a 2005 experimental study which found that girls who were given information on HIV prevalence, disaggregated by age and gender, were 28% less likely to be pregnant than girls who received messages promoting abstinence only and girls in a control group. In the study, pregnancy was used as a proxy for unprotected sex, an indicator of exposure to HIV. To gauge whether the effects from the initial study could be replicated in a new context, Young 1ove opted to test No Sugar in Botswana.
We partnered with Young 1ove to design No Sugar, the evaluation of the program, and map out potential scale-up options for No Sugar across Botswana and Southern Africa. Ultimately, the evaluation produced ambiguous results, showing no clear positive effect on its intended outcomes. With no clear evidence of No Sugar’s impact on HIV or pregnancy, Young 1ove and it’s partners, including Evidence Action, made a decision not to scale the No Sugar program. We are proud of that decision, and have shared lessons from our experience with No Sugar in a two-part blog series.