NOT AN OFFICAL ENTITY OF ROTARY INTERNATIONAL

The Rotary Foundation launched Rotary Grants, Formerly known as the Future Vision Plan, on July 1, 2013.
We encourage all Rotarians to become educated on the new grant structure by using the available RI training materials augmented by the additional information provided on this website. If, after considering all of the facts, you wish to support our informational effort or provide other feedback, please click as appropriate. More importantly, please make your feelings known to your district leaders.

THE SUSTAINABILITY PARADOX

Rotary Grants (Future Vision) is configured to encourage Large, High Impact Projects. In order to meet Global Grant minimum budget requirements, some projects must be made larger than really needed or even wanted by the target beneficiary. Depending on the nature of the project, the added size and complexity can make these more difficult to sustain; therefore the concepts of project sustainability and project size may be working at cross purposes. We call this the "Sustainability Paradox".  

The Rotary Foundation defines sustainability as the capacity for maintaining outcomes long term (sic) to serve the ongoing need of a community after grant funds have been expended.  TRF further defines six pillars of sustainability:

COMMUNITY
NEEDS


Developing projects that meet a real community need.  This is usually done by completing a Needs Assessment in cooperation with the target beneficiary.

APPROPRIATE
TECHNOLOGY


 Using materials and technology that is readily available in the host country.  Ideally, local suppliers and contractors are utilized.

 FUNDING
MODEL


 Implementing a user fee structure or other method to ensure that a permanent source of funding is available after grant funds have been expended.

KNOWLEDGE
TRANSFER


 Providing formal and informal training to ensure that local residents are able to continue proper management and maintenance of the project. 

COMMUNITY
MOTIVATION


 Making sure that the project goals represent what the community really wants.  Ownership by the target beneficiary is a key to long term success.

MONITORING & 
EVALUATION


 Developing a methodology to ensure data collection in accordance with guidelines established in TRF's 15 Page Monitoring and Evaluation Supplement. 






We support five pillars of sustainability that directly contribute to maintaining outcomes, however we are concerned about monitoring and evaluation.  This sixth pillar creates a substantial burden for grant applicants and host clubs, and seems primarily designed to sustain high level oversight by the foundation staff.

Rotarian Bob Selinger from District 9680 (northern Sydney and Central Australian Coast) sent us an old story about the the do-gooder who rocked up to a poor village in some part of Asia. It had a serious problem - getting water from the river. So the do-gooder imported a large pump from the USA, operated by diesel - the latest and greatest. At the official unveiling ceremony all the big wigs congratulated each other on their success in solving the village's problem. Everyone went home and the villagers were pleased with the new machine, which really did solve the problem. However, some time later the machine stopped - no more diesel and no way of getting more.  So the machine remained idle, slowly rusting away and the villagers returned to the inefficient methods of the past - carrying the water in buckets, done usually by the women and children. 

A new do-gooder turned up and saw the same problem. This person also noticed that the villagers used bicycles to travel 

around the place. Together with the villagers he made a simple pump which was operated by the bicycle chain - the rear wheel of the bike having been removed. Villagers took their turn to pedal the pump; children competed for the honor. Simple technology in which the locals had ownership won the day.  

The biggest and most modern solution was not sustainable and therefore was not the best solution.  The best solution was the simpler arrangement that could be maintained by the villagers!

Although this is an imaginary story, we are told there are many examples where this fate has befallen water projects that have been completed by Rotary and other organizations. Such examples are frequently cited as the reason that sustainability is crucial under Future Vision.  

We embrace the concept of sustainability and the five pillars that support it.

Unfortunately, the designers of Future Vision have chosen to mandate a sixth pillar to support the concept of "Demonstrated Impact". In addition to actual project sustainability, project teams must design and implement measurement schemes to generate standardized metrics that may be used by TRF for analysis and corporate promotion. When discussing sustainability, The Rotary Foundation often (usually?) gives little if any attention to monitoring and evaluation, however this requirement is declared essential when it is time to approve a Global Grant application.

For the example cited above, TRF's 15 page Global Grant Monitoring and Evaluation Supplement specifies the following standard measures:

1. Total number of direct beneficiaries.

2. Number of people with access to improved sources of drinking water.

3. Number of individuals trained.

4. Number of communities with a functioning governance committee in place.

5. Number of communities utilizing a tariff/usage fee structure.

Although not specifically mentioned in the supplement, we know of at least one application where Grant Coordinators requested information on how such data would be collected, names of individuals or groups that would do the data collection, and qualifications of these groups.


Based on experience documented in our case study, some grant coordinators might request a description of training that villagers would receive, who would conduct the training, and how the training would be evaluated.

The "Sustainability Paradox" arises when the scope of easily sustainable projects must be increased to meet the Global Grant minimum budget of US$ 30,000. In Bob's story, chances are that neither project would have been eligible for a Global Grant. The original version (with diesel power) would most likely have been large enough but probably denied for failure to meet the Appropriate Technology and Knowledge Transfer pillars of sustainability. The second version (with human power and use of locally available materials) would have been unlikely to meet the Global Grant minimum size.  Under Future Vision, it is likely that neither project would have been given a chance!

In a separate article, District 3080 PDG and 2013-16 DRFC Madhukar Malhotra notes that Sustainability needs to be applied with flexibility.  He notes that many projects traditionally supported by Our Foundation have inherently Sustainable Benefits and therefore should be supported under Future Vision. Please click here to view his well presented discussion.  Madhukar has more recently posted his belief that the project which led to the creation of Polio Plus would not have been approved under the current guidelines.

There is no doubt that mechanical items require periodic maintenance and will eventually need repair.  In such cases, it is imperative that a transfer of knowledge be accomplished to address these issues.  There are times when this is simply unnecessary.  Here are two examples:

PDG Bill Parker from District 7670 in western North Carolina (USA) has reported that their longstanding support of The Wheelchair Foundation will no longer be eligible for Global Grant funding. The stated reason is that this group does not provide adequate training to the users.  A Rotarian expert in grant writing advised the group that TRF feels "it is better for a person to be left crawling in the dirt than to provide a wheelchair without proper instruction on how to get in or out of it". In a recent Grant Management seminar, this individual doubled down by stating that "the Wheelchair Foundation was a 'feel good' program that allowed Rotarians to give their wheelchair and have their "photo op" so that they felt good about themselves,  but it did not help the wheelchair recipient!!!" PDG Parker provided the above photo and was personally sitting in the room when these statements were made. He also informed us that a top official from the RI Staff refused to even discuss this subject in a separate multi-district meeting. We question how our foundation could seriously embrace such a position.  We also ask if Rotarians are not supposed to 'feel good' about their service efforts, what is the point of volunteering their time and treasure?

In another case, a project team that has been providing eyeglasses to villagers in third world countries is being told that they will have to provide eye examinations and follow up care as part of the project. Once again, the rationale is that it is better to leave a person virtually blind than to give him a pair of used eyeglasses that might restore only part of his sight. Again, it appears that Future Vision is allowing a narrow and restricted view of sustainability to override common sense during evaluation of Global Grant projects.

We have heard of numerous cases where Global Grant Applications have been withdrawn, or applications rejected due to difficulties similar to those described above. High level TRF sources have reported that over one in three Global Grant Proposals were either abandoned or rejected before a formal application was submitted during the Future Vision Pilot.

Rotarians Matter Most embraces the concept of sustainability; however we believe the onerous requirements of "Demonstrated Impact" and inflexible application of other mandates are a serious drawback to Future Vision.