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Driving stronger outcomes across Nigeria’s development intervention sector

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It is heartening to see that in the midst of so much dysfunction in Nigeria’s political, economic and socio-cultural life, a slew of brands within the social impact and human development sector continue, against all odds, to do tenacious work and are making a difference for the most vulnerable segments of the Nigerian population.

Following decades of trench work which tends to inflict wear and tear; the leaderships of various Nigerian social intervention programs have of late been emphasizing a relentless corporate focus on organizational, programmatic and process overhaul, intent on bringing deep change and radical impact. This imperative has instigated deep restructurings in recent years, in some of the agencies, speaking to a new strategic focus on achieving paradigm-shifting outcomes.

A traumatized nation cries for a strengthened development intervention sector
Indeed, continuous and rigorous self-scrutiny is called for, if development agencies will pressure out the sustainable impact from a daunting web of prohibitive obstacles. The strategic significance of sturdier, nimbler, and much more optimally resourced country operations in Nigeria is underpinned by an urgent need for an altogether deeper, more integrative programmatic thrust.

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In the face of daily deteriorating and harshly abysmal human development indicators, only a robustly reinforced social impact delivery system is commensurate with the scale and complexities of the reality that development agencies are called upon to confront in a stubbornly stunted Nigeria. In a nation that is reeling under the pall of myriad development and humanitarian emergencies, a determined drive towards fashioning the Nigerian social impact sector into a cutting-edge impact delivery machine finds a strong fit with that reality. A primed social impact delivery system, sharpened for heightened accountability across urgent development imperatives and, across all too loudly declared mandates, forestalls a tendency to merely get engrossed in a whirring hub of sterile processes and cyclical routines.

Who can afford all motion and no movement?
All too often, a vast and all-pervasive development intervention global ecosystem presents as merely a vexing labyrinth of posturing do-gooder behemoths, feeding, with a starchy air of respectability and altruistic purpose, on the bottomless cisterns of the international donor funding value chain. When thinly concealed sanctimony and scrubbed clean institutional hubris have completed yet another yearly cycle of placid conferences, missions and webinars, the dismal throughput is that yet another overflowing library of all together bankrupt sophistry precipitates, busting at the seams with heavy, tedious and unwieldy documentation, while the world’s horrendous inequities and Nigeria’s harshly daunting development deficits persist in all their confounding starkness. While the development intervention global system whirrs all year round, therefore, and amid such maddening bureaucratic gridlock, how damning it is, that there is ever so negligible movement, in terms of the salient human development vectors.

On the long run, unless the human development and social intervention enterprise are fueled with real passion and powered by heart and deep empathy, it will accomplish little more than stoke career ladder climbing for the albeit talent-rich human capital at its disposal while miring highly touted interventionist organizations in sector patented procedures and cynically incremental outcomes.

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A restless dissatisfaction with token advances is therefore quite in sync with the depth of interventionist leadership that Nigeria’s hydra-headed human development issues call for. To be agreed, there is, in a sense, an exasperating tension between the depth and magnitude of the problems that daily traumatize target populations and the depth and magnitude of the barriers that plant themselves ever so stubbornly in the way of winning sustainable solutions for them. Finding the courage, the tenacity, the talent and the humanity to help resolve that tension in favor of truly sustainable solutions is the chief leadership call in the Nigerian development sector today. This is where one finds a powerful attraction to the whole drive towards strengthening leadership and systems across the nation’s beleaguered development agencies.

Optimizing outcomes in Nigeria’s high complexity setting
It is somewhat intimidating to contemplate the sheer enormity of the challenges that beset social impact entrepreneurship in a country like Nigeria. Any serious interrogation of the Nigerian space readily presents a forbidding set of dynamics with regard to navigating a path to truly transformative results. In this area of work specifically, covering all aspects of social impact agencies’ strategic footprint – be they in the context of child rights, food security, gender mainstreaming, safe sex and reproductive health; emergency relief operations, political education and myriads of other desperately urgent national and human development imperatives – the hurdles in the way of achieving sustainable gains for Nigeria’s severely disenfranchised and chronically impoverished populations can be peculiarly daunting. More pressing still is the desperate urgency of the humanitarian imperative.

The whole dynamic of mitigating the sufferings of the hapless masses who are perennially caught in the crossfire of Nigeria’s socio/political conflagrations is daily confronted with deeply rooted systemic, societal and infrastructural impediments. Yet, saving the lives of children and extricating and empowering the women who are caught beneath the crushing wreckage of conflict, superstition and myriad primordial socio-cultural entrapments are daily exacerbating urgencies that brook no idle buck-passing.

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Building sustainable synergies in a challenging policy environment
Crucially, in terms of the policy framework – and this is without prejudice to possible efforts of the current government to make a real difference – one is constrained to concede the harshness of the subsisting local context. By this, one refers to the vitally critical factor of the mediating governance architecture and political environment in which development agencies must daily carry out their onerous task.

At close encounter, the most optimistic view must come to grips with the sobering fact of Nigeria’s endemic leadership deficit, dating back many decades. The intransigence of this administrative albatross has precipitated a state apparatus that is frustratingly trapped in the vortex of its own policy myopia, tenuous attention to social compact and implacable resistance to the whole notion of rectitude in public life. Ask a certain Nuhu Ribadu. Ask a certain perennially reticent and stoically taciturn Muhammadu Buhari of the APC Change! fame. It is against this inhibiting backdrop that any person of goodwill must appreciate the true scale of work international development agencies operating in Nigeria must put in to eke out a semblance of palpable impact.

Now, this is sans any sanctimonious intent to absolve the philanthropy and development sector of any flaws. Certainly, a culture of rigorous and continuous self-scrutiny can only strengthen systems, and clarify and deepen strategies, optimizing efficiencies and last-mile impact.

Relatedly, modesty cannot but be the overriding virtue as the sector carries out its own self-assessment.

Given still deeply troubling gaps that are implicit in our empirical setting, be they in rights, development or humanitarian contexts – the horrendous indices on child marriage being a case in point – it is easy to see how the passion and missionary intensity that should drive the work of human development agencies must continue to stoke ever fiercer ambition on the part of every true practitioner, regarding the incredible amount of work that still needs to be done.

Beyond careerism, a true sense of ownership
The restless sense that there is so much more needing to be done, even where salient metrics indicate encouraging results, must remain a catalyzing force, instigating deep organizational transformations and upscaling of efficiencies across the nation’s development intervention value chain. This gripping sense of urgency and the gritty passion that attends such must increasingly drive an obsessive pursuit of real, tangible and measurable outcomes. To be sure, and despite a universal need for vigilance as earlier explicated, such zeal and vigor are sometimes discernible in the intense focus, relentless campaigns and unyielding tenacity that one finds in the work of some international development agencies and their home spurn civil society collaborators. Betraying the organic linkages that span the global development intervention orbit, it’s easy to find that the fire with which a country office leadership is able to ignite a new level of passion among local operatives and among indigenous CSO collaborators itself often draws on a raging surge within the hallowed halls of its own global parent organization.

Altogether, the integrity of purpose and fervency of commitment, and, when set against an all-pervading self-absorption on the part of Nigeria’s own rent-seeking elite, deep-rooted fixation with the human condition – be that the fate of the rag strewn almajri boy or the serially bloodied countenance of a battered wife in the deep jungles of the Delta – must be the defining motivation that propels development intervention and social impact actors. As is perhaps to be gleaned in the epic lives of development intervention icons like Mother Theresa, Warren Buffet, Bill and Melinda Gates or Tai Solarin, abiding depth of care and a heartfelt sense of ownership will be the true enduring drivers of definitive humanitarian accomplishment.

Suleiman, a political economist and development communications veteran, wrote from Lagos.

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