The paradox of demonstrating impact

The paradox of demonstrating impact

/ 05:07 AM October 27, 2023

Government entities are usually granted access to confidential and intelligence funds. The use of these funds provides a level of flexibility regarding transparency and accountability, given that even with regular funds, government entities are far from being paragons of virtue. Thus, the public cannot expect government-administered development programs to demonstrate impact with incontrovertible evidence from independent evaluations.

In contrast, legitimate nongovernment organizations (NGOs), regardless of whether they receive funding from foreign sources or the government, are held to a much higher standard of transparency and accountability. They are obligated to account for the use of funds and provide tangible and measurable results. And always, with particular emphasis on the overall impact of their projects, programs, or policies.

In the development context, “impact” pertains to the measurable and meaningful change or sustained improvement in the lives of beneficiaries from poor communities. Demonstrating impact provides a reasonable and persuasive case on the program’s effectiveness. It is more about contribution rather than attribution. It is less rigorous than proving impact, which requires establishing a causal link between the program and the observed outcomes.

It is noteworthy that demonstrating impact does not guarantee future success. The interplay of time, place, people, and circumstances can constrain impact. What was effective yesterday might falter today or tomorrow. Strategies that were successful within the Kikuyu community in Kenya may not yield the same results among the Mangyans in the Philippines. What succeeds in Ratanakiri in Cambodia might fall short in Gazipur in Bangladesh. An approach previously deemed ineffective may emerge as a game-changer in the present or future. The competent and committed development worker of the past may not be as effective today.


But what exactly does demonstrating impact achieve?

It assures donors and grant providers that their funds, along with the time and effort invested by NGOs and other stakeholders, are being put to meaningful use. It provides incontrovertible evidence that NGOs are contributing to sustained improvements in the lives of poor families and their communities. It validates the idea that development work, when carried out effectively, generates not only short-term but also long-term results. It underscores the effectiveness of development aid when implemented competently and with transparency. It emphasizes the reliability of poor families and their communities as development partners, and reinforces the notion that impact constitutes the bottom line of development. It illustrates the reason for being of NGOs as well.

Demonstrating impact enhances the image of the implementing NGO. The ability to demonstrate impact convinces diverse donors and grant providers to continue their financial support. Thus, NGOs go to great lengths to demonstrate and even showcase the impact of their programs, projects, and policies.

When it comes to demonstrating impact, how can NGOs accurately assess whether children are developing both physically and mentally? They should begin crawling by the age of 10 months and exhibit language development at around 24 months. Enrollment in primary school occurs at approximately six years of age, while high school completion usually takes place at around 18 years. Recognizing that parental financial support is not perpetual, young adults eventually seek employment or find work after finishing school or earlier when necessary.


But even if they fail to demonstrate impact, NGOs are instrumental in mitigating the adverse consequences of economic downturns, disasters, health crises, and poor governance. This, in turn, safeguards poor families from financial shocks and prevents them from going hungry for an extended period. It lays the foundation for collaborative efforts between NGOs and governments in improving the lives of poor families and their communities by “helping them help themselves.” This has been the good fortune of NGOs for a long time. They are always in a win-win situation unless they antagonize the powers that be.



Nono Felix worked for an international NGO as a corporate planning, monitoring, and evaluation manager, covering 13 Asian countries.

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TAGS: confidential funds, intelligence funds, opinion

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