After 40 years working in Sri Lanka in the areas of mental health, active citizenship, and supporting the post-conflict civil society, we closed our country programme in March 2014. This post-closure evaluation examined a wide sample of our work in the country.
The evaluation was carried out with four Sri Lankan partner organisations. Two work in mental health services:
- the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a government hospital; and
- Shantiham, an NGO.
Two are NGOs working to promote and protect human rights and democracy, through the development of a stronger Sri Lankan civil society:
- Peace and Community Action (PCA), and
- Jaffna Social Action Centre (JSAC).
One year after we finished working in Sri Lanka, 75% of the skills, income, and process developments that we supported were being sustained, highlighting the effectiveness and continued positive impact of our approach to capacity development.
“All non-governmental organisations talk about capacity building, but nobody shows locals how to do it - this is the huge difference with VSO.”
Staff member at Shantiham Association for Health and Counselling, Sri Lanka
New ways of thinking and attitudes enabled a fundamental change in how services and projects were delivered. Examples of this include: introducing cognitive dehavioural therapy, professionalising the role of psychosocial workers, and enabling one partner to evolve from a 'humanitarian relief' to a 'community development' approach, focusing on rebuilding communities following conflict.
Securing donor funding
One partner estimates that VSO volunteers formed around 75% of their donor links. Three quarters of volunteers admitted to having a role in funding - unexpected for them, but a significant emergent outcome.
Building closer links between staff
VSO volunteers were effective in facilitating closer links between different staff cadres, and in negotiating and challenging power differences in non-threatening ways. Partners recognised volunteers as peers, and respected their opinions and attitudes.
"Before only support staff would hand out food to patients, doctors would not do a nurse’s job... VSO volunteers changed this. Volunteers do all things... no hierarchy or class. Volunteers sit on the floor with patients."
NIMH staff member
Improving project design and management
Formalising the structure of service and project delivery with systems, processes and documents enabled partners to better design and manage projects, increasing the positive impact on the lives of beneficiaries. Examples include designing regular meetings to decide the best recovery process for a patient, writing training manuals and assessment forms, and creating monitoring tools to show impact to donors.
Staff across the three partner NGOs (Shantiham, JSAC, and PCA) estimated their skills improved by up to 60% as a direct result of VSO volunteers’ capacity development support.
The unique effectiveness of VSO
VSO was ranked second or third compared to other organisations supporting Partners’ capacity development. The organisations that ranked higher provided financial support. Partners identified:
- our ability to form good working relationships was uniquely effective;
- the provision of long-term support;
- having volunteers embedded as team members;
- bespoke capacity development rooted in a deep understanding of Partners’ needs; and
- the focus on Partners’ sustainability, service and project delivery.