The Sabaya Programme is the largest programme implemented by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM – Part of UNWomen) in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). The programme targets Palestinian women in marginalized rural communities that suffer from limited access to resources and services. It was initiated and piloted in 2004 in cooperation and partnership with the United Nations Development Programme/Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People (UNDP/PAPP), with the establishment of three women’s community Sabaya Centres in the northern West Bank. In 2005, there was a short expansion period in which nine additional Sabaya Centres were established in locations throughout the West Bank and an added programme emphasis was placed on economic security. In 2006, the programme expanded even further through support from the UN Trust Fund on Human Security, increasing the number of Sabaya Centres to 18. A total of 15 centres are currently operating in rural communities in the West Bank and three in the Gaza Strip.1 Since its inception, the programme has benefited over 25,000 women in these locations.
In April 2008, UNIFEM contracted Riyada Consulting to conduct an external evaluation of its Sabaya Programme, implemented by UNIFEM in the oPt from 2004-2008. Riyada Consulting conducted a comprehensive programme review, which was, as with all evaluations, both an accountability exercise and a learning one. The express purpose of the evaluation was to:
• Assess the impact of the programme on women, families and targeted communities;
• Measure achievements towards programme objectives and expected outcomes;
• Determine which strategies, approaches and activities were not successful and how they could be amended;
• Assess the determinants of successful community-based women’s mobilization; Determine and document programme best practices;
• Determine challenges to the implementation of the Sabaya Programme in the oPt and the action(s) required to address these challenges;
• Determine unexplored programme opportunities and how they could be capitalized on;
• Assess the replicability of the Sabaya approach by UNIFEM in other contexts (both within and outside the oPt) and the action(s) required to make this happen in line with UNIFEM’s new strategic plan (2008-2011);
• Determine the next phase of UNIFEM’s involvement in the locations where it implemented the Sabaya Programme, in line with UNIFEM’s new strategic plan (2008-2011);
• Assess the humanitarian activities of the Sabaya Programme, specifically the counselling component, which included psychosocial, legal and academic counselling, as well as the economic security component.
The evaluation report is divided into five main sections. The first section provides the background of the evaluation, the Sabaya Programme, and the Programme’s context. The second section covers the evaluation methodology. The third section deals with the assessment of the Sabaya Programme highlighting the issues from the design phase, to the implementation phase, then observations on the outputs of the Sabaya Programme, and outcomes for the communities. The fourth section provides analysis and recommendations on the future of the Sabaya Programme, exploring UNIFEM’s future role in the Programme and considerations for Programme scale-up. The fifth and final section of the evaluation report summarizes the evaluation’s conclusions, recommendations and lessons learned.
Evaluation Approach and Methodology
With continuous consultation, coordination and feedback from UNIFEM, Riyada Consulting mobilized a competent team who was assigned to implement the programme evaluation. The team was comprised of 20 professionals and included a Lead Evaluator, evaluation specialists, a statistician, field survey supervisors, a data entry specialist, and ten experienced field researchers in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The evaluation team developed and utilized a comprehensive evaluative approach that combined both qualitative and quantitative methodologies to ensure proper coverage of all programme dimensions and the views of different stakeholders with an emphasis on women direct beneficiaries of the centres. Approximately 752 individuals were consulted for the evaluation. The key methods of data collection included document review, semi-structured face-to-face individual interviews, field visits, focus groups with key stakeholders in each community, and a survey. After conducting both the qualitative research and quantitative survey, a multi-level (descriptive, content, and comparative) analysis of all collected data was conducted.
Programme Background and Context
The Sabaya Programme aims to empower and protect rural women by developing their skills socially, economically, academically and legally, thereby promoting their participation in decision-making within their communities. Specifically, the Sabaya Programme’s objectives are to: (1) develop and strengthen women’s capacity to cope with the direct effects of the current conflict by organizing women’s groups and networks, and by facilitating their access to services, information and resources; (2) develop and strengthen institutional capacities of service providers and women’s groups to streamline quality services, resources and information; (3) raise awareness of women’s needs and priorities in target communities; and (4) strengthen women’s leadership and advocacy skills for gaining access to services, information and resources.
The Sabaya Programme was conceived of and implemented against the complex backdrop of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory in which the Palestinian population of 3.7 million people struggle to meet their basic needs and Palestinian women, children and men are increasingly dependent on aid as their livelihoods are destroyed. The challenging operational contexts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip are characterized by constrained access and mobility, travel restrictions, closures, and unexpected political upheavals, which means that resources are often lacking or inaccessible. Unemployment and food insecurity rates in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip remain relatively high by regional and international standards, in an economic context that, despite anticipated growth outlined in the Palestinian Authority’s development plan, continues to decline.
In the Gaza Strip, the ongoing Israel-imposed blockade has crippled the economy, driving unprecedented numbers of Palestinians into unemployment and poverty, which is further compounded by the factional split since Hamas’ takeover of the Gaza Strip. Furthermore on 27 December 2008, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in the Strip, a 23-day military offensive that claimed the lives of more than 1,400 Palestinians, and injured over 5,000 more. Children suffered a tremendous toll, with more than 314 killed, over 860 injured, and countless others traumatized. The civilian infrastructure in Gaza sustained significant damage as a result of this military operation. In the West Bank, conditions also continue to deteriorate. Plagued by movement and access restrictions characterized by the presence of more than 600 checkpoints, the continued construction of the Wall and expansion of settlements, Palestinian communities have lost their livelihoods and become increasingly isolated and vulnerable to a rising tide of settler violence.
Since the establishment of the Sabaya Centres throughout the oPt, they have implemented a number of activities and provided a wide range of services. Centre activities have included the equipping and furnishing of the centres themselves, recruiting volunteers to work as coordinators for the centres, and employing female beneficiaries to conduct research. The many services provided have included educational services, academic counselling, support classes, literacy classes, legal counselling, health and psycho-social counselling, capacity building, and income generation projects.
Key Findings and Conclusions
Overall, the Sabaya Programme was a well conceived and soundly executed programme that filled a vital gap in the provision of services for rural and marginalized women. The Sabaya Programme provided these women with a forum and services that local governments could not, due to their lack of resources in the challenging operational contexts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
For the most part, the Sabaya Programme achieved its primary goal of empowering and protecting rural women by developing their skills socially, economically, academically and legally, thereby promoting their participation in decision-making within their communities. Surveys of beneficiaries and other stakeholders revealed that the programme was largely successful in addressing the priorities and needs of its beneficiaries. The establishment and activation of the Sabaya Centres resulted in tangible outcomes, including enhancing and promoting the role of women in social participation, decision-making, and leadership as well as raising awareness and acceptance of women’s contributions to their communities and society as a whole.
In general, UNIFEM has achieved its four main objectives in establishing the Sabaya Centres. It has set the stage for empowering and protecting rural women, implemented training and capacity building activities, supported women in networking, and to a certain extent, created women’s income-generating projects. The Sabaya Programme logic was well established for the initiative as a whole, though the evaluation revealed that stakeholder and beneficiary understanding of this programme logic lacked consistency, despite UNIFEM’s perception that the programme logic was well recognized and understood.
The content of UNIFEM’s Sabaya programming and types of services offered were appropriate for community needs and demonstrate the Sabaya Programme’s real success. The Sabaya Centres have acted as hubs for many regular educational and vocational activities, such as language courses, computer skills, educational support classes, literacy classes, art and photography. Relations with the partner organizations that provided the Sabaya Centres with training and capacity building were generally good. However, Sabaya Centres could still improve their capacity development offerings in areas such as leadership skills, strategic planning, communication skills, monitoring and evaluation systems, fund-raising, advocacy and income generation.
As for the future of the Sabaya Programme, UNIFEM has not clearly defined what sustainability means for the Sabaya initiative. While all of the Sabaya Centres have expressed their willingness to continue functioning, most need additional administrative and financial support in order to do so, including assistance in securing the proper registration with the local authorities. Without exception, all of the Sabaya Centres reported varying degrees of challenges with human resources, particularly with the model of recruiting 18 volunteer coordinators to manage the Centres. The quality of a Sabaya Centre’s coordinator, particularly her relations with the local village council, general management experience, and conflict resolution skills, often considerably impacted a Centre’s successful operation. A lack of adequate planning, monitoring, and evaluation in most of the centres was another common factor that often impeded programme performance.
While UNIFEM is seen to be the initiator and implementer of the Sabaya Programme from the perspective of the Centres themselves as well as the broader communities in which the Centres operate, UNIFEM’s role in future Sabaya programming is unclear. In the Gaza Strip, UNIFEM made arrangements for other organizations to host the Sabaya Centres from the outset. For the majority of these Centres, the hosting organization has provided a good home for stability and support for the Centres, whereas in other locations, there were real challenges in effective operations and decision-making. In most cases, the host centres are capable of sustaining the Sabaya Centres into the future. However, lack of capacity and resources for the Sabaya Centres in the Gaza Strip may mean that their sustainability will include the full absorption of the Sabaya Centres by their hosts. In the West Bank, exit strategies or plans for future involvement between UNIFEM and its Sabaya Programme partners and participating communities still need to be developed.
Recommendations and Lessons Learned
In the interest of enhancing the quality of future Sabaya programming, the evaluation team has identified the following specific recommendations, based on lessons learned, for strengthening the effectiveness and impact of future Programme implementation.
Strategy, Networking, Partnerships
1) In selecting sites for future Sabaya Centres, UNIFEM should give priority to existing women’s centres or groups that need to be empowered and supported with physical infrastructure, equipment and capacity-building. They should continue supporting the successful centres from the previous phase at a different level, with focus on more strategic issues of management, financial management, project implementation (subcontracting) and income generation projects.
2) Sustainability cannot be assumed. The Sabaya Centre model should include a comprehensive, results-based management plan and strategy detailing the Sabaya Programme’s sustainability both programmatically and financially. There should be an action plan for each scale-up and phase-out covering the time frame of each phase and detailing goals, objectives, activities, outputs and outcomes, with clear delineation of roles and responsibilities of all actors involved (UNIFEM, other donors, national government, local NGOs), as well as timelines in place for monitoring performance.
3) UNIFEM should create a single document in Arabic that fully describes the Sabaya Programme logic, complete with timelines, outputs, outcomes, stakeholder analysis (including roles and responsibilities), and indicators of success.
4) UNIFEM should explore how to build resilience into the Sabaya Centres model. The Centres need to be able to systematically identify and plan for external factors that could affect their operations in order to address and mitigate their impact.
5) For Sabaya Centres to operate effectively, they have to be built on existing community institutions and relationships. Sabaya Centres that linked closely with other institutions and programmes that work to meet community needs were more likely to last. Therefore, the Sabaya Programme approach should rigorously adhere to the requirement of community roots, ownership and involvement. UNIFEM should explore the possibility of attaching Sabaya Centres to other public institutions, such as schools or other NGOs, and opening those facilities up to broader public access.
6) The Sabaya initiative needs an enabling policy environment in order to fulfil its own programming objectives and cover its basic operating costs. Too often barriers due to registration restrictions prevented the Sabaya Centres from accessing needed funding for their operations. UNIFEM should start now to work with national governments to build the Sabaya Centre initiative into the next Palestinian Development Plan.
7) The Sabaya Centres’ coordinators should be development oriented. Reliance on the Centre coordinator for all aspects of a Sabaya Centre’s operations should be monitored and UNIFEM should provide guidance for long-term planning on building up a “middle management” level for the Sabaya Centres.
The middle management could take some of the day-to-day operations burden off Centre coordinators, allowing them to focus on strategic planning, community ownership and diversification of funding.
8) Guidelines should be developed on appropriate uses of volunteers in Sabaya Centres, with sensitivity to expectations for recognition and compensation, potential family conflicts, and managing the cycle of new and departing volunteers.
Monitoring and Evaluation
9) Each individual Sabaya Centre should develop processes for self-assessment and planning that take into consideration available staff and volunteer time. Simple management tools (basic statistics, evaluation forms for training, user satisfaction surveys, etc.) need to be introduced during the start-up phase to help the Sabaya Centres make management decisions quickly and with confidence.
10) UNIFEM should aim to ensure that there is a solid, rigorous monitoring system in place for sustaining and scaling-up the Sabaya Centres initiative. Observations at individual Centres must be recorded systematically and aggregated in order to assess the benefits of the Sabaya Programme at the national level.
11) Based on the lesson learned that when a community chooses the indicators that are most important to it, then the community is more likely to monitor its performance against those indicators, it might be useful for UNIFEM to coordinate a networking exercise in which each Sabaya Centre would discuss with its community stakeholders what indicators of success might be for their respective Centres. In a national-level, in-person workshop, the Sabaya Centre coordinators could share and refine these indicators, retaining those particularly important for their individual circumstances, but also noting the common indicators that UNIFEM could aggregate to demonstrate the Sabaya Centres’ contributions at the national level. Such an exercise, grounded in the experience of individual Centres, should help mitigate against programme scale-up being driven as a “top down” process.
Financial and Resource Management
12) Mobilizing resources for the future work of the Sabaya Programme is needed for scaling up as well as for the current operations of the Centres. Every new Sabaya Centre should monitor their costs for start-up and prepare a full cost account just for start-up expenses. UNIFEM should also develop a full financial report on its own internal costs for each Centre’s start-up.
13) Each Sabaya Centre should prepare a full assessment of its overall operating costs (staffing, programming, marketing, networking and so forth). Once the full cost assessment has been prepared, a hybrid plan for financial sustainability should be developed. While there would obviously be local variations depending on each Sabaya Centre’s structure and governance, such a hybrid plan for financial sustainability might include: staffing subsidized through a hosting organization; support for programming, including staff and transportation, secured through partnerships with district and national government departments as well programmes and services; and individual grants for special projects negotiated through donor and foundation channels. UNIFEM should provide capacity building for these different revenue generating approaches during scale-up.
14) UNIFEM should provide opportunities for training, staff exchanges and networking based on women’s needs, in addition to UNIFEM’s pre-prepared training packages.
15) UNIFEM should promote the Sabaya Centres in development programming, including programme design, implementation, monitoring and follow-up.
16) Sabaya Centres should maintain their work with current partners, but expand their scope of work to include new and different areas, such as health and nutrition, child development, remedial education and advanced computer courses.
1West Bank Sabaya Centres included Faqqoua, Deir Abu Dief, Arrabeh, Allar, Rameen, Nabi Elias, Talfeet, Iraq Boreen, Kufr Al Deek, Deir Istya, Anata, Obeidieh, Um Salamouneh, Kharas and Beit Ula; Gaza Sabaya Centres included Beit Hanoun, Maghazi and Mawasi.