Shareef Sarhan

World News


The IsDB: Improving Monitoring and Evaluation

From its establishment in 1973, the Islamic Development Bank group (IsDB) has worked to end poverty and build up struggling Muslim countries. As of November 2011, the IsDB’s net approvals on projects stood at $78 billion dollars. The interest-free loan creditor has been increasing its assets and projects in recent years. The IsDB has introduced loans to 56 member countries and non-member countries to eradicate poverty and to boost education, infrastructure, and other basic needs. These development projects have been no small feat, but the evaluation of these projects needs to be undertaken by an effective, independent organization. The Operations Evaluation Office (OEO), considered the ‘independent’ project evaluator of the IsDB’s projects, has been lackluster and biased in their project assessements.

The IsDB has been around for 41 years but the OEO has only been around for the last 21 years and have not reconciled their problems as of yet. To highlight their inexperience in providing rigor to the evaluation process, the last piece posted on the OEO’s webpage under “Evaluation Findings” was from ten years ago. Furthermore, the IsDB publishes pieces which include the “IsDB Success Story Series” but tend to undermine poorly planned or executed projects. The OEO admits to some “Lessons Learned” on their webpage but they don’t incorporate these lessons well in future project assessments.

A major problem the OEO holds is a lack of rigor in their assessment of these crucial development projects. Providing annual reports and long-term goals have been the focus instead of measurable points assessing the solutions to the IsDB’s obstacles.

Linking the means to the ends is an important step in the planning process to ensure mistakes are avoided and governments receive their full return on IsDB projects.

Regarding problem solving effectiveness, the IsDB as a whole is generally effective as many of the projects they fund do contribute to their mission statement and the improvement of the quality of life for Muslims worldwide. Legal effectiveness is where we identified problems, as the OEO lacks information pertaining to contracted parties adhering to rules put forth by the IsDB. Normative effectiveness refers to whether or not a regime achieves values, such as openness to external, independent evaluations in this case. Many member countries of the IsDB do not embrace the norms of openness and transparency.

A strategy to address the barrier of the lack of rigor pertaining to evaluation of projects by the OEO would be the establishment of an external NGO. An external NGO would address the barrier because it would not require cooperation between multiple IGOs and would be limited in its targeted goals. NGOs have been found to be the most effective in circumstances where the monitoring and evaluation take precedence. A NGO would be best suited for this circumstance because it would be an impartial third party who would serve the role as an information collector while incorporating standard operating procedures for how the evaluation process would be carried out. The independent NGO would reduce the time of collection while increasing the ability of the IsDB to assess their track record on a level scale. The NGO would help with the problem of ‘intelligence’ or information collection. A competent team of staff would embark on fact-finding missions in order to expel any irregularities that are not consistent with the IsDB’s mission statement.

There are costs and benefits associated with the implementation of this strategy. One cost would be the sweeping criticism from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Due to the economic situation of these countries and the fact that they receive large, interest-free loans from the IsDB, they are largely unwilling to criticize project effectiveness.

Benefits include genuine independent analysis of the IsDB’s effectiveness which builds its reputation and legitimacy in the eyes of the international community, especially when it comes to fighting poverty and improving infrastructure. The IsDB’s goal of fighting poverty in the Middle East would be solidified negating the critics who claim this is only a move to further Saudi Arabia’s self-interests, as Jeddah is where the IsDB is headquartered. Another potential benefit to the establishment of a NGO would be that the IsDB would gain influence by bringing the organization into the limelight.

With Islam currently the world’s fastest growing religion, potential development projects will only increase as the IsDB looks to the future. Adding this element of independent evaluation will only strengthen the IsDB in the long run, as potential development customers and the international community as a whole would have no other choice but to take notice of this unique international organization.