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ENABLE Program Discussion Paper


Is a genuinely sustainable, locally-led, politically-smart approach to economic governance and Business Environment Reform possible? Lessons from 10 years implementing ENABLE in Nigeria

This paper examines what it means to be genuinely sustainable, locally-led, and politically-smart, drawing on the successes and failures of the DFID-funded ENABLE programme in Nigeria. ‘Sustainability’, ‘locally-led’, and ‘politically smart’ are concepts in development, like ‘adaptive management’, that many donors and practitioners either reflexively claim to embrace or dismiss as little more than common sense or good development practice. However, as this paper argues, pursuing a genuinely sustainable, locally-led, and politically-smart approach requires a radical departure from most mainstream approaches. It also entails potential trade-offs that are rarely explicitly acknowledged and weighed in programme design. There has also been relatively little effort made to monitor and evaluate whether programmes are indeed delivering sustainable, locally owned change – for example, post-programme evaluations are still relatively novel and there is little practical guidance on how to assess sustainability.

ENABLE provides an interesting case to explore these issues. Originally designed as a Challenge Fund for business associations, in recognition of the inherent limitations of such an approach ENABLE was redesigned to put sustainability and local ownership at the heart of the programme. This led to wholesale changes in the way the programme designs and implements interventions and to the size and nature of the project team and their ways of working. As ENABLE entered its second phase in 2014 it dropped one of its focal states, Lagos, to shift focus to the north of Nigeria. This provides an opportunity to put ENABLE’s claims around sustainability to the test by examining the fate of ENABLE1 partners in Lagos three years after the end of direct project support (as well as examining other evidence of sustainability from ENABLE2).

ENABLE, with its emphasis on strengthening the process of reform, rather than just the end result, also provides an interesting contrast with more technocratic approaches, which are still the dominant mode of Business Environment Reform programming. ENABLE was designed in part as a response to the perceived failings of donor-led, technocratic reform efforts (including the precursor Investment Climate Programme). At the federal level, for example, excluding the reforms contributed to by ENABLE, no significant piece of BE-related legislation has been passed in Nigeria in nearly 20 years, despite numerous donor initiatives over the years (see Case Study Box 3). Although ENABLE is a business advocacy programme, the approach followed and lessons learned have relevance for any programme working in Business  Environment Reform (BER), economic governance, and even governance more broadly.

The rest of the paper is structured as follows. Section A examines what it means conceptually to be genuinely sustainable, locally-led, and politically-smart, including a discussion of the potential trade-offs involved. Section B argues that many mainstream approaches to governance and BER are not designed to be sustainable, locally-led, or politically-smart (often despite claims to the contrary). Section C looks at how ENABLE was different, in both design and in practice, and draws out some of the tensions and sometimes radical implications of pursuing a genuinely sustainable, locally-led, and politically-smart approach. Section D presents the results from ENABLE 1 and 2 and critically examines what difference the three core concepts made to the results achieved, and asks whether a more ‘direct’ approach could have delivered better results and impact with the time and resources available. Finally, Section E examines how donors help and hinder, the application of a genuinely sustainable, locally-led, and politically-smart approach. While ENABLE has largely benefited from a supportive funder, Section E argues that many of the pressures currently facing donors and programmes – such as the need for quick results and high visibility – run counter to genuine sustainability and local ownership.

Explore more in the Context-Driven Adaptation Collection.

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