Among the most pressing issues in rural areas is the presence and effectiveness of institutions and governance. Coming from Mali, Paraguay, Papua New Guinea, and Moldova, the panelists spoke about the problems they face in each of their countries and the solutions that they are working towards. The presentation by the representative from Moldova, Victor Lutecno, an adviser to the Prime Minister, resonated the most with me. He described his country's efforts to put together the Joint Information and Services Bureau (JISB) to serve rural women and vulnerable groups. This office brings together 10 service providers (chamber of commerce, rural extension services, etc.) into one physical building situated next to the weekly market. This creative strategy saves rural women and villagers the time and resources spent on traveling back and forth between distant administrative offices by making everything easily accessible in one conveniently located place. The project was initially launched as a pilot in a few districts, but because of its success, it is now being rolled out to a large area of the country.
Rural development challenges require new and unique ideas. Moldova's JISB certainly fits that criteria and it struck me as being the most concrete solution discussed during the panel. Another panelist, Lilly Be'Soer from Papua New Guinea, similarly spoke about her organization's efforts to collaborate with national and local service providers to increase access and networking with rural communities. However, while I think her work is desperately needed and well-valued, it seemed to me that her approach requires external monitoring and could collapse in her absence. The JISB, on the other hand, is institutionalized, physically situated, and is positioned to sustain itself independently in the future with the appropriate support and funding. Other institutional solutions that were presented that could have a big impact include Mali's National Gender Policy which was enacted as an implementation tool in the fight against poverty and South Africa's Commission on Gender Equality that is charged with ensuring that other governmental departments adhere to gender provisions and is empowered with the authority to investigate issues of inequality.
The Women's Consortium of Nigeria, a representative of the NGO table, made an important point about the need for transparency. She said that poverty and gender programs are often terribly underfunded, they lack adequate monitoring, and many beneficiaries are not even aware of them. From my experience, not only is this true, but it seems that implementing parties are often looking for a success that they can show to their funders and as a result do not share formative evaluation reports with necessary stakeholders and only highlight the positive aspects of the programs. Another NGO representative made an inspiring comment about building bridges between the government and civil society, public and private sectors, family and work, and men and women. She noted that this is not a competition and in fact, collaboration is needed. I think that creating a stakeholder map of governmental and non-governmental organizations and the work they are doing at the district level could help foster transparency and communication. It seems to me that there are too many cooks in the kitchen who do not have the faintest idea of what the others are doing. For that reason, institutionalizing a system of cooperation could be the best best way to bring about efficiency and long-term sustainable results.