Project-Donated Sewing Machines and Developmental Success [Archives:2000/28/Business & Economy]

July 10 2000

By Barbara J. Michael
Anthropology Consultant
One difficulty in evaluating the success of development projects and of comparing the success of one to another, is to find common denominator indicators. This project is premised on the fact that sewing machines, donated by projects to women targets, represent that common denominator. Sewing machines are one of the primary inputs to almost any development project, whether focused on agriculture, water, sanitation, health, education of girls, gender sensitive income-generation, poverty alleviation or any other project goal. It is therefore hypothesized that the widespread presence of sewing machines in household targeted by any development project is an indicator of project success.
Until the conceptualization of this project the sewing machine as an indicator was not recognized for the potential it holds to develop a standardized evaluative procedure and instrument that enables a scientifically valid evaluation of the success of the project. The evaluative instrument will also facilitate comparison of projects and will lead to a greater understanding of what types of projects succeed and which fail to be sustainable.
Yemen is proposed as the test site for this survey. There are several reasons why Yemen has been selected: (1) a history of development interventions by a large number of international, national, and non-governmental agencies spanning a long period (more that 50 years); (2) historical variation in Yemeni national political organization; (3) an initial estimation of high number of sewing machines in relation to population. The results of the survey will be used to develop an evaluation instrument that can be used by any donor organization to check the success of a given project. Additionally, the development of evaluative criteria as a result of this survey project will make it possible to do a variety of cross-project comparisons including sociocultural impact, cost-analysis and cost-benefit, economic impact, and gender sensitivity, among others. Evaluations made by using the model to be developed by this project will also ensure greater transparency in all aspects of project formulation and implementation and will benefit donors and recipients at all levels from the national entity to grassroots communities. The results of this study will revolutionize project evaluation for donors of all types. It will also enable the recipients of development aid in evaluating whether or not any particular project has fulfilled its promise.

The key method to be used at the macro level will be diagrammatic mapping of the geographical location of sewing machines in Yemen. Overlapping maps of project areas in relation to the geographic location of sewing machines will also be made. This will enable an analysis of the comparative concentration of sewing machines from one project area to another. Cluster maps will be generated from this mapping. Analyzes will be made of such factors as the geographic location of the sewing machine in relation to the donors’ project headquarters, distance from regional centers, provincial capitals and the national capital, and various markets.
Project documents of donors will be analyzed in order to determine such factors as the proportional amount of project funding allocated to sewing machines’ purchase and distribution. Total numbers of sewing machines reportedly distributed according to project documents will be compared with the findings of the survey. Project documents will also be analyzed to determine if there are any explicit statements that recognize the correlation between sewing machine distribution and project success.
Another method, at the micro level will be interviews with the owners of the sewing machines. Until now it has been assumed that the primary ownership of sewing machines is in the hands of women, that the primary target of donors has been women, and that the ownership of donated sewing machines is in the control of women. However, it is believed that this study may challenge that assumption.
Focus group interviews and discussions will be another method used. Women’s account regarding sewing machines will also be collected.
Once baseline data has been collected by the above listed methodologies, several sites will be selected for more intensive research using traditional, anthropological participant-observation and RRA (Rapid Rural Appraisal) methods. This strategy will enable culturally biased assumptions to be made by donors. It will also be possible to determine standard interview techniques. Belief systems around sewing machines will also be investigated.
Some of the questions to be asked in the initial interviews and to be reiterated in both the focus groups and the intense participant-observation include the following:
-Location of the sewing machine in the house
-Ownership of the sewing machine.
-Number of sewing machines in a given household.
-Who in the household uses the sewing machine for sewing.
(A subsidiary question is: does anyone in the household know how to use the sewing machine for sewing)
-Was sewing instruction a part of the donor’s package.
-Users of the sewing machines and their kinship relationship to each other.
-Presence of dyadic relationships between sewing machine owners and other parties.
-Linguistic terms used to refer to the sewing machine, the users, and to any of the parts or materials associated with sewing machines. These terms will be analyzed for gender specificity, regional and sub-regional variation, diffusion of terminology from donors, for example.
-Uses to which the sewing machine is put, including any non-sewing uses, such as house dcor, clothes rack, photo display, ritual center, status indicator, etc.
-Estimate of time allocated to various uses of the sewing machine.
-The sewing machine, its market value and ascribed value.
Photo documentation will also be an important methodology and an important outcome of the survey as another means of disseminating the results.

The expected primary outcome will be the information necessary for the development of a standardized project evaluation instrument. The evaluation instrument, once developed and further tested, will be published and made available at nominal cost to development donors or to any interested parties. It is believed that grassroots recipients will also be interested in using this evaluation instrument in order to ascertain the benefits they have actually gained from a development project. This will lead to better decision making at all levels.