The SFD: An Impressive Show in a Sea of Disappointments [Archives:1999/49/Focus]

December 6 1999

Common Sense
By: Hassan Al-Haifi
Often, it is thought that commentators and journalists tend to look at the bad side of things, and that they tend to ignore some of the favorable aspects of society Ð living on sensationalism and excitement. The truth of the matter is that in Yemen, it almost seems hard to ignore human suffering in the wake of a depressed economy that has no mercy on the poor or those with fixed limited incomes and political instability and rising social unrest, thus commentators are forced by the state of the times to reflect the sorrow on the faces one is bound to come across at every turn and in every street corner. Moreover, commentators are usually guided by good intentions and by the belief that the government wishes to be aware as to how the public sees its doings, or does not see its doings, whatever the case may be. On the other hand, it is important to note that for every situation there are causes and effects and for every problem there has to be remedial solutions, if only those concerned can really share these good intents and act with a greater sense of responsibility, which can only be gauged by performance and positive results that are seen and felt on a widespread basis.
Well, this brings us to one of the very few good signs of the times and government, where one sees the cooperation of government and the donors as well as the positive responses of the beneficiaries work hand in hand to produce a dynamic and truly productive phenomenon that produces a gleaming ray of hope in a sea of unlimited problems and discontent. We are, of course, speaking about the Social Fund for Development or the SFD, as it is widely known by all those who work or deal with it. Indeed, in the space allotted here, it would be unjust to try to point out all the positive and refreshing achievements of this truly fantastic organization, where one can readily see how the wise use of funds leads to results felt not just by the direct beneficiaries, but by the general public, the financiers and the government as well.
With the broad objectives that the Fund has and the huge amount of funds at its disposal, the SFD has shown that nothing can be overwhelming if there is competence in management, which is guided by good intent, a sincere desire to serve the national interest and to make the maximum use of available resources in a fair and equitable manner. Moreover, the SFD is not like the other government entities that seek to produce an exaggerated public image without having produced anything of material content to back up its bloated image of good and public welfare. On the contrary, the SFD keeps a very low profile mediawise, believing that if its work does not testify to its good performance, then there is no need for any fanfare. On the other hand, why go through all the trouble of trying to convey how good you are, when others who monitor your performance and have a stake in the good results you achieve will do that for you and continue to back you up as long as you are performing to their satisfaction and meeting their intended targets accordingly. This is the kind of organizational acumen that is indeed refreshing and leads one to believe that there is hope that, really, all is not lost after all.
The Social Fund for Development is one of the very few, but by no means small, good elements of the Yemeni Government’s Social Safety Net, which is a series of institutional steps to alleviate the hardships of the Economic and Financial Reform Program that has been ongoing since 1995. The SFD was inaugurated in 1997, but has rapidly produced a presence in almost all the districts of the Republic of Yemen. Cosponsored by a Consortium of Donors, including the World Bank (the International Development Association), the European Union, the Dutch Government, the Arab Fund for Social and Economic Development, and soon to join, the Islamic Development Bank, the SFD has succeeded in exceeding almost all of its intended targets, not by tens of percents, but by a number of times! This is significant, when considering that the Fund has such a wide range of objectives and has to work in the most remote areas of the country that are lacking in any facilities and services. What is even more impressive is that the SFD is doing this within well-defined cost applications and effectiveness. Mind you, these are not the observations of just this observer, who has had the pleasure in leafing through some of the literature that has been produced by other outside observers, but of the donors, the beneficiaries and the non-governmental organizations that work with the SFD.
On the other hand, the management of the SFD has shown that it can both meet the requirements of the donors and produce a positive image of government, by simply not acting the way government seems to act these days. Obviously, the negative attributes of the government are shoved aside and SFD staff are telling the beneficiaries, “Hey, we are here to help you help yourselves. All you have to do is show us that you are really ready to start depending on yourselves and to put in a small stake to reflect your sincerity in keeping what we provide you running, even after our job is done.”The SFD does not wait for the donors to dish out their dos and don’ts. On the contrary, the SFD moves ahead of its stakeholders in adapting to its own experiences, so that in the end the donor produced evaluations can only come out with the conclusion that all that needs to be done here is to increase the resources of this dynamic organization to enable the SFD to continue doing good. How refreshing can one get beyond this. Yes, the donors are all pleased with the ample sums they have entrusted this truly fine vibrant organization with, and they are more than willing to let it carry on beyond the original three year life, that was originally intended for it.
As I said before, it would be unjust to produce the statistics that would back up all that has been said before, but the US $ 83,000,000 that has been committed to the Fund have already found their places in thousands of projects stretching throughout the country, from school buildings, to health units, to water harvesting projects, to small enterprise and micro enterprise finance Ð all good projects that are felt on a widespread basis and have widespread social impact. Fairly soon, all these funds would be transferred to hundreds of small units that are producing services or providing community needs in areas, where even the traditional line ministries of the government have dared not to venture. But no need to worry, as the donors are keen on continuing this positive side of government, and more funds will continue to come to the SFD, so that its good work is not subject to any abrupt halt. It is urged that all international, regional and bilateral donor agencies jump in on the bandwagon and finally see their funds going in the right direction. It is also important that the government be encouraged by the SFD success story, and work to make sure that all obstacles are cleared for the staff of the Fund to go where they have to go and do what they have to do to insure that the positive work of the SFD is not hampered by any bureaucratic bottlenecks and political maneuvers. Moreover, the management of the Fund does not seek any pat on the back, it just wants to continue doing what it has been doing without any interference. That is not too much to ask from a government that should really appreciate what the Fund is doing to restore some semblance of a positive image for the government, with the donors as well as with the Yemeni public Ð which has almost become at a loss to find just what it is that the government is really doing for them these days.
One very important point that should be raised is that the relatively small SFD staff, led by the hardworking and conscientious Managing Director, Mr. Abdulkarim Ismael Al-Arhabi, has been the hallmark of this phenomenal achievement. Mr. Al-Arhabi, a well-educated and cultured technocrat should be congratulated for guiding this dynamic organization, in “whitening” the face of the government and in letting the donors be reassured that, “Hey, things can be done right in Yemen and that productivity is no mystery to Yemen as long as there is encouragement, a sense of responsibility, accountability and apparent transparency.” Carry on SFD staff and rest assured that the Yemeni people are pleased with what you are doing for them. Of course you know that more than anybody else.