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Prospects for sustaining and scaling up Millennium Villages

Time (GMT +00) 16:00 18:00


John W McArthur - CEO and Executive Director of Millennium Promise

Dr. Eva Ludi - Research Fellow, Overseas Development Institute

Prof. Jeffrey D Sachs - Director, The Earth Institute at Columbia University


Prof. Myles Wickstead - Former Head of Secretariat, Commission for Africa, and Visiting Professor, Open University


Simon Maxwell - Director, Overseas Development Institute

Simon Maxwell (Director ODI) opened the meeting and highlighted 3 key questions that this session will address:

  • What are the synergies between investments in different sectors? Although the idea of providing investment in several sectors (e.g. health, agriculture, education) has been around for decades (i.e. Rosenstein-Rodan’s ‘big push’ theory, 1943) Jeffrey Sachs has given it new impetus with the Millennium Village Project (MVP).

  • Can a sustainable difference be made by investing in villages in the way the MVP does?

  • What does the experience with the MVP mean for rural development more widely? What kind of funding is needed? Is it realistic to consider that what can be done in one village can be done in 50,000 villages? What kinds of demands are put on government, countries, systems and structures?

John W McArthur (CEO and Executive Director of Millennium Promise) provided a historical overview of the Millennium Villages Project, which builds largely on recommendations made by the UN Millennium Project. Key questions considered included: how can a particular country translate the MDGs into national targets and into practical strategies? How can donors interface with this? What would a scaling-up strategy look like? He further stated that the MDGs are achievable; that there are technologies and interventions that work and that there are success stories to illustrate this. However, strategies to implement these at scale are lacking. The aim of the MVP is to operate within the global aid envelope that has been promised. Approximately $120US per capita per year are invested in the Millennium Villages.

The MVP strategy focuses on 6 areas, including health, education, infrastructure, agriculture, business development, and community management of the process. There are two types of interventions; the quick wins, which can be achieved almost overnight (e.g. the abolition of school fees), and other interventions that require longer time frames and larger investments. The interventions are not necessarily novel, rather they aim to replicate success stories.

McArthur continued by pointing out that already in the first couple of years, at the village level, the successes are very strong: doubling of harvests, increases in school enrolment, etc. The current focus is now on systems issues, specifically health systems. Given the progress over the past 2.5 years, all villages are well on their way to reach the MDGs.

Next steps include supporting governments who want to scale up the MVP and to invest on the business development side. In terms of business development, this may include supporting rural-urban linkages, integrating rural markets into global markets, and other options.

Eva Ludi (Research Fellow, Overseas Development Institute) presented the findings of ODI’s assessment on the sustainability and scalability of the MVP. The review was funded by the Open Society Institute and is based on analysis of Millennium Villages in Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi and Uganda and focused on the agricultural and health sectors.

The review concluded that the MVP is an interesting experiment. Not only does it make an explicit commitment to implement interventions linked to the achievement of the MDGs. It also concentrates resources at the community level and privileges these investments – at least initially – over complementary rural-urban linkages, infrastructure and institutional reform. Additional components that make it an interesting experiment include its holistic approach to multi-sector investments; its focus on participatory community decision-making and implementation to ensure local ownership; universal access to project deliverables and the use of new technologies.

Findings indicate that the interventions are highly valued by beneficiaries. There are also reports of early evidence of synergies. The MVP interventions were found to be aligned with national poverty reduction strategies at least at the goal level, but not necessarily concerning service delivery strategies. Ownership, although strong at the local level, became progressively less visible at district, regional and national levels. Vertical and horizontal linkages are under development and need urgently more attention.

She continued by presenting the review’s findings on necessary conditions for achieving sustainability of interventions in the Millennium Villages and preconditions for supporting scaling up beyond the current villages. For sustainability three components are essential:

·         Long-term commitment: to allow deepening institutional development, building capacity beyond the village, learning lessons from the MVP experience, informing policy and practice and mobilising necessary financing.

·         Integration: focusing especially on integrating the MVP management into government systems, and strengthening formal village and community institutions.

·         Adaptation: of interventions, adjusting service delivery mechanisms, adapting budget allocation between sectors, and balancing village and district interventions.

In terms of enhancing the prospect for scaling up, the review concludes:

·         Building on the MVP model: by sequencing of scaling-up, prioritizing simple interventions, and enhancing working conditions for front line government staff.

·         Learning and policy engagement: including simplifying procedures, identifying bottlenecks and dealing with the politics of scaling up.

·         Move beyond the model: with a special focus on upstream investments such as capacity building and the expansion of human resources, rural-urban linkages and strengthening institutions.

In conclusion, the MVP demonstrated the impact of greater investments in evidence-based, low-cost interventions at village level on progress towards the MDGs. However, much stronger emphasis must be placed on complementary upstream investments, rural-urban linkages, infrastructure and institutions if these investments are to be sustained and eventually scaled up. Countries need to situate MVP scale-up in the context of a national development strategy, and scaling up investments depends on donors living up to their commitments. When scale-up plans are vertically integrated and adequately embedded, donors should support them and the MVP to provide facilitation.

Prof. Jeffrey Sachs (Director, The Earth Institute at Columbia University) emphasised the two dimensions of this project: Firstly, to demonstrate and learn about specific interventions to advance the agenda towards reaching the MDGs, and secondly to understand local governance of interventions and how best they can be delivered. One of the reasons why the MVP focuses on the village level is because many of the interventions have to happen here, but it is also because of limited funds. Donors and G8 leaders are reluctant to provide the aid they have promised at the Gleneagles summit – even worse, countries such as Italy, France and Japan are even cutting their international development budgets. He continued by stressing that there are many low-cost interventions with high social returns, such as insecticide-treated bednets and that the MVP is an attempt to demonstrate these at the village level. Scaling up cannot happen without additional financing. He proposes to support at least one country that has a scale up plan, for example Mali. Summarising, there cannot be any scaling up without additional funds. Poor countries can do only so much with their own resources. Governments in developing countries are eager to scale up rural investments and want to partner with donors and bilateral agencies but they are not getting complementary support from donors.

Prof. Myles Wickstead (Visiting Professor, Open University) mentioned that the MVP demonstrates the need for another ‘big push’. 2010 will be an important year to push governments to deliver on their aid commitments. But donor countries need examples, and the MVP is one such example which shows how development assistance can make a difference to the lives of poor people. He pointed out, however, that besides funding there are a large number of other requirements for development related to governance, institutions, and infrastructure.

The discussion focused on issues around mechanisms of aid delivery. Should funding be provided through parallel project systems or through government systems? Should donors be involved in the micro-management of funds and projects or not better provide governments with budget support? Jeffrey Sachs pointed out that what is crucial in this debate is not the aid modality as such but the need to establish clear targets, timetables and deliverables and then hold all involved actors to account.

A second set of issues discussed concerned governance issues, the political economy of rural interventions, both at local and national level and power structures. This was considered especially important in relation to scaling up plans.


The September 2008 UN summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) stressed that not enough progress has been made to meet the goals by 2015. The Millennium Village Project (MVP), led by Professor Jeffrey D Sachs, aims to show how an integrated package of proven, low-cost interventions in agriculture, health, education and infrastructure can lift people in rural Africa out of extreme poverty, and that meeting the MDGs is still possible within the agreed timeline.

With support from the Open Society Institute, ODI undertook a formative review of the sustainability and scalability of the MVP in project sites in Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi and Uganda, particularly in the agricultural and health sectors. The review found that the MVP helped, among other things, to improve crop yields, increase school enrolment, and reduce disease.

It found room for improvement too, with a need for more emphasis on rural-urban linkages, such as roads and markets. It also recommended upstream investments - such as in human resources - for interventions to be sustained and scaled up. The institutional constraints to progress need to be addressed by, for example, strengthening local administrations, supporting civil service reform to motivate front line staff to serve in remote areas, and resolving issues such as contested property rights or gender discrimination.

The meeting was one in a series of events focusing on village-level rural development to meet the MDGs. It aims to highlight challenges and opportunities of village-based initiatives and identify the additional actions and support needed to enhance sustainability of investments and prospects for scaling up.