Costing is boring? Think again.

Nancy’s smile was radiant. Her hand grabbed Martin’s wrist and, much as he wrangled his arm, she would not let go. She had him in her power. His eyes wide, struggling to free himself from her firm grip.

Then Nancy turned to us, and explained: if the perpetrator grabs you as I just grabbed Martin’s arm, you need to twist your arm to find his weakest point, which is between his thumb and his other fingers. Try it, Martin! Martin twisted his arm toward her thumb, and as if by magic, it slipped out of Nancy’s hand. He laughed, and we all laughed with him.

Martin is the local health economist on our project in Nairobi. He is helping us collect the cost data on the Girls’ Empowerment-Self Defence/Source Of Strength (GESD/SOS) intervention, a project designed for 11- to 13-year-old schoolgirls in the slums of Nairobi. The GESD/SOS volunteers were demonstrating to us a typical intervention session. To get a sense of how much is needed to develop and field the GESD/SOS, Martin and I will need to spend the next three days in the field with the Ujamaa team to understand what they do to deliver it. We need to understand how many people they need to run a session, how many teams of how many people, and how many hours they need to spend in the sessions with the children.

From Benjamin, Ujamaa’s director (and young statistician), to the last person who walked through the door of the organisation, they all graduate within the organisation. Each of them works to the tight schedule Nancy has designed for them, including Benjamin, on the (now rarer) days he, too, offers the training. Perhaps this is how they retain the freshness, the enthusiasm for and competence in their job.

Nancy also walks us through their typical day at work, a day in the life of Ujamaa delivering the training to the girls and the boys in their classes: a day planned down to the last minute. We also ask Nancy and her colleagues to think about the other organisations that work in the same area as theirs. Who are their competitors, and which services do they rely on to support the vulnerable girls they identify? This is the bigger picture, the wider economic system Ujamaa is plugged into.

Ujaama

These are the first elements of the large amount of information Martin and I will be collecting and analysing over the next few months to compute the costs a provider (Ujamaa, in this case), incurs to implement GESD/SOS. If the intervention succeeds in its aim to reduce young girls’ exposure to sexual violence, we will be able to show how cost-effective it is. Policy makers, donors and providers all need this information that, both in this and other fields in development, is rare. They need it to understand how much of a difference the money they are investing is making in people’s lives; they need it to make decisions on how to allocate resources, on whether to invest in a specific intervention as opposed to another.

On my way back to London, I feel energised and inspired by the dedication, enthusiasm and competence of the Ujamaa crew. The costing set-up visit has offered me a unique insight into the workings of Ujamaa, but also filled me with awe at what this group of young people is doing for the children in their own communities. I feel privileged to have a chance to make a small contribution to the success of this story.

So, through the experience of determining whether the GESD is valuable we can see what costing yields and why it is important to do more of it in development, and that really isn’t boring.


  • Martin Njoroge works at KEMRI Wellcome Trust in Nairobi: http://kemri-wellcome.org/
  • Nancy Omondi is the GESD/SOS programme coordinator at Ujamaa
  • Benjamin Omondi is Ujamaa’s Director
  • Giulia Ferrari is a Research Fellow at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and the co-PI on the economic evaluation team for What Works Component 

 

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