By Tara Steinmetz
In August of 2016, I visited a small village about an hour’s drive outside of Kathmandu. It was the first time I had been to Nepal since the April 25, 2015, Gorkha earthquake killed or injured thousands and flattened entire villages across the region. As I walked down the narrow path through the terraced gardens, I noticed the livestock structures that the earthquake the year before had destroyed. I also saw new or improved structures that women in the community had recently built or rebuilt with emergency aid.
When a research team proposed in 2014 that we support an impact evaluation of a Heifer International program in Nepal, I was primarily intrigued in the asset transfer component of their three-arm program, which also includes human and social capital development. Previous work by our researchers and others reaching back more than a decade has demonstrated that assets are essential for poverty reduction.
The Nepal research was designed around a common package of interventions for women that combined a livestock (asset) transfer with technical training and social capital training. The research sought not only to test the impacts of this package of interventions, but to better understand which pieces of the intervention drove the impacts.
The quake revealed just how vulnerable the rural poor in these communities are to shocks, especially natural disasters. Catastrophic damage forced the team to halt the study in two of the seven districts, to make way for urgent relief efforts.
Two years since the earthquake struck, the team’s recently reported findings from the other five districts offer five key lessons for the development community writ large. These lessons resonate with findings from many of our projects worldwide about designing the interventions carefully based on program objectives.
1. Social and human capital development can have near-immediate impacts.
2. Indirect beneficiaries can benefit as much or more than direct beneficiaries.
3. Aspirations can be an important factor for development.
4. Shocks are a reality of life for vulnerable households, and we must do more to protect against these risks.
5. Development organizations should consider rigorous evaluations to maximize impacts.