Spearheaded by Professor Jeffrey Sachs, advisor to the United Nations, the Millennium Villages project stands out as a bold attempt to address extreme poverty in Africa. The project set out to achieve internationally-agreed goals to address hunger and nutrition, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat diseases, improve access to education, safe water and gender equality. The model was applied in 10 African countries covering all major agro-ecological zones.
The project set out to do everything at once (health, education, agriculture, etc.) to have a far greater impact than a more piecemeal approach of single, small-scale interventions. It also sought to make use of the latest scientific evidence of what works (bed nets, vaccinations, artificial fertilisers, etc.).
Controversy has however surrounded the project given its claims of success, and lack of rigorous evaluation until more recently. In 2012, DFID funded a new Millennium Village in northern Ghana but this time on the condition of a rigorous assessment of the impact.
Itad, working in close collaboration with the Institute of Development Studies and PDA-Ghana, led the impact evaluation. The evaluation uses a mix of methods: a robust quasi-experimental design (with control groups), alongside qualitative and immersion research to capture local insights and perspectives. A cost-effectiveness analysis was also undertaken.
The evaluation finds a statistically valid impact against one quarter of the internationally-agreed indicators. For example, primary school attendance improved and some intermediate health indicators got better (births attended by skilled professionals, children sleeping under bed nets).
Overall, the ambitious project goals were unrealistic. There was a tendency to focus on delivering ‘things’ (building schools, clinics, providing supplies, etc) rather than changes in behaviour that could be sustained by government, communities and individuals. The evaluation also raises serious questions about the ability of the project to create long-lasting impact and its overall cost-effectiveness.
Read the final report, executive summary, briefing papers and annexes on our resources page.