COED programs are simple conceptually, but quite complex from an administrative standpoint simply because of the sheer numbers. Working with 193 schools in 13 different departments, with over 32,000 students using over 150,000 textbooks, while at the same time managing 43 computer labs, a scholarship program and a teacher training program is quite an undertaking.
From the programs that I studied and the people that I met, COED is incredibly well organized and has the administrative processes, computer systems and program documentation in place to manage these large numbers. I do have to give credit to the consistent professionalism of COED's in-country staff. They know their job, they know their procedures, they believe in what they're doing, and they are tremendously courteous -- which I believe is behind the success of the partnerships that they have with the schools and their staff. The organization is run like a well-lubricated business -- quite unusual in the nonprofit world.
I am impressed that COED can manage this family of sophisticated programs on less than a 10% overhead and fundraising cost basis. To me this speaks of true organizational efficiency.
I have never seen another NGO use the successful formula that COED has developed. To begin with, the sheer quantity of books COED purchases each year allows the organization a very advantageous purchasing price point.
By 'renting' books and computer access to middle school students over a 4 to 6 year lifecycle period the initial investment is recouped - allowing the funds to be reinvested in new sets of books as the old books/computers become outdated or tattered. This means that in a static state, the program is sustainable.
One very important thing that may be overlooked by donors, however, is this means that each donor's new investment in a program is not being used to replace old books -- their investments are being used to provide textbooks for new schools joining the program allowing for an increasing number of student beneficiaries. This is the way development should be -- but you don't see this very frequently. Usually donor funds are used up in programs and need to be continually replaced by new donor funds to maintain the program. This is not the case with COED
Another thing that I was impressed with was that each of the staff and executive members of the organization was concerned about impact. They were concerned about refining the definition of impact, they were concerned about increasing impact, and they were concerned about identifying better indicators to help them interpret more accurately the impact which their programs are having.
An example of the reach of COED's impact is shown in a study that I received. In 2006 a local university, Francisco Marroquín University in Guatemala City, conducted an independent evaluation of the textbook program and discovered that in the 10 middle schools involved in the study, the student dropout rate was reduced by 46% in the first year by COED's provision of textbooks over students who did not have access to the textbook program.
"In the first grade of secondary education, the drop-out rate declined approximately 46% (average among the ten schools) from 7.78% to 4.24%. In the second grade (of secondary school) among the ten sample schools, the drop-out rate declined from 4.35% to 2.07%. The decline in the drop-out rate among the students in the third grade (of secondary school) (declined) from 3.39% to 2.46%.
Our researchers also noted that, during the assessment period, enrollment rates at the sample schools increased significantly (by 26.28% in the first grade of secondary school, 49.69% in the second grade, and 37.77% in the third grade)."
One of the unfortunate side effects of development is the fact that there are so many small NGOs working with small numbers of people. They might be helping one community, but they're not really having much of an impact on an aggregate regional problem. They haven't either the vision or the skill to take their concepts to scale.
COED has done an excellent job of taking their concept to scale. COED is currently working in one half of Guatemala's departments and making a consistent and meaningful difference in the lives of over 32,000 middle school students who move through the program every three years allowing another set of students to enter this revolving and continuous program.
I just haven't seen other NGOs in Guatemala with a scaled-up, sustainable, impact-oriented program such as COED's.
Center for Sustainable Development