by John Cammack

Over recent months, whether international development organisations have had enough ‘reserves’ has been a key factor of whether they have been able to continue. Even those that have had reserves, have now largely used these up in order to survive. For many, things are still on the edge but, as soon as possible, we need to repair the damage done to reserves and try, if we can, to build them up. 

But what can we do? IMA’s short course Financial Sustainability and Resilience looks at how we can manage and replenish reserves. Here’s a short preview from the course about what reserves are…

Two stories

A personal story

In my first year of work, I received a salary of 10,500. My expenses for rent, travel to work, food, and entertainment cost me 9,750. I put 750 into my savings account. 

The second year I again received 10,500 as salary, but in addition to my expenses of 9,750 I had to pay health costs of a further 1,000 – a total of 10,750. I took the extra 250 that I needed from my savings. It left 500 in my savings account.

An organisation’s story 

In the first year we started, we had 10,500 from donations. Our project expenses, travel, newsletter production, and meetings came to 9,750. We put 750 into our savings account.

The second year we again received 10,500 and paid our expenses of 9,750; but this year we also had a new health project costing 1,000 more – a total of 10,750. We took the extra 250 from our savings account. We were still able to keep 500 in our savings account. We started to call the money in our savings account our ‘reserves’. We do not need it yet, but we may do in future years. 

Extract from: John Cammack (2014), Building Financial Management Capacity for NGO's and Community Organizations, Practical Action Publishing

John Cammack’s book presents practical ways to build financial management capacity in an international development context, although much of it applies to any non-profit organization. It describes good practice in the specific tasks of financial management, such as planning and budgeting and financial controls, and gives examples of how groups and organizations build their own capacity. It explains other financial management aspects such as building reserves that can be built into an organization’s structure to make it sustainable.

This book should be read by programme staff and managers of non-government organizations, larger community-based organizations (CBOs), and charities, as well as by professionals working in large NGOs and donors, working with their partner NGOs and CBOs. The content can also be used in university and college courses for international development workers, as well as in training courses.

Participatory Video (PV) is a method of film production in which a group of people or a community make a film together to explore an issue that is important to them, create dialogue, and give a platform to unheard voices. What makes it different from conventional filmmaking methods is that the participants are fundamentally involved in every stage and aspect of the filmmaking process and production.

Participatory video has been an established method of film production for over 50 years but the rise in accessibility to Information Communication Technologies (ICT) such as smartphones and the internet, gives new momentum to the possibilities of using PV remotely, in which the process is facilitated online.

Watch this video, 'An Introduction to Remote Participatory Video' to find out more...

You can also find out more about the Donald Snowden’s first participatory video, called the Fogo experiment (Eyes See; Ears Hear) from 1969, on the Canadian Fogo Islands here...


This article is written with the intention of sparking ideas about how you can use Remote Participatory Video in your projects and programmes. The list is not exhaustive, and you can find out much more by joining our upcoming Remote Participatory Video training course!

1. For Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning

Whilst the use of reports in organisations working in the international development sector are invaluable for ensuring records are kept for monitoring progress, evaluating projects and processes, and learning from mistakes, there is a rise in the use of participatory video for M&E to compliment or replace report writing to communicate messages using the voices of people that these reports directly affect.

2. For listening and giving a platform for people’s voices

As touched on in the previous point, RPV gives a platform to those most affected by humanitarian crises around the world, to give their perspective and understanding of the issues they face, and how projects and support could enable them to have a safer future. As well as communicating messages of the needs of different people, RPV also enables stories of success to be told by those who have seen major changes to challenges they were facing, spreading messages of positivity and encouragement to further enact change.

3. For lobbying and advocacy

An alternative method to tackling injustice at a national or international level, by uniting people in their common interests to enact large-scale change, bringing influential words from those in need of support to the front of campaigns and movements meeting with authorities.

4. To increase stakeholder dialogue

Encourage two-way conversations between those in need of support, those who can provide support and any other groups involved in projects. Building relationships is key to creating positive change and participatory video is a great way for people to start those conversations that create partnerships. Increasing stakeholder dialogue also increases accountability and transparency, for example in the case of a donor, they may want to know what support they are giving through the work of the project, and at the same time, those in need of support may want to know where their support is coming from. Opening up the dialogue between the stakeholders involved, encourages transparency and accountability.

5. To support change processes in complex environments

Some social and environmental issues are complex and the intricacies of them can be lost in reports or when stories and experiences are expressed only in the form of numerical data. By creating a platform that encourages spoken word of these issues, people can express in their own words the everyday challenges, big or small, that they face, and how they can be best supported by people and organisations to bring about positive change for them.

6. To raise awareness about policy making

RPV can be used to spread the word and communicate changes to policies, enabling the direction and sharing of information to be informative, but engaging and interactive as well. Utilising RPV in this way can also help access issues which need policy review in a direct and involved way. Sometimes surface level research about the support needed for communities misses integral and complex issues, which can be better reached by on the ground, direct reporting through participatory video.

7. Educate different groups about film production

Different groups of people may find participatory video more accessible and beneficial than others, and with an increase in the use of technology globally, younger people in particular may have a growing interest. Considering the popularity of video and social media amongst young people, lessons in production and utilising video, not just for entertainment but for positive social and environmental change, could reach a new demographic of people and inspire a new generation of thinkers.

As well as enabling youth groups to learn about the production of video and how it can be used to bring about change, it can also be a key learning point about people in the world facing different challenges and the support they need. Using video in this way can help youth understand international development in terms they are familiar with, using a method and media they already have an understanding of. Education through RPV is not just about film, but about how it can be used in the most influential and beneficial way.

8. To unite a community for a common goal

Participatory video is all about the participation of different people within a community and their collaboration to harvest ideas about change, to work towards a common goal. Instead of the few making decisions on issues affecting certain people, whole communities or groups can collaborate and work together on a project that aims to help the whole community, sharing knowledge and ideas for a common goal.

9. For public service announcements

Have you ever thought, that if a community trying to encourage better hygiene and sanitation, could inform one another with the use of video, capturing the issues they are facing themselves, whether that message would be better received than if from external visitors? Community-based communication and the sharing of local information by local people is a powerful way of encouraging positive change by advising others of important campaigns, announcements and policies without the feeling of a top-down approach.

10. To maximise utilisation of widely accessible technology to create positive change

Many people around the world have access to a camera phone. Many will know how to capture important moments or experiences with their camera, but not everyone will be using the tools they have in their back pocket to capture these important messages and use them to create positive change. RPV is not about the use of fancy camera equipment, it makes use of technology that is accessible to the majority, to provide a platform for the voices of those in crisis or overcoming challenges, to be heard, allowing them to tell their stories and experiences in their own words.

More information about our Remote Participatory Video training course here:


Or get in touch to find out about how we can offer tailored training to suit your needs.


If you would like more inspiration, please watch this video from course facilitator, Simon Koolwijk...

Videocast client interview with Corinna Philpott, MEAL advisor and Washington Sati, PV facilitator

by Richard Bond, Senior Consultant, IMA International

I have been working with IMA international on development of a new online course, so what is it about?  Well, it is about a unique system and set of tools which has emerged from my 40 years of developing learning systems in large, complex projects many of which followed a learning process. It’s Less about frameworks, indicators and terminal evaluations; more about monitoring internally to learn and change during the investment period. A different sort of animal.

So, why might you want to learn about establishing a genuine learning process system in your large and complex project? Well, four reasons;

Firstly, conventional M&E tends to be ritualised and essentially for accountability purposes to central government or donors. Fair enough, they do provide the funds for investment, but does it get the best results? For that there must be priority for learning over accountability.

​Secondly, the policy learning needs of government and donors are poorly met by summative ‘snapshot’ evaluations. Even if the findings are robust – a big ‘IF’ – then the chances of any future project having the same context and following the same process that might benefit from the lessons are remote. Learning should be applied during existing investments.

Thirdly, existing framework-based M&E systems are not managerially relevant for project information needs, especially at the operational level.

And finally, unless your assumed theory is absolutely rock-solid, an unlikely scenario in complex, diverse, resource and information-poor environments, where change in human behaviour is needed; then you will have to learn and change as you go along.

OK, but in what ways would it be different from a conventional M&E system?

Perhaps the most radical difference would be that it would be designed and operated from the field level not the centre. The centre would concentrate on training support and reflection. 

The monitoring is highly analytical and using combined qualitative and quantitative systems provides information on all stages of emerging results for multiple management levels in the organisation, all done in real-time. This allows true process monitoring and when supported by targeted mini-reviews explains weaknesses for high-level reflection. The whole is based on a modified ‘Action-Learning’ cycle.

That is a tall order, so what methods enable such a system?

There are five innovative tool sets; ‘Cognitive Mapping’ taps into the real client field situation and these results help formulate a non-linear ‘Theory of Change’ where all hypotheses are made explicit. During implementation, field operatives monitor outputs in a managerially relevant way using a system called ‘ATOM’ that not only keeps an eye on the big picture of implementation but provides diagnosis of weaknesses. There are also a few key techniques, called WEDEX and CAJUS for periodic checks on the emergence of outcomes and impact, also capable of disaggregation, that help target internally driven mini-reviews when failure of hypothesis is suspected. These in turn feed back into the reflective Theory of Change model to give evidence-based adjustment.

All these methods have been used in field situations over the last 40 years, are done by existing field staff, can be developed on conventional computer systems by local staff and function as a coherent real-time system. 

Often, M&E Systems for large organisations, for example ministerial departments, can struggle to ‘touch the ground’ in terms of getting any meaningful information from the reality in the field. Results Based Management approaches and systems based on national policy have positives and negatives. The positives of national RBM systems is the logical coherence and the coordination of action they give. The negative is that they can become too centralised with all the well documented problems this has entailed historically.  This relates to the old policy debates on Rationality vs. Incrementalism - is it possible to fully rationalise the ideal policy from the top or do you have to experiment and feel your way through?[1]

The question is, can we say that the policy is ideal and for the benefit of citizens - a typical example might be a policy aimed at GDP growth rather than improving the lives of the poorest citizens. An intriguing alternative might be a bottom-up system where the needs of the poorest in each area are assessed in participatory ways and projects formulated within programmes according to guiding policy principles by central government. Such projects should be monitored from below for their own learning process and adaptive management.[2]

I have partial experience of this from two projects. One was a demand-led planning process based on PRA analysis at sub-district level, rationalised at district level, funded partly by guaranteed project funds but also inviting donor support for evidence-based bottom-up plans. Another was a provincial programme in the poorest and weakest province where competitive planning was thrown open to the public according to policy principles (sustainable growth with equity and involving private, government and voluntary sectors). This was supported by workshops for each technical sector explaining the national policy principles and inviting proposals. Planners became appraisers and were overwhelmed by fundable projects.[3]

RBM can be 'top heavy' as opposed to having 'light' policy principles guiding programmes and projects below.  It would be convenient if there was a ‘one size fits all’ model, but we have to adjust systems to the context by working as much as possible with multiple stakeholders at different levels, to construct a system that not only helps us learn how to do things better, but ultimately leads to improvements where they are needed the most.

Watch this video to find out about our online Monitoring and Evaluation for Results course.

[1] Rondinelli, D.A. 1993 ‘Development Projects as Policy Experiments: An Adaptive Approach to Development Administration’ Routledge 2nd Ed

[2] Bond R and Hulme D 1999 ‘Process Approaches to Development: Theory and Sri Lankan Practice’, World Development Vol 27, No 8 pp. 1339-1358

[2] Archibald, T., Sharrock, G., Buckley, J., & Young, S. (2018). Every practitioner a “knowledge

worker”: Promoting evaluative thinking to enhance learning and adaptive management in

international development. In A. T. Vo & T. Archibald (Eds.), Evaluative Thinking. New

Directions for Evaluation158, 73–91.

[3] Bond R. 2003 'Opening Pandora's Box: Regional Action on a Concept of Sustainable Growth with Equity' in D. Potts et.al. Eds. Development Planning and Poverty Reduction, Palgrave MacMillan

by Richard Bond

by Petra Veres and John Cammack

Sustainability is a buzzword, but what does it mean for organisations? Being sustainable, and especially financially sustainable means that the organisation has the ability to adapt to new circumstances and to develop resilience in uncertain times. Those organisations which fall into the category of “financially sustainable” have a greater potential to bring broader societal benefits even during unforeseen global challenges. Their service is not, or is less affected by external impacts, such as a decreased income due to restrictions or lack of funding by donors.

It is a complex task to establish a financially sustainable organisation. An organisation, as such needs to have its budget in order and manage its cash flow effectively. This way not only the impact of its programmes but the organisation’s credibility with partners, donors and other stakeholders can be improved. The organisation needs to manage its reserves or organisational savings and core costs effectively as these can be affected by external events. The latter, which refers to rent, water, electricity, salaries, telephone charges, travel expenses and technological equipment need to be covered by either the organisation itself or with the support of donors, otherwise the organisation will not be able to plan easily for the future. A financially sustainable organisation needs to develop a financing plan which allows to review the needs of the organisation and how income can be generated in various ways. If the core costs are suddenly not maintained, due to lack of external support or a rise in unpredictable necessities, such as additional technological equipment, the organisation’s sustainability is disrupted. In the response to these unforeseen expenses or loss of income reserves play a crucial role. Holding savings enables the organisation to continue its work even if income or fundraising is not as high as expected, or when money is not received or received late. This way money not budgeted can be spent if an opportunity or emergency arises. [1]

The establishment of a financially sustainable organisation needs time but more importantly, it needs skilled and knowledgeable professionals. So, what skills and knowledge are we talking about exactly? 

The above-mentioned practices will require professionals, regardless of their role, with good basic understanding of financial management: How is cash flow managed within their organisation? How does their organisation extract funding? Does this funding go towards core costs and reserves or only to project delivery? They will need to be able to plan and monitor budgets, communicate effectively about finance with donors, partners and other stakeholders and manage their expectations for project funding and financial reporting. 

Being financially sustainable is desired for any organisation which wants to be able to deliver programmes effectively and plan easily for the future. Yet, why should we focus on it more during the recent pandemic? How did this global uncertainty affect different types of organisations and how can we sustain resilience and responsiveness? 

The recent pandemic brought changes in where donors are directing their funding and how they support their partners and grantees. For some organisations to be financially sustainable and resilient is not only a necessity for project delivery but for survival. The access and utilization of resources differs from one organisation to another in different country contexts. It is evident that larger organisations’ funding may not be tremendously affected by the global pandemic as they are able to extract funding from a larger pool of resources. Large international NGOs and INGOs are relatively well positioned as well as they have the support of their donors, network of local professionals and financial base similarly to big for-profit implementing partners, whose infrastructure remains attractive for donors. However, midsize and small local NGOs and Charities will face hardship to a larger extent.[2]

Programmes need to cope with lockdown requirements, travel restrictions and health concerns while responding to different and additional needs. While the cost structures and parameters of programme delivery changes and the duration of this shift is unknown, international and local organisations’ cash flow and liquidity becomes critical and sensitive to changes. There’s no doubt that those who deliver the programme need more flexibility from their donors and partners at the moment.

Funders have increased their flexibility due to the uncertainty in current grant agreements. They’ve been allowing organisations to use money for sick pay, relaxing reporting deadlines, adapting activities while acknowledging that agreed timeframes might change, and activities might need to be adjusted accordingly.[3]Yet, this flexibility might be only a short-term solution and by time, funders might begin to direct their funding towards COVID-19 alone, on specific health related programs and cut back on other funding projects.[4]

There is a high need from large organisations to increase efforts in cooperation and sympathize with their smaller partners, while for small, local organisations to be more accountable and transparent in their financial management. Regardless of what organisation people work in it is essential to understand various needs and expectations of partners. With the basic set of skills and knowledge in finance professionals, working in an NGO, Private sector, UN agency or government ministry, will be able to increase these efforts and build their and their partner organisations’ capacity.

At IMA International, considering the rapid change of the sector, we are offering a Sustainable Finance training course for professionals working in International Development. This IMA course will cover all the finance basics, and how they operate in uncertain times –budgeting, financial sustainability and resilience, financial controls, and using financial information in decision making and communicating about finance. It also has a module covering how to a build a partner’s financial capacity. The training will enable participants to meet others from different parts of the world and engage and understand challenges in different organisations. It is a very flexible training, which helps practitioners to use finance skills to build their own, and partner organisations’ financial capacity even during uncertain times.

If you are interested in this modular course please email us at post@imainternational.com.

[1] Cammack, J.  (2014) Building financial management for NGOs and community organizations, Practical Action Publishing.

[2] Cornish, L. (2020) Interactive: Who's funding the COVID-19 response and what are the priorities? DevEx.

[3] Bond (2020) How is Covid-19 affecting NGOs’ finances and operations?

[4] Kumar, R. (2020) For the global development community, COVID-19 poses big questions. DevEx.

There is an increasing engagement and commitment to Knowledge Management (KM) and Knowledge Sharing (KS) in the International Development Community. A strong feature of a successful approach, and one which we advocate on our workshops and consultancies is that to look at KM through a people lens rather than purely through ICT. This reading of KM brings attention to the real day-today relating and practices in organisations, and a focus here can truly embed and institutionalise knowledge sharing. KM needs to be understood not as an isolated discipline but as an integral part of organisational culture, when knowledge is effectively shared, it can dissolve silos. In a world of divided disciplines, we believe that KM can open the door to more holistic and multidisciplinary perspectives.

IMA experienced a great example of this with BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee). Within a context of altered funding, major change management processes and spurred by a new leadership, BRAC Bangladesh is promoting better knowledge management (KM) and knowledge sharing (KS) both internally, and externally with stakeholders and partners to ultimately have greater influence and advocacy. Working with diverse BRAC members allowed a joint understanding of how KM can further BRAC’s work; assess what KS practises were already working well and suggest how to improve them; and identify KM gaps and explore ways to address these. Crucial are spaces to hear different perspectives and to raise awareness and learning on KM concepts and key practices for KM officers, KM champions and middle managers, for senior members, and field officers to encourage a knowledge-sharing rapport between field and head office.

Listening to different perspectives, gleaning what was already happening and what people wanted, allowed a co-creation of a KM roadmap and strategy with, and for, BRAC which embeds the idea of learning from practice. After this initial work, BRAC appointed a KM Unit who are now coordinating the BRAC KM Network. The three pillars of ‘KM processes’, ‘KM structures’ and ‘Skills & capacity for knowledge sharing’ between them include all organisational aspects of KM. What we see within BRAC is a trend we are experiencing more globally; a thirst for better using KM to improve organisational practices for innovation, improvement and impact. By focusing on the people involved, KM can help tap into the wealth of people’s tacit knowledge and experience; create ways to share this and institutionalise KS practices by breaking down silos.


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