How Can Civil Society Make Effective Use of Remittance Flows: The Case of Education

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by Hugo Rodriguez Nicolat, ESCALERA

At ESCALERA, a US-based non-profit that believes that school changes everything, we aim to end the world’s school shortage in our Lifetime. Allow me to stress the latter part of this mission: in our Lifetime.

To achieve this ambitious goal we need synergies to scale up all efforts. We understand that alone, it would be difficult to reduce the deficit, let alone end it. To attend to this challenge just in Mexico, we need to build a minimum of 430,000 classrooms and send 350,000 kids to high school over the next 20 years. Conscious of the need for allies, ESCALERA has struck alliances with other NGOs and the local authorities, and more recently with an actor of enormous untapped potential: the Mexican Diaspora.

Thanks to proactive migrants, ESCALERA has teamed up with the Government of Chiapas, the Social Development State Secretary of Mexico (SEDESOL) and several municipalities to pool their resources and maximize the amount of classrooms each actor can build. Under the renowned SEDESOL program “3×1”, where every peso invested by the migrants to a social or productive project is matched by the three levels of Government, these actors have recently constructed 14 classrooms at a quarter of their cost and directly benefited over 850 students. ESCALERA acted as the executor of the construction and added to this ingenious program the increase advantages or transparency, lower cost and higher quality.

Based on the success of the first iteration, and the confidence gained with the Diasporas by the high quality outcome provided, we are now working on securing pooled funding for over 100 classrooms in the next months. Impressive figures considering we have built that many schools in 3 years.

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The project is by far one of the most interesting and complex ventures ESCALERA has undertaken so far, having multiple bureaucracies and stakeholders to deal with, but it is also the one with the most potential for growth. According to the World Bank remittances to developing countries were estimated around $404 billion in 2013, and growth in remittance flows to developing countries is expected to accelerate to an annual average of 8.4 percent over the next three years.

To tap into this potential we have partnered with the Government to convince more Diaspora clubs to invest in education projects in their communities of origin, and we are doing so by advocating facts not emotional appeals. As my good friend Chukwu-Emeka Chikezie, an expert on Diaspora engagement recently stated on an interview “home-country governments cannot rely solely on emotional bonds to get people in the Diaspora involved in homeland development.” Just as with any investor, we have to show the Diaspora the importance of the long-term benefits of their investment as well as give them assurances of adequate use of their investment.

For the first part, we are constantly meeting with Diaspora clubs to stress the important benefits of improving education in their home communities (i.e a 30% income difference between junior high school and high school graduates). We are trying to show them that education is a tool for local development and a potential vehicle for augmenting the choices available to their families in the communities of origin; to give them freedom to make migration an option, not a necessity to scale out of poverty.

On the assurances part, the Diaspora needs –just as any major international donor would demand- reliable and transparent budgets and progress reports. To this end, at ESCALERA we provided cost-efficient budgets, detailed time-lines and an overall reduced cost that is between 20 to 30% lower than the market. In our experience, Diasporas rarely get this kind of detailed information from the government counterparts –and this is where ESCALERA and civil society actors like us- can play a key role. If we act jointly as both advocates of the projects that employ remittances and overseers of its correct implementation, we can increase both the quantity as well as the effectiveness of the remittances designated for development projects. Isn’t this what it is all about in the end?

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