The EvaMENA final forum marks the close of the first chapter on a great story that still has a long way to go. Three years ago, the International Development and Research Center (IDRC) funded a project to promote evaluation capacity in the MENA region. The project is housed at the Environment and Sustainable Development Unit at the American University of Beirut. Three years ago, the only region with less than a handful of professional networks for evaluators was MENA. A small group of volunteers with big aspirations for the region wanted to ensure that MENA did not fall behind and started to cultivate an environment where knowledge sharing and creation in Arabic, English and French would promote the growth and development of a locally based evaluation culture.
Evaluators from Western, African & Asian countries will be accustomed to the benefits of organizations like AEA, EES, SLEvA & AfrEA where debates, tools, workshops, resources and job posts are shared with professional interest. For MENA-based evaluators, the EvalMENA network is a breath of fresh professional air.
There were a few driving forces behind the creation of EvalMENA. For starters, it was lonely to be an evaluator in MENA. You needed to wait a few time zones and ensure that you have fluency in a foreign language to access the documents, resources, and support that so many evaluators globally take for granted. In addition, once you had gained additional skills and were excited to take it back to your local community of inspiring evaluators, there is a language barrier! After all, most Arabs speak, read, write and work in Arabic when in an Arab country. Finally – as a global MENA evaluator, you also needed to be familiar with the prominent evaluation discourse to export local value to the larger international community of evaluators.
But this frustration is slowly dissipating as EvalMENA has managed to grow a MENA-wide network of strong evaluators who are multi-lingual and have been working in the field for many years. In addition to offering several workshops and cultivating a shared vision across several countries and contexts, the group has harnessed the energies and capacities of the MENA evaluators to create an online free course in Arabic for evaluators.
It took an impressive amount of work, coordination and dedication for دورةتعليميةباللغةالعربيةحولتقييمالتنمية to become a part of the introductory e-Learning programme on Development Evaluation offered by UNICEF and IOCE, under the EvalPartners. The program opens the door to ensuring capacity building for development evaluation is accessible to evaluators in the Arab world who are arabophone – opening the door to more opportunities for local evaluators as the demands and recognition for evaluation is growing in the region.
This collective of professionals has demonstrated the power of knowledge sharing and creation in real-time across barriers of language, time, ICT platforms, and cultures. The group also boasts the emergence of country-based evaluation groups (e.g., Jordan and Tunisia) that are being encouraged by the values and work of EvalMENA & friends.
Given that 2015 has been declared as the International Year of Evaluation and it is the year where the MDGs are moving to SDGs , the EvalMENA group work seems like it was just in time! But this is only a start in advocating for evidence-based policy making in the MENA region where challenges of low projected economic growth is clashing with a growing unemployment rate (16.8M by 2015!). In a region where concerning illiteracy rates are predicted to rise with millions of displaced people because of political and environmental crises. The list of challenges is growing and the solutions need to be viable and scalable. Local evaluators will be critical to helping key decision makers find the best approaches to promote local development.