Small Project Assistance (SPA) Program 35th Anniversary Celebration

WASHINGTON – Peace Corps Director Jody Olsen joined USAID Counselor Chris Milligan to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the Small Project Assistance (SPA) Program. The joint collaboration has supported more than 25,000 projects and 2,800 training activities in 116 countries over the past three decades. On Monday, at a co-hosted event held at Peace Corps headquarters, Director Olsen shared success stories and the results of a new, jointly-funded external report that evaluated the program’s effectiveness.

“Whether increasing local water access in The Gambia, developing waste management solutions in Tonga, or mobilizing civic sector organizations around food insecurity in Macedonia, the SPA Program helps to catalyze community-led development,” said Director Olsen. “Time and again, we have seen the ripple effect of the program go well beyond a single grant, and last long after the end of an individual Peace Corps volunteer’s service. Now we have the hard data to prove it, thanks to a robust external evaluation of the SPA Program.”

Nearly $76 million in USAID funds, the service of thousands of Peace Corps Volunteers, and the contributions of millions of community stakeholders have enabled the SPA Program to support community development projects tailored to reflect local development priorities across 116 countries. Projects take place across all Peace Corps sectors, including agriculture, economic development, education, environment, health and youth development. The average SPA project is supported by community contributions that total over 40 percent of project costs, demonstrating a built-in level of local investment and ownership.

In an average year, over 275,000 community members worldwide participate in more than 500 SPA grant projects. These projects and trainings provide valuable skills and knowledge transfer that empower communities to find innovative, local solutions to their development needs. According to the external SPA Program evaluation, over 70 percent of communities independently maintain projects after a grant has ended, and nearly 30 percent expand upon the project through new development efforts. The evaluation findings affirm the program’s long-term, sustainable impact in communities around the world.

Dr. Josephine Olsen

 Jody Olsen
Director, Peace Corps
Small Project Assistance (SPA) Program 35th Anniversary Celebration
November 26, 2018
Peace Corps Headquarters

 Today we celebrate 35 years of the Small Project Assistance Program—a remarkable partnership the Peace Corps enjoys with USAID.

Over these years, SPA has spanned 116 countries, leveraged $76 million in USAID funds to catalyze over 25,000 community-led development projects and support nearly 3,000 technical training  engaged over 1 million direct participants; plus more than 26 million community stakeholders; a size of success difficult to absorb.

Many thanks to our team here at Peace Corps and USAID
Peace Corps SPA Program Manager Whitney Stockwell Peace Corps SPA Program Specialist Mathew CRY-ton

PC Post staff—especially Posts’ small grants coordinators who wear so many hats

Christa Dee-Lorenzo, Acting Team Lead, Capacity, Culture, and Communications of USAID (USAID POC for this event)

  • Zoofee  MoolooGEhta Local Sustainability Specialist at USAID

SPA is a story of outsized impact, one only hoped for in the beginning.

Tell story of beginning and show signed document. 

SPA is the story that many RPCVs here today can share.  How many of you here in this room were involved in a SPA project?  Thank you for your roles in its success.

I want to share three specific stories of SPA’s influence on both communities and Volunteers.
could Oshua Kim, Johnathan Padway, and Meagan Celestine stand up for a moment. I’m now going to tell their stories.

Joshua was in Ghana from 2012 – 2014.

As a biology volunteer,  Joshua was asked by an ICT teacher to rehabilitate the ICT lab at the school.  He went into the room to see 10 – 20 year old non-working computers sitting under West African dust.

Then a Joshua organized school team of faculty, headmaster, students, an approved SPA grant for $5,000, … then wires, extra parts, reconstructed inners of the computers, ‘borrowed’ electricity from the house next door, tables, chairs and teacher training sessions later, the new ICT center with its Ghanaian instructor was teaching students how to type, code, and research information from a downloaded Wikipedia.

Other schools saw the results and began their own programs. The Ghanaian education ICT program was born.

This program then added the “Ghana hackathon for good” as coders saw the value of ICT school centers.  Ghanian “coders for Africa” come together to solve problems such as access to cashew marketing prices for farmers, money transfer for market women, malaria prevention information for youth by creating games for computers and apps for phones in group marathon sessions.

Today, Joshua, as a Marketing Specialist in Third Goal here at Peace Corps stays in touch with his students who are doing well as they further their computer skills.

Joshua told me “the SPA grant helped me have an impact as a Volunteer through my counterpart and school headmaster. I owe this success to them and to what SPA enabled.”

Johnathan Padway, currently a Peace Corps Desk Officer, was an education Volunteer in Rwanda.

He wanted to promote literacy and create a culture of reading, gained in part from his mom, a librarian.  For his SPA project, he collaborated with 15 other PCVs, their 15 counterparts, the ministry of sports and culture, and the national NGO, Rwanda Reads.  Working as a team, they identified mobile library sites throughout the country; then brought the 15 Volunteers, their counterparts, members of Rwanda Reads and librarians from throughout Rwanda for project development and training.

The small SPA grant covered the training costs and transportation for Rwandan participants.  The training facilitator from the US paid her own way.

SPA brought them together to help their libraries succeed – and to learn to use community buildings as literacy and reading centers.

Meagan Celestine, currently an HR Assistant here at Peace Corps, was a Volunteer in Dominica.

As a literacy Volunteer, she used her SPA grant to work with the community to create the Magic Garden Literacy Room.  The school and community team of students, teachers, parents, and friends, with $6,000, built a 14 by 14 community room near the school, decorated it to represent a garden, and filled the space with reading programs.

You saw photos of this and the other two projects before the program began.

One  program was the Reading Buddy project, a weekly program whereby 100% of the students go into the room, pair off, and read to each other for 30 minutes.

Another program has teachers, parents, and community members read to the students before school.  On occasion, they also tell Island folk tales, some new to the students.

The student librarian program essentially gives the Literacy Room to the students as over a third of the students own the Literacy room maintenance and the checkout system, checking out 2,000 books a year to take home and read.

In the recent devastating hurricane Maria, all the buildings and homes in Meagan’s town lost their roofs …. Except the Magic Garden Literacy Room.

It remained intact, and even more valued following the storm.

Today it continues its daily programs, run by students, parents, and the community.  Meagan says the Magic Garden Literacy Room came from the community and the community keeps it strong.

These are recent examples and show that the heart of the SPA program has not changed in 35 years—it is still an effective resource Volunteers use to facilitate impact in the communities in which they serve.

SPA’s success is about community-led change, which has been sustained and expanded upon over the years.  SPA projects aren’t just about the end products—they’re about the process of getting there.

They’re about collaboration.

Good friends Jody Olsen & Elaine Chao (PC Director 1991-92)

Community leadership.

And catalyzing change the way Peace Corps works best—from the ground up.

The average SPA grant project is supported by over 40 percent in community contributions, demonstrating a built-in level of community investment and sustained community ownership.

Joshua, Johnathan and Meagan’s stories exemplify this.

The counterpart requirement for SPA grant application and implementation ensures that Volunteers are working hand-in-hand with the community to make decisions, determine priorities, and ensure sustainability.

SPA projects reflect local development priorities and cross all sectors including agriculture, economic development, education, environment, health, youth development, and multi-sector projects.

SPA has also played an integral role in the cross-sectoral work our Volunteers lead in women and girls empowerment and supported more than 2,800 technical trainings to increase skills for wider development activities.

Communities then draw on local resources to implement their newly-gained technical knowledge—enabling SPA leveraged investments contribute to long-term capacity-building.

Now, we have hard data to prove that the SPA program goes well beyond a single grant and lasts long after an individual Peace Corps Volunteer’s service ends.

USAID and Peace Corps together have just completed a robust, jointly-funded and implemented external evaluation of the SPA IV Program.

This evaluation analyzed global grant data from more than 2,500 SPA grants between FY13 and FY 17.

You will hear more about this evaluation later in the program but three immediate points to remember:

  • 96% of SPA projects undertaken were fully completed with 2/3 of them sustained by the community after the Volunteer completed service.
  • 28% (over a fourth) were expanded upon by the community and let to new development activities
  • 45% were specifically designed to benefit women, youth, and children.

Importantly, the external evaluation team said the following:

“Regardless of varying levels of community contribution, leadership, and budget, SPA IV projects left a mark on the communities that they served.  Projects were remembered fondly and contributed to communities in ways that go beyond statistics.”  They continued….“the fact that PCVs and communities were able to come together, in spite of constraints and difficulties, and plan and implement ambitious projects that affected the lives of community members is worthy of continued investment.  The SPA IV Program is a major success for the Peace Corps and USAID”

We couldn’t be prouder of the SPA program’s legacy to date or be more grateful for the support of USAID, thousands of Peace Corps Volunteers, and millions of community stakeholders across the globe, who have made this all possible.

Here’s to 35 years of the SPA Program and 35 more to come.

Chris Milligan

  • Next, please let me introduce Counselor Chris Milligan.
  • Milligan is the Counselor to the US Agency on International Development.
  • A member of the Senior Foreign Service, he has a deep wealth of development experience.
  • He previously served as the Acting Mission Director of USAID/Madagascar, later working as USAID’s first Mission Director to Myanmar in 24 years. He was also deployed to Haiti as the U.S. Response Coordinator, overseeing $1 billion in U.S. relief efforts following the January 2010 earthquake.
  • Throughout his career, Mr. Milligan has been posted to overseas missions in Indonesia, Zimbabwe and Ecuador, and served as Deputy Mission Director in Iraq.
  • He also has served as the Regional Director for the Near East in the Office of the Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance in the State Department and as the Acting Administrator for USAID’s Bureau Public and Legislative Affairs.
  • Milligan joined USAID as a Presidential Management Fellow in 1990. Mr. Milligan has a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, a master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and is a distinguished graduate of the National War College..





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