2016/International Religious Freedom Program (Summary)

OUTCOME EVALUATION OF INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM PROGRAM

March 2016

This publication was produced at the request of the United States Department of State. It was prepared independently by Rebecca Shah, Mehr Latif, and Julia Rizvi for Social Impact, Inc.

PERFORMANCE EVALUATION OF SIX PROJECTS FUNDED BY THE BUREAU OF DEMOCRACY, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND LABOR

March 25, 2016

IDIQ Contract Number: S-AQMMA-12-D-0086

Technical and Advisory Services for Program Evaluation Requirements

Task Order Number: S-AQMMA-14-F-2685

COVER PHOTO
Community Group, Islamkot, Sindh province, Pakistan (Photo Credit: Mehr Latif). Permission for use of this photo was granted by Community World Service (CWS), implementer of this project, as well as the Village Leader of Islamkot.

DISCLAIMER
The authors’ views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Department of State or the United States Government.

ACRONYMS

CAPP

Community Action for Popular Participation 

COHRAP

Coalition of Human Rights Actors on the Plateau

COHURANS

Coalition of Human Rights Actors in Niger State

CMM

U.S. Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation

CSC

Christian Study Center 

CSO

Civil Society Organization 

CWS

Community World Service 

DoS

U.S. Department of State 

DRL

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor 

FGD

Focus Group Discussion 

IRC

Interactive Resource Center 

IRF

International religious freedom 

ISESCO

Islamic Education Scientific and Cultural Organization 

ISI

Inter-Services Intelligence 

ISIS

Islamic State 

JRT

Jos Reparatory Theatre 

KIBHR

Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights 

KII

Key informant interview 

M&E

Monitoring and Evaluation

MENA

Middle East and North Africa 

NCA

National Center for Advocacy

NEA

Near Eastern Affairs 

NGO

Non-Governmental Organization 

NU

Nahdlatul Ulama 

OIC

Organization of Islamic Cooperation 

OSCE

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe 

P3M

Perhimpunan Pengembangan Pesantren dan Masyrakat 

PKS

Partai Keadilan Sejahtera 

PLS

Punjab Lok Sujag 

PRTVC

Plateau Radio Television Corporation 

PVDP

Participatory Village Development Program

RfP

Religions for Peace 

SFCG

Search for Common Ground 

SI

Social Impact, Inc. 

STF

Security Task Force

TTP

Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan 

UN 

United Nations 

USAID

U.S. Agency for International Development 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Evaluation Purpose and Evaluation Questions

The U.S. Department of State (DoS) Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) contracted Social Impact, Inc. (SI) to conduct an outcome evaluation of six international religious freedom (IRF) projects funded by the Bureau. The projects aimed to change knowledge, skills, behaviors, and institutional capacities to address religious freedom and tolerance issues for religious minorities and majorities. This outcome evaluation is intended to inform decision-making by DRL’s Office of Global Programming. The evaluation answers the questions below:

1. How well did each IRF project achieve its objectives by the end of the project period?

2. Which projects were most and least successful in promoting religious freedom and tolerance? What factors contributed to success or failure? Factors include, but are not limited to: activities that reached the stated outcomes; sustainability and multiplier effect; and buy-in from local organizations, government, or other civil society actors.

3. What are some of the recurring issues within promoting religious freedom and tolerance that arise in most countries/situations? Can there be a standardized method for promoting religious freedom and tolerance?

4. What are the challenges to implementing politically sensitive religious freedom and tolerance programming, and how can they be overcome?

5. In which areas did the DRL IRF program make the greatest achievements? Why, and what were the supporting factors? In which areas did the DRL IRF program have the fewest achievements? Why, and what were the constraining factors? How can these be overcome?

Program Background

The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 mandated that DoS use all appropriate foreign policy tools, including programming funded by the U.S. Government, to assist in promoting religious freedom. This outcome evaluation assessed the effectiveness and results of the six IRF projects in Table 1. Although there is a common purpose to all six projects, each country’s operating environment is distinctive, and the projects have somewhat different foci and approaches. The goal of this evaluation was to capture the unique contextual and programmatic qualities of each project while identifying and analyzing the underlying common factors that contributed to successes and shortcomings. For additional detail, see Page 2 of this evaluation report.

Table 1: DRL IRF Projects Evaluated

Country

Project

Project Period

Implementer

Funding

Indonesia

Promoting International Religious Freedom and Understanding in Indonesian Pesantrens

8/6/2009– 8/31/2011 

Search for Common Ground (SFCG)

$500,000

Kazakhstan

Defending Religious Freedom in Kazakhstan

4/20/2009– 7/31/2010

Freedom House

$315,000

Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) Regional

Advancing Positive Change in the Middle East

9/7/2011– 1/31/2014 

Religions for Peace (RfP)

$495,045

Nigeria 

Preventing Inter-Religious Violence in Plateau State

12/9/2010– 11/30/2012 

Search for Common Ground

$742,574 

Nigeria

Promoting Accountability for Perpetrators of Ethno-Religious Violence

9/22/2012– 12/31/2014

Search for Common Ground

$700,000

Pakistan

Promoting Peaceful Co-Existence in Pakistan

1/4/2011–12/31/2014

Community World Service (CWS)

$648,543

Evaluation Design, Methods, and Limitations

Data collection methods aimed to generate the highest quality and most credible evidence, taking into consideration time, budget, and other practical factors. The Evaluation Team used document review, key informant interviews (KIIs), focus group discussions (FGDs), and mini-surveys to conduct on-site data collection in Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, and Pakistan. Key informants constituted a purposive sample of implementers, local partners, project beneficiaries, key stakeholders, donor representatives, and external actors. In total, the Evaluation Team spoke with 248 key informants (174 male, 74 female).

All six projects began between three and six years ago and concluded between one to five years before evaluation fieldwork. This time lapse presented limitations related to data availability, access to key informants, and recall bias. Security concerns introduced risks for Evaluation Team members and key informants in Nigeria, Pakistan, and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. In Nigeria and Pakistan, key informants may have been motivated to provide responses that would be considered socially desirable or influential in maintaining donor support. The Evaluation Team worked closely with implementers to identify key informants in all countries—especially Pakistan. Selection bias is an inherent risk when implementers help to facilitate contact with project beneficiaries, as they may select the most active, responsive, or engaged beneficiaries—meaning that the Evaluation Team may only hear from those who report positive experiences. For additional detail, see Page 5 of this evaluation report.

Conclusions

For additional detail, see Page 10 of this evaluation report for findings and Page 47 for conclusions.

Evaluation Question 1

Indonesia: The Evaluation Team concluded that SFCG achieved progress toward increasing Indonesian students’ knowledge and understanding of the “other” through debate competitions and comic book reading clubs. However, given that SFCG did not institutionalize either activity, the project missed opportunities for sustaining and multiplying its effects.

Kazakhstan: Due to challenging realities in Kazakhstan’s operating environment, the Evaluation Team did not find evidence of lasting project outcomes such as raising public awareness about religious minority groups, enhancing the ability of those groups to exercise their rights, or influencing legislation that would protect religious freedoms.

Nigeria: The Evaluation Team concluded that SFCG contributed to a reduction in the levels of violence, including a decrease in reprisal attacks in Nigeria’s Plateau State, but evidence of contributions to reduced inter-religious and inter-ethnic conflict was not found in areas beyond Jos. SFCG also fulfilled its objective of building a platform for civil society organizations (CSOs) to engage Nigerian institutions, such as the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), to promote human rights and monitoring.

Pakistan: In Pakistan, CWS’ overly ambitious project design resulted in a lack of focus on some activities, such as policy seminars. The most successful project component was engaging religious leaders to raise awareness about inter-religious harmony in their congregations and mitigate potential sources of religious violence.

MENA: RfP achieved a concrete output by creating the MENA Council as a vital mechanism for religious discourse and collaboration in the region, a “safe space” for Syrian religious leaders to discuss the impact of the conflict on their communities, and a forum for high-level religious leaders to speak out against religious repression. However, the Evaluation Team concluded that RfP underestimated the level of effort required to publish religious warrants that require endorsement from high-level Jewish, Muslim, and Christian religious scholars.

Evaluation Question 2

Indonesia: The Evaluation Team concluded that debate competitions were more successful than comic book reading clubs in promoting critical thinking about religious tolerance among Indonesian students. However, use of the local dialect instead of English could have enabled a higher number of participants and a deeper level of comprehension among debaters and observers.

Kazakhstan: Freedom House helped to establish a critical precedent and lasting platform for civil society to provide input on pending human rights legislation in Kazakhstan, but cohesive advocacy and awareness-raising activities on freedom of religion did not continue after the project period.

Nigeria: SFCG successfully tailored its activities in Nigeria to highlight the unique role of women in conflict resolution and peacebuilding but missed a valuable opportunity to bring lasting change to the Plateau State because it neglected to engage marginalized, unemployed youth who are most at-risk of joining extremist groups. SFCG excelled in developing informal relationships and networks to promote accountability and justice in the Plateau and Niger States, including two coalitions that strengthened civil society’s capacity to monitor human rights violations in ways that were not possible before the project.

Pakistan: While CWS promoted effective peacebuilding activities by religious leaders in Pakistan, their efforts were not sustained after the project period.

MENA: The Evaluation Team concluded that RfP’s greatest achievement was the creation of the first permanent interfaith mechanism for religious discourse and collaboration in the MENA region.

Evaluation Question 3

Indonesia: Given the challenges of engaging youth who are most vulnerable to radicalization in Indonesia, elevating the voices of moderate Muslims was a worthwhile approach. The Evaluation Team concluded that, in such contexts, implementing partners should empower the silent majority to define its target groups, messages, and methods of delivery.

Kazakhstan: While the global phenomenon of Islamist extremism is real, the Government of Kazakhstan may exaggerate threats to its national security to legitimize the closing of space for fundamental freedoms. The government’s position introduces a conceptual challenge for domestic CSOs that advocate for religious freedom, especially given that data on religious extremism in Kazakhstan is either lacking or classified.

Nigeria: While SFCG enhanced conflict management skills and influenced attitudes and behavior within Jos, these changes may not be sufficient to resist increasing religious and political manipulation in northern Nigeria.

Pakistan: Pakistan’s legal framework forms the root of discrimination against religious minorities, as it relegates non-Muslims to the position of second-status citizens. This status is reflected in lack of political representation, reduced access to state services, and social pressure for non-Muslims to convert to Islam.

MENA: While the state of affairs in the MENA region threatens to erode religious freedom, RfP’s project suggested the possibility of a vibrant civil society. A move in this direction must begin with reforming political and legal structures to allow civil society institutions such as the RfP-MENA Council to operate effectively.

Evaluation Question 4

Indonesia: SFCG presented its project objectives to beneficiaries in a cautious manner in order to achieve buy-in and maintain traction for its activities in Indonesia. Yet, the Evaluation Team concluded that lack of clarity resulted in a division between the implementer’s and some beneficiaries’ perspectives on the purpose of the project—thereby negatively affecting participatory implementation and diminishing impact.

Kazakhstan: The Evaluation Team concluded that Freedom House’s project was strategically funded and implemented to capitalize on increased visibility and expectations for the Government of Kazakhstan to adhere to international standards that promote fundamental freedoms. Absent ongoing pressure, Kazakhstan now lacks incentives to honor its commitments to protect political freedoms.

Nigeria: SFCG’s short-term success notwithstanding, the Evaluation Team was unable to determine whether the projects in Nigeria could overcome the challenges of an increase in extremist activity by Boko Haram and others, especially these groups’ effective use of religion to deepen religious and ethnic rifts.

Pakistan: Religious freedom and tolerance programming is extremely difficult to implement in Pakistan given the inherent biases in state policies, rise of extremism, and increasingly limited space for civil society to support a dialogue on this topic.

MENA: RfP’s approach demonstrates a meaningful way to engage in the promotion and protection of religious freedom and tolerance when there is no clear differentiation between religion and state and between the sacred and the secular. It confirms that construing discussions about religious freedom purely in terms of Islam risks suppressing and even eliminating the myriad religious identities in the MENA region.

Evaluation Question 5

Greatest Achievements

1. By building coalitions and informal networks, DRL implementing partners increased the potential for project outcomes to contribute to broader social change.

2. DRL programming used interactive and innovative activities to bring together people from different communities, imbue a sense of trust, and re-humanize the “other.”

3. DRL-funded projects achieved progress toward making systemic societal and institutional changes to promote religious freedom and tolerance.

4. DRL-funded project activities that succeeded were prudently realistic on the one hand and optimistically ambitious on the other, heeding the limits of the operating environment while cautiously pushing the bounds of social, cultural, and political space.

5. Projects that recognize the role of “religion” in the promotion of religious freedom and tolerance may be more likely to replicate their successes, adapt to religiously-motivated conflict dynamics, and effectively engage credible and influential religious actors.

Fewest Achievements

1. Some DRL-funded projects failed to institutionalize their interventions or achieve sustainable impact—due to challenges related to implementation as well as factors in the operating environment.

2. Most DRL-funded projects were unsuccessful in developing policy products or engaging with the policy process, despite attempts to impact policy via process-based activities.

Recommendations

For additional detail, see Page 55 of this evaluation report.

1. DRL should work with implementers to ensure that project objectives are realistic and achievable in light of context, assumptions, and resources. DRL should review proposed M&E Plans to analyze whether project objectives could realistically be achieved within the allotted timeframe and funding. Emerging changes in the implementation landscape should also be taken into account when refining project objectives and making programmatic decisions.

2. DRL should collaborate with U.S. Government Interagency partners to incorporate religious freedom interventions into other projects. Building on DRL’s progress to mainstream human rights issues, the Bureau should incorporate religious freedom issues across its Requests for Proposals. DRL should consider funding projects that promote freedom of religion in countries where the U.S. Government supports simultaneous programming to address conflict, counter violent extremism, or protect and advance other fundamental freedoms.

3. Implementers should engage credible voices to promote and advance religious freedom and tolerance. Local partners should be respected by diverse stakeholders, and they should be positioned to continue project activities after DRL funding ends. Implementers should establish effective relations with key stakeholders such as governing bodies and influential religious and community leaders.

4. DRL should focus on fostering religious freedom and tolerance among youth, especially in parts of the world such as sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, where a majority of the population is under 30 years of age. Project design should take into account the interests and comparative advantage of youth, as well as the risks involved in working with that target group.

5. Implementers should use innovative tools, including social media, to promote religious freedom and tolerance. DRL should encourage implementers to employ creative media to increase awareness of and receptiveness to religious freedom and tolerance—especially among youth.

6. DRL should require implementers to develop sustainability plans that consolidate and expand upon project achievements. Sustainability plans should consider both the financial and human resources aspects of transferring systems and processes to local leadership. Implementers should share proposed sustainability plans with local partners in the inception stage so that the project design can incorporate interventions and innovations that help to promote sustainability.

7. DRL should require implementers to monitor and assess whether project activities result in any sustainable changes for beneficiaries. Implementers should develop benchmarks and collect data regularly to measure change in knowledge and attitudes. Monitoring findings—including actionable recommendations for adjustments and corrective actions—should be shared with DRL in progress reports and used by implementers for programmatic decision-making purposes.