Sunday, January 29, 2012

SPA - Peace Corps' Small Project Assistance Fund

Many friends and family back home by this point have heard me talk about SPA, a USAID grant-making mechanism for Peace Corps Volunteers and one of my more time-consuming secondary activities.  As with almost all PC programming, posts administer their SPA programs separately.  I've been serving on Peace Corps Moldova's SPA review board since last winter, meaning once a month during the winter-spring funding cycle I get a stack of 8-16 grants to examine before travelling to the capital for a day of reviewing which will get funded.  Our total annual budget is $140,000 with the maximum grant being $5,000.  The money comes from US Agency for International Development, but can only be used to fund community-led projects that are conducted in collaboration with a volunteer.

Obviously, there's a lot of paperwork and minutia in reviewing grants, but it has nevertheless been one of my favorite secondary activities during my time here.  It's given me a chance to see the incredible breadth of initiatives volunteers support, from community youth radio stations to agricultural projects.  It's also proven true the maxim that the best way to truly learn something is to teach others - helping fellow volunteers through the grant process and continuously teaching the steps of project design and management has been great practice for explaining these steps to my own community partners.

As I spend more time around development organizations, however, I've also been gaining a deeper appreciation for the SPA program and the several ways in which it is unique.  Simply put, there is no other development program like it out there.  Because the overriding goal of the program is to teach project design and management skills, as compared to most grant-making programs which focus on particular priorities, with SPA there is no restriction on project domain.  We've funded initiatives running the gamut from democratization and technology to health and business development.

We just held our first meeting this weekend, and as always, I was impressed by the creative, sustainable, low-cost and community-led solutions volunteers collaborated with community partners to design.  I learned about rocket-mass heaters and the first school for the deaf and blind in Moldova, saw the most innovative reading promotion program that's probably ever been done in Moldova, and even got to see a high school student student give a very professional presentation to a committee of adults and foreigners.

The present entry here is meant for readers back home as a background companion post to this piece, which takes much of this information for granted.  But it's also an insight onto how I spent upwards of 25 hours this past week.  Seeing the great proposals we started the year off with yesterday, it was all worth it.

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