Posted by Joe Smith


Understandably a charity donor is always keen to see their money go as far as possible. Helping 1000 people is better than helping 100. If a charity can do that by spending $100 instead of $1000 then even better. The most tangible indicators of success – the ones that are measured in ones and zeros – are seen as the most important and the most reliable.

Unfortunately, ones and zeros do not always tell the whole story, and can even be misleading. If you cannot always rely on the tangible, could there be indicators of development which are a lot harder to quantify, but no less real?

A rainwater harvesting tank can improve the quality of water a family drinks, should make it easier for them to bathe more often, and almost certainly reduces the amount of time they spend travelling to the spring. These are clear indicators and can be measured respectively in e-coli counts, litres per person, and hours per day. Everyone can grasp them. But surely there are knock-on effects too.

Since returning to Nicaragua two weeks ago, one such effect has struck me. Horses. Most appear much healthier than they were when I was here in 2010-11. I have seen fewer ribs and fewer saddle sores. More fat and shinier coats.

Three years ago I had to wait four months to see really healthy horses. I had forgotten how tall and muscular they could be. But at a local celebration – somewhere between a race and a modern day jousting tournament with prize money at stake – the communities paraded their finest steeds. Fast-forward three years, and healthy horses abound. They no longer seem to be locked away for a special occasion.

If horses are taking fewer trips to the spring then their life expectancy is almost certainly increased. They become healthier and can be used for other tasks like transporting the harvest to market. That means a horse has the potential to become more productive and opens up new avenues through which its owner can improve their family’s livelihood.

What figures can you put on that? Perhaps a complicated algorithm could come up with the financial value a healthy horse could have for a household. But the reality is that this just becomes too vague.

Development is a complicated process and indicators of its success may be found in unexpected places.