- Our Work
- Get Involved
- Inside Heifer
- Ideas in Action
Western Michigan University: Heifer's benefits 'beyond doubt'
"It is beyond doubt that in all 20 of the countries we have examined, Heifer has brought large overall benefits to very large numbers of low income rural families."
So say evaluators from the Evaluation Center of Western Michigan University, one of the nation's leading evaluation institutions, following five years of study of Heifer International projects in 20 countries.
Heifer International kicked off the cycle of evaluations in 2005 to measure the impact of its work and determine whether or not efforts by staff and volunteers and generous gifts from donors were contributing to making a difference in the lives of the families with whom Heifer works.
The findings were clear: the benefits are real and life changing.
According to the evaluators' summary: "In particular, there are always substantial benefits wherever the elements of basic human needs are in short supply … the needs for adequate food, water, shelter, improved protection against life-threatening disease, and enough reasonably secure income to provide for basic clothing, household equipment for cooking and storing basic foods, and minimal medical needs."
The evaluation team, led by Dr. Michael Scriven, considered one of the leaders of evaluation science as a modern discipline and former associate director of the evaluation center at WMU, visited more than 139 Heifer projects in 20 countries. In site visits and interviews with 5,000 Heifer program participants, evaluators measured accountability and transparency, community spirit, gender equity, training, diets, incomes, the health and care of livestock and environment.
"Our goal was to see what—if any—difference Heifer is contributing to in the world," said Rienzzie Kern, Heifer International's senior director of planning, monitoring and evaluation. "We hoped the evaluations would show not only material improvements for families and communities where Heifer is working, but Cornerstone changes as well (guiding principles of Heifer's work, including Passing on the Gift, accountability, sharing and caring, gender and family focus, etc.)," said Kern.
"I am so delighted to be able to say that these evaluations clearly demonstrate change—in nutrition, income, opportunity, but also in attitudes, in values, in willingness to work together. It provides the accountability—to staff and volunteers, and especially to donors—that is so important."
In virtually every evaluation, the evaluators noted improvements in nutrition, agriculture, income, hope and opportunity, access to health care and medicine, livestock management. And mentioned in nearly every report was Heifer's signature, Passing on the Gift (POG) program.
With POG, a family that receives livestock and training pledges to pass on the first female offspring as well as education and training to another family, multiplying the gift and the benefit.
"The 'Heifer edge' is the organization's cost-effective crusade against poverty has always been the built-in sustainability of the commitment to 'Passing on the Gift' of livestock, and of skills in (i) their care, and in (ii) respect for the Twelve Cornerstone Values (guiding principles of all the organization's programs)," evaluators noted. "Our evaluation convinced us of the importance of continuing with this core feature."
Additionally, evaluators cited as a strength Heifer's work on gender equity. "Amongst the leading goals of Heifer's work and the leading effects in many countries, gender equity deserves a special mention because it is so strongly contrary to prevailing values in some countries, such as Nepal, where it was most conspicuously established in all the Heifer projects.
"This success was automatically multiplied beyond their borders since its existence in these communities provided clear examples to refute the local self-fulfilling generalizations (e.g., about women's limited competence for leadership) that were previously available to reinforce the country-wide prejudice."
Some specific in-country findings include:
In Thailand, evaluators found Heifer's work helped villagers access greater amounts and varieties of food, helped increase their knowledge and skills in livestock care, and that extra income for livestock and food helped villagers send their children to school for more years.
In Tanzania, evaluators found most beneficiary families were initially undernourished, but within a couple years after receiving an animal and training, were able to maintain a healthy diet. Many started to accumulate livestock and other assets, and soon could better afford medical expenses and keep their children in school longer and more consistently (particularly girls).
In Armenia, evaluators noted Heifer Armenia has an impressive 100 percent Passing on the Gift rate for current projects, and in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, researchers cited Heifer's effectiveness and impact as "nothing less than impressive."
In the Philippines, evaluators found that participant families have not yet had time to accumulate investments from their animal gifts, but that quality of life improvements were noted. Following Cornerstone training, many respondents spoke of "giving up vices," such as alcoholism, gambling and womanizing.
In Indonesia, evaluators found that improvements in empowerment and in livestock care and management. Specifically, gains were noted in entrenched cultural values about gender due to gender equity training. In Vietnam, improvements were noted in relationships with government, better livestock care, more and better food and cleaner households and communities.
In Asia, evaluators said, "It was evident that Heifer China has the strongest system we have seen so far, not only to provide livestock care training and management support, but also to effectively influence other agencies to adopt Heifer values and work strategies."
In Cameroon, evaluators said Heifer's work "had a marked impact on all projects visited and is substantially assisting group members combat poverty and increase their standard of living." Additionally, "project participants now have consistent sources of income from the sale of livestock, manure and gardening," and as a result of increased income, participants are better able to pay their children's school fees and have increased access to health care.
Improvements were noted, too, in gender equity as women reported their husbands took larger shares of the household work, helping with cutting grass for animals, cleaning and even cooking.
In Honduras, evaluators noted "the nearly 100 percent rate of Passing on the Gift…(frequently even in the second and third generation POGs)." Furthermore, evaluators found important impacts on empowerment within families and communities, stronger community spirit and more equalized participation between genders.
Evaluators in Guatemala collected consistent reports on improvement in nutrition (especially more access to protein) and income, greater capacity of participants to care for and manage livestock, increased use or organic fertilizers, improvements in gender equity and empowerment of some members of Heifer projects to join communitywide leadership groups.
In Peru, Western Michigan University evaluators reported that "all projects presented some evidence of sustainability," and that benefit continues even after official support from Heifer International ended. For example, In Sicuani, there have been more than 1,500 beneficiaries since the guinea pig project started five years ago, but 400 of those families were Passed on the Gift after Heifer International support ended in 2003. Evaluators also noted that "with no doubt, the values of 'responsibility' and 'solidarity' seem to be well internalized among project participants," and that "increasing income is overwhelmingly the most prominent impact of HPI projects in the lives of participant families."
"Yes—[my income increased] about 70 percent more," said one participant. "We can produce more. For example, the lemon plants I have…I'm selling 300 lemons, mango, too—they are 20 cents each. I didn't have these plant before."
Evaluators noted that Heifer project participants' homes had healthier environments—chimneys that send smoke out of the house and better lighting, a greater chance of self-employment, increasing sources of food and an increased sense of hope about the future.
Evaluators additionally noted that Heifer's presence positively impacted community members who were not direct beneficiaries of the projects as well. Families who see the benefits their neighbors get from diversifying crops and using organic fertilizers are copying their behavior, and Heifer participants are sharing their knowledge.
"These evaluations clearly show the difference Heifer is helping to make, but it doesn't end here," said Kern. "These evaluations have helped develop a toolkit we will use to help build evaluation capacity in the field so that we can continue to monitor and measure Heifer's contribution to impact, and to demonstrate to volunteers, staff and donors the value of the work."
 Scriven, Michael, The External Evaluation of Heifer International's Efforts in twenty countries, A Five Year overview, Western Michigan University, 2009