This paper examines what it means to be genuinely sustainable, locally-led, and politically-smart, drawing on the successes and failures of the DFID-funded ENABLE programme in Nigeria. ‘Sustainability’, ‘locally-led’, and ‘politically smart’ are concepts in development, like ‘adaptive management’, that many donors and practitioners either reflexively claim to embrace or dismiss as little more than common sense or good development practice. However, as this paper argues, pursuing a genuinely sustainable, locally-led, and politically-smart approach requires a radical departure from most mainstream approaches. It also entails potential trade-offs that are rarely explicitly acknowledged and weighed in programme design. There has also been relatively little effort made to monitor and evaluate whether programmes are indeed delivering sustainable, locally owned change – for example, post-programme evaluations are still relatively novel and there is little practical guidance on how to assess sustainability.

ENABLE provides an interesting case to explore these issues. Originally designed as a Challenge Fund for business associations, in recognition of the inherent limitations of such an approach ENABLE was redesigned to put sustainability and local ownership at the heart of the programme. This led to wholesale changes in the way the programme designs and implements interventions and to the size and nature of the project team and their ways of working. As ENABLE entered its second phase in 2014 it dropped one of its focal states, Lagos, to shift focus to the north of Nigeria. This provides an opportunity to put ENABLE’s claims around sustainability to the test by examining the fate of ENABLE1 partners in Lagos three years after the end of direct project support (as well as examining other evidence of sustainability from ENABLE2).

ENABLE, with its emphasis on strengthening the process of reform, rather than just the end result, also provides an interesting contrast with more technocratic approaches, which are still the dominate mode of Business Environment Reform programming. ENABLE was designed in part as a response to the perceived failings of donor-led, technocratic reform efforts (including the precursor Investment Climate Programme). At the federal level, for example, excluding the reforms contributed to by ENABLE, no significant piece of BE-related legislation has been passed in Nigeria in nearly 20 years, despite numerous donor initiatives over the years.
Although ENABLE is a business advocacy programme, the approach followed and lessons learned have relevance for any programme working in Business Environment Reform (BER), economic governance, and even governance more broadly.

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