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Sector-Wide Approaches (SWAps)

Traditionally, aid to developing countries has been provided in the form of self-contained projects, each funded by their own donor. In the 1990s this approach began to attract criticism for being donor-driven (i.e., reflecting donor rather than country priorities) and leading to fragmentation and duplication. It was recognized that many individual projects posed unrealistic demands on developing countries' limited economic and human resources.

In response, the international community began to reform its methods of aid delivery and the Sector-Wide Approach (SWAp) emerged. Under the SWAp, project funds contribute directly to a sector-specific umbrella and are tied to a defined sector policy under a government authority. In essence, a SWAp calls for a partnership in which government and development agencies change their relationships (to clearer government leadership). They interact more together in the formulation of policy, and less on the details of its implementation.

Key characteristics of the SWAp should include: i) the partner government clearly leads and owns the programme; and ii) a common effort by external partners to support that programme, including provision of all or a major share of funding for the sector, in support of the government's unified policy and expenditure programme. Over time, some SWAps progress towards using government procedures for implementation and the disbursement of funds. In practice, most programmes are in the process of drawing in diverse channels of funding, making the coverage of the sector more comprehensive, bringing ongoing projects into line with sector priorities, developing common procedures and placing increased reliance on government for management. Where SWAps are appropriate, they can help to promote greater local involvement, accountability and capacity in partner countries. However, SWAps are not possible in all cases: certain preconditions in the macroeconomic, policy and institutional environment are necessary.

Poverty reduction strategies (PRS), including Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), present both a challenge and an opportunity for SWAps. Consistency between what is planned within-sector (SWAp) and across sectors (PRSP processes) is important, as is consistency in arrangements for stakeholder buy-in, implementation, monitoring and improved accountability. PRS processes may help to attract greater donor interest in SWAps than would otherwise occur, while SWAps can become a mechanism for ensuring implementation of the PRS.

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