• White Paper

Retrospective study of basic education and skills training (BEST) : USAID assistance to sector reform in Zimbabwe


Method, F., Evans, D., & Chekenyere, G. (1999). Retrospective study of basic education and skills training (BEST) : USAID assistance to sector reform in Zimbabwe. Washington, DC: USAID/Bureau for Africa/Office of Sustainable Development/Human Resources and Democracy Division.


Evaluates the impact and sustainability of the Basic Education and Skills Training (BEST) program in Zimbabwe (1983-90).Several things set BEST apart from the normal USAID project of that era. (1) BEST was one of the first USAID programs to use the Commodity Import Program (CIP) mechanism to provide education sector support, and one of the first to combine CIP-generated local currency and foreign exchange for this purpose. (2) BEST was a forerunner of the nonproject assistance (NAP) approach to development finance, insofar as USAID supported Zimbabwe's policies and judged it to have well-formulated plans and the management capacity to carry out the program. (3) The degree to which the BEST Working Group, rather than USAID or other contractors, made the decisions, was unusual for USAID programs at the time or since. Zimbabwe's need for fast, flexible programming of resources required USAID to work constructively within a policy environment and sensitively within local decisionmaking processes. (4) BEST's facilitative rather than directive approach empowered Zimbabwe's decisionmakers and contributed to democratization in Zimbabwe. USAID staff is remembered by nearly all those associated with the project for their insistence on documenting decisions and for their helpful, collegial manner. Though some thought USAID made things unnecessarily difficult by not telling them what it was willing to support, they ultimately felt that the experience strengthened their own work habits.(5) The BEST Working Group was the key instrument in project development and in the approval process. It made decisions regarding allocation of funds, applied criteria for project approval, and enforced requirements for proposals. Moreover, BEST projects used Government of Zimbabwe (GOZ) standards, not USAID's sometimes more demanding standards.