Step One on the Road to Self-Reliance: Engaging Local Actors in Community-Led Development
I recently returned from an invigorating project start-up workshop with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implementing partners in Kenya. After 25 years of participating in the evolution of development and humanitarian assistance, I am always deeply moved by the depth of local talent, capacity and wisdom coming up through the ranks of local government and civil society actors. This event was no exception.
The new project had already been designed with a contextually sensitive approach that would combine best practices in learning and adaptation with both agile and robust research approaches involving local actors and international experts. USAID’s new emphasis on designing programs with local sustainability in mind, which they call the “journey to self-reliance,” has created an impetus to challenge the status quo both locally and among implementing partners. It’s an idea whose time has come, and one NCBA CLUSA has long promoted.
Last month, USAID convened over 100 participants from local government ministries and international and local NGOs, as two project consortia came together to share perspectives and create common vision and principles, establishing the foundation for effective collaboration, building on existing platforms. The event was preceded by a smaller meeting to engage political leaders in a more private forum.
The high-profile investment of approximately $180 million over five years will aim to reduce the acute malnutrition that has proven to be stubbornly persistent in Kenya’s northwestern arid and semi-arid lands. USAID Advancing Nutrition, a project providing multi-sectoral technical assistance globally, worked closely with the Kenya USAID mission and Office of Food for Peace to plan and lead the workshop facilitation.
It was different from many other start-ups I have experienced, in that it ensured a more substantive voice for local leadership, with Kenyans leading much of the dialogue and outcomes. It was less about program design and work plan flowing down from the U.S. implementing partners, and more about challenging all partners to work together and incorporating high-level political stakeholders in a way that was substantive rather than ceremonial. County-level technical representatives joined the convening, substantially offering their experience, knowledge, and perspectives even before the more operational planning and start-up workshops.
After setting the technical context for nutrition and the programming context in arid and semi-arid lands, there was considerable focus on county-level coordination, existing programs, and how to plan for a transition to sustainability through a learning approach. With both break-out discussions by county-level oversight groups as well as cross-county technical experts, a debate and sharing of perspectives was encouraged, and consensus on principles was achieved, which was a foundational achievement.
In keeping with the “journey to self-reliance,” the workshop provided space for a wider group of government participants to build relationships and discuss the program’s implementation approach. Four themes were integrated throughout the week, and provided a foundation for future success:
- Collaboration: The need for effective, efficient cooperation led by county governments was emphasized. With the goal of creating a collaboration framework, stakeholders discussed existing and new structures that support program success at the national, county and community levels. Agreement on a vision and guiding principles formed the cornerstone for stakeholders’ commitment to collaboration.
- Governance: To ensure community accountability, stakeholders agreed on a governance platform and a 90-day action plan for collaboration, and committed to avoid duplication, repetition, and waste. Governance structures were designed as part of the collaboration framework, ensuring representation from government, USAID and implementing partners at the national, county and community levels.
- Learning Approach: Implementing partners highlighted their learning approach for the first two years of the program and articulated plans for community consultations, formative research and designing research that leads to sound, effective programming. Emphasis was placed on engaging communities to articulate their own priorities and solutions. Lessons learned will inform future directors, and course corrections will be made based on the findings during the first two years.
- Sustainability: Participants heard from county government and other partners about their experiences with projects that did not achieve long-term impact or sufficient local ownership. They established the intention to “begin with the end in mind” and will shape the plan to transition activities to county management over the life of project.
The consultative approaches discussed during this event and encouraged by USAID’s ”journey to self-reliance” are a natural fit with NCBA CLUSA’s long history and expertise in working with local organizations and promoting collaboration and ownership for success. In its resilience programming, NCBA CLUSA leverages the power of group action to empower communities as well as key livelihood and social groups for success. In local food and livelihood systems, NCBA CLUSA leverages local actors, community, producer and processor groups, and supports them to lead the way to their own destinies.