REBLOG: COMMENTARY A USAID localization model finally emerges by Justin Fugle October 6, 2023

NOTE: Am reposting a great blog (plus attended the webinar) on localization of aid (getting US foreign assistance directly to local organizations), as we know, what is local tends to be sustained over the long-term, and NGOs can design, implement, monitor & evaluate with sustainability in mind, as they’re on the ground over the long-term. Original post: https://www.brookings.edu/articles/a-usaid-localization-model-finally-emerges

A USAID localization model finally emerges (reblog)

More than a decade ago, the efforts of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to directly fund its local implementers accelerated substantially, showing that localization could be successfully implemented within the rules and constraints of the U.S. government.  At the same time, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s localization initiative failed to move the needle, with direct funding to local entities at 4.2% in 2012 and merely 4.4% in 2018. USAID’s troubles with localization were so systemic at the time that, according to an article earlier this year by former senior U.S. officials, the Agency “declined to adopt” an approach shifting its resources to local organizations, “despite agreeing to the policy by signing the agreement” with the State Department’s Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, better known as PEPFAR.

US implementers transferred leadership to local orgs in just four years

 By contrast, the CDC followed its PEPFAR agreement to advance localization, transforming grants with U.S. implementers into “terminal transition awards,” mandating that the American organizations would have just four years to transfer full responsibility for all activities to local entities “without any drop off in the quality or coverage of services” to the population. As a result, PEPFAR’s budget flowing directly through the CDC to local organizations and governments reached fully 67% by 2012!

This was a result of CDC transitioning its Antiretroviral Therapy programs in 13 countries from U.S.-based organizations and grantees to Ministries of Health and indigenous organizations. Critically, studies found that program service delivery by those local entities was comparable to that of its U.S. partners, demonstrating 11 years ago that localization could be achieved while delivering results and safeguarding taxpayer dollars. Based on this success, PEPFAR went on to set and largely achieve a goal that a whopping 70% of its funding would be awarded directly to local organizations and governments.

With this in mind, it must be satisfying for USAID staff to see their own in-house localization model finally emerging with direct local funding increasing to more than 10% in FY22. Of course, this shift would need to accelerate considerably to meet or even get close to Administrator Samantha Power’s goal of 25% local funding by 2025; however, there now seems to be a path that Bureaus and Missions across USAID could follow to fulfill that commitment. It builds on the PEPFAR-CDC model and USAID’s ongoing procurement and staffing reforms.

USAID’s direct local funding for HIV/AIDS programs jumped 81% in just four years

Two recent peer-reviewed journal articles by USAID document that between FY18 and FY22, USAID’s PEPFAR-funded HIV/AIDS programs expanded annual direct funding “to local partners by $345 million, or an 81% increase.” The data shows that this major expansion was accomplished incrementally across the Missions. For example, local direct funding rose from $452 million in FY18 to $600 million in FY20 to $797 million in FY22. Thus, the 81% increase was accomplished through steady, widespread, and manageable progress. It should be noted here that third-party assessments of USAID localization data have raised doubts, both in terms of methodology and the inclusion of some international organizations. Still, it seems clear that the increases were rapid and significant. This sharp jump also gains credibility from the fact that it replicated the increases achieved by the CDC in the 2010s.

The USAID authors stressed that to qualify as local, partners had to be “locally incorporated, registered, and have a majority of local staff, including at senior levels,” so their local partners would all qualify as local entities under USAID’s current definition. They added that based on the available program assessments, local partners again “displayed quality of service comparable to international partners.” So, after struggling for years to move the needle at all, how was USAID’s HIV/AIDS team able to achieve an 81% jump in just four years? The authors cite six aspects of USAID’s emerging localization model. None of these seem to be exclusive to HIV programming, suggesting they could be widely adopted across the Global Health Bureau and the Agency.

Six key factors made it possible

  1. An ambitious goal (PEPFAR’s 70% local funding commitment) resulting in country-specific strategies that include local funding targets based on the Missions’ specific context and procurement plans.
  2. Strong data systems to monitor progress toward both the direct local funding target and the program performance of the local partners.
  3. Strengthening local partner organizational and financial capacity. Critically, the capacity strengthening efforts have short timelines and focus on preparing the local partners to become prime awardees, as in terminal transition awards. This may not completely align with USAID’s new Local Capacity Strengthening approach.
  4. Bolstering USAID’s capacity to manage local awards. As noted in a blog last year, this point recognizes that USAID sometimes lacks the capacity in its operating systems and organizational culture to work with local organizations, and must accept responsibility for improving. In the case of USAID’s HIV programs, 98 new positions (funded by PEPFAR) were approved across 16 Missions. These included new staff in Global Health as well as Acquisition and Assistance and Financial Management. Some Missions also hired a local transition or local capacity adviser. Therefore, current requests by Missions and Bureaus for similar positions should be prioritized.
  5. Changing the way USAID does business, including expedited procurement approaches and building a wider network of local partners through personal and online outreach and by convening local partner conferences.
  6. USAID leadership at headquarters and within country teams made transitioning to local partners a top priority.

Model is transferable to other bureaus 

As to whether these results were replicable beyond HIV programs, then Acting Administrator for Global Health, Jennifer Adams, wrote that USAID HIV had developed the “largest local partner funding footprint’ across any Agency program with “significant experience and lessons learned” to share with their colleagues within the Global Health Bureau and through the Agency about successful direct partnerships with local organizations. Reflecting on the same results, USAID’s former Chief of Staff testified before Congress this year that the experience was widely applicable, asserting that “every large” cooperative agreement and contract should include “mandatory Transition Awards to local organizations/local entities for the vast majority of the substantive work by the end of the period of performance.”

Key reforms in A&A staffing and partnering

The second set of breakthroughs at the heart of USAID’s emerging localization model have been reform to its Acquisition and Assistance (A&A) practices and staffing. This builds from recognition in Congress and the Front Office that USAID’s business practices are perhaps the single largest barrier to advancing locally-led development. To address these issues and improve aid effectiveness, USAID’s new Acquisition and Assistance (A&A) strategy was launched six months ago. It sets out a path to achieve the 25% local funding goal, expand and equip the A&A workforce, and acquire a more diverse set of partners for locally-led development solutions.

One key personnel innovation was to recognize USAID’s local staff as an overlooked resource. The new A&A strategy explicitly recognizes that the local Contracting Officer corps is underutilized with just 10% having warrants to obligate and manage funds on behalf of the U.S. government. After years of ‘slow walking’ the idea, USAID has again made rapid progress, moving from 19 local staff with these administrative warrants in FY22 to 40 now, exceeding its ambitious target of doubling the number in just one year. This shows that there are many well-qualified local staff as well as pent-up demand, so hopefully USAID will continue to expand their ranks in FY24.

A key effort to expand USAID’s local partner base is a new public-facing A&A website, WorkwithUsaid.org. WorkwithUSAID.org helps introduce USAID to prospective partners in civil society and has seen a good amount of traffic and engagement, with more than 5,000 organizations registered, over 60% of which are considered local entities.

Another important shift in the A&A strategy is the effort to improve local partners’ ability to recover their costs of winning and implementing awards. The current “de minimus” overhead recovery rate of just 10% underfunds the core and proposal-writing expenses of local entities. When compared to the 20-40% overhead rates received by USAID’s traditional implementers through NICRA, the current 10% rate emerges as a glaring disadvantage and disincentive for local partners to accept the risk of working with USAID. Thankfully, new draft guidance from OMB has opened the door to raising the “de minimus” overhead rate to 15%. Finalization of this rule would allow USAID to more fairly compensate its local partners and break what has been called the “starvation cycle,” of unrecovered overhead costs by local entities.

Successful localization at CDC and USAID HIV have blazed a trail

The rapid growth of direct funding to local entities by the CDC’s PEPFAR-funded programs a decade ago and by USAID’s PEPFAR-funded HIV programs more recently demonstrate that USAID can still reach or get close to the 25% direct local funding target by FY25. One key aspect would be the adoption of this internal USAID model by other technical sectors. That would be aided by the innovations of the A&A strategy, facilitating changes to USAID’s business practices while also reducing the costs for local entities to become its partners. It’s now fair to say that the localization trail has been blazed with PEPFAR, CDC, and USAID HIV as its pioneers. It’s reasonable for localization’s bipartisan supporters in Congress to expect other parts of USAID to adopt similar approaches.

AUTHORS

Hard-wiring and Soft-wiring in Sustainability via health program examples

Hard-wiring and Soft-wiring in Sustainability via health program examples: by Laurence Desvignes and Jindra Cekan/ova

Overview

We all want things to last. Most of us joined the ‘sustainable development’ industry hoping our foreign aid projects not only do good while we are there but long afterward. Following on last month’s blog on better learning about project design, implementation, and M&E, here are some things to do better.

Long-term sustainability rests on four pillars: the first rests on how the project is designed and implemented before exit and the second is to what degree conditions are needed for the continuation of results the project generated are put into place. While the first one embeds sustainability into its very results, the second invests in processes to foster the continuation of results. The other two of the four pillars, returning to see what lasts by evaluating the sustainability of results two or more years later and bringing those lessons back to funding, design, implementation, and building in shock-resilience, e.g., such as to climate change, are in other Valuing Voices blogs.

We focus on 1 and 2 in this blog, and use an analogy of hard-wiring and soft-wiring sustainability into the fabric of the project:

  1. Hardwiring, ‘baking-in’ sustainability involves the design/ implementation which predisposes results lasting. This includes investing in Maternal Child Health and Nutrition’s first 1000 days from conception to age two that are vital for child development. The baby’s physical development and nutrition are so important as is maternal well-being. Investing in these early days leads to better health and nutrition throughout their lives. So too are buying local. Too often our projects rely on imported technology and inputs that are hard to replace if broken. A project on hand pumps used by UNICEF suggested local purchase of those “designed to optimize the chances of obtaining good quality hand pumps and an assured provision of spare parts” involves both the hardware of the pump and also the “capacity building plan and a communication strategy.” Also using local capacity/specialists when available vs external consultants can also be key to building the sustainability of a project.

Another example of baking-in sustainability is using participatory approaches to ensure that those implementing- such as the communities/ local authorities. In this example, it’s grassroots where participants are heard during design in terms of their priorities and how the project should be implemented. This includes targeting discussions and monitoring and evaluation being done with and by communities. The seminal research of 6,000 interviews with aid recipients, Time to Listen, found that they want to participate and when they do, things are more likely to be sustained, rather than being passive recipients…. there is ex-post proof such programming is more ‘owned’ and more sustained.

Conducting in-depth needs assessments at design is usually the way to collect information about what is needed and how projects should be implemented to last. Unfortunately, very often, the time is very limited for the proposal development and (I)NGOs are under pressure of short deadlines to submit the proposal, and needs assessments are either done quickly, collecting very basic information or not done at all. Yet time spent valuing the voices of participants can bring great richness. In 2022, the UN’s FAO did a monitoring and evaluation study in Malawi validating indicators for poverty by asking communities how they identify it from the start. “Researchers were impressed at how accurately the people they interviewed were able to gauge the relative wealth of their neighbors.” We were not surprised as the locals often know best.   Another example with Mines Advisory Group in Cambodia, we developed a community-based participatory approach for design whereby project staff would work with the mine-affected communities to draw local maps of their villages, highlighting the location of the dangerous places and the key areas/places used by the communities. Staff and communities discussed the constraints, risks, needs, etc. to make their community safer, which the project would follow up with risk education, clearance, victim assistance, and/or alternative economic /development solutions to make the community safer. Other mine action agencies, e.g. Danish Refugee Council (Danish Demining Group) are also now using safer community approaches, involving local residents to decide on how to make their village safer depending on the community priorities[1].

Hardwiring in participatory feedback-loop learning from locals during implementation is also key. Implementation of a community feedback strategy once the programme is running is also essential. The community feedback mechanism (CFM) is a formal system established to enable affected populations to communicate information on their views, concerns, and experiences of a humanitarian agency or of the wider humanitarian system. It systematically captures, records, tracks, and follows up on the feedback it receives to improve elements of a response. CFM is key to ensuring that people affected by crisis have access to avenues to hold humanitarian actors to account; to offer affected people a formalized structure for raising concerns if they feel their needs are not being met, or if the assistance provided is having any unintended and harmful consequences;  to understand and solicit information on their experience of a humanitarian agency or response; as part of a broader commitment to quality and accountability that enables organizations to recognize and respond to any failures in response; to promote the voices and influence of people affected so their perspectives, rights, and priorities remain at the forefront of humanitarian/development work[2].

Promoting and implementing community engagement, such as a community feedback strategy, provides a basis for dialogue with people affected on what is needed and on how what is needed might best be provided, especially as needs change during implementation. This will help identify priority needs and is a means to gauge beneficiaries’ understanding of activities being carried out, to assist in the identification of local partners and establishment and follow-up of partnerships, and in the organizational development and capacity building of local institutions and authorities. It can strengthen the quality of assistance by facilitating dialogue and meaningful exchange between aid agencies and affected people at all stages of humanitarian response and result in the empowerment of those involved. Targeted people are viewed as social actors that can play an active role in decisions affecting their lives.

OXFAM’s project in Haiti starting in 2012 came as a result of a cholera epidemic that began in 2010 (“Preventing the Cholera Epidemic by Improving WASH Services and Promoting Hygiene in the North and Northeast”), whose goal was to contribute to the cholera elimination, experimented with the community feedback strategy as a means of gauging the recipients’ understanding of the activities carried out and of further strengthening the links between OXFAM and the communities during implementation. The initial process of community feedback was intended to both receive recommendations from project participants for better management of the action and also to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of Oxfam interventions. Based on the information and recommendations applied, OXFAM served as a bridge between the community and the actors involved (e.g. private firm contracted to carry out some health centers/ water systems renovation work or other) in the implementation of the project. This is also part of Oxfam’s logic of placing more emphasis on the issue of accountability and community engagement.

The feedback-loop benefits of such a community process are manyfold, especially on Protection, human rights, risk management, and further below, adapting Implementation, M&E, and fostering organizational learning:

  • CFMs assist in promoting the well-being, rights, and protection of people by offering them a platform to have a voice and be heard
  • it fosters participation, transparency, and trust
  • It uses Do No Harm and conflict-sensitive programming
  • It helps identify staff misconduct
  • It functions as a risk management and early warning system

Adapting Implementation and Improving M&E:

  • This process makes it possible to adapt to the priorities of the beneficiaries, to better meet their needs hence ensuring the agency’s accountability to the affected population
  • It facilitates and guarantees a better quality of the project.
  • It represents a means of monitoring our approaches and our achievements.
  • It makes it possible to construct a common vision shared between the various actors and the project participants/targeted communities.

Organizational Learning:

  • Ensuring the programme quality and accountability through the establishment of an appropriate accountability strategy (including Transparency, Feedback, Participation, Monitoring, and Effectiveness) and relevant methodologies and tools (since the planning stage of the project) is a key exercise which allow to think and plan for the sustainability of the programme at an early stage.
  • It allows us to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of the interventions while offering us the opportunity to learn from our experiences, hence allowing for programmatic learning and adaptative programming.
  • It conveys the impact of the project and the change brought about in the lives of the beneficiaries.
  • It is part of the logic of capitalizing on experiences to improve the quality of future projects.

 

2. Soft-wiring is creating conditions to make sustainability more likely for local communities and partners by thinking about how to replace what has been brought by the projects’ donors and implementers. This involves an analysis as well as actions that put conditions for sustainability into place before and during the time that foreign aid projects close. Valuing Voices’ checklists for exiting sustainably involves local ownership, sufficient capacities, and resources, viable partnerships, how well risks such as climate and economic shocks were identified and managed, and benchmarking for success 1-2 years before closure. Later it is important to return to check findings at ex-post project, comparing completion results to what was sustained 2-30 years later.

There are four categories of sustainability-fostering actions to do pre-exit which were identified by Rogers and Coates of Tufts for USAID for sustained exit:

  1. RESOURCES:

Several blogs on Valuing Voices deal with resources, including assumptions donors make. Donor resource investments cannot be assumed to be sustained.  The checklists outline a wide array of questions to ask during design and latest a year pre-exit, including what assumptions do aid projects make?  USAID water/ sanitation/ hygiene investments have mostly not been sustained, due to a combination of lack of resources to maintain them and low ownership of the resources invested.   Some key questions are:

  • Did the project consider how those taking over the project would get sufficient resources, e.g., grant funding or other income generation available or renting out their facility or infrastructure that they own or shift some of their activities to for-profit production, sold to cover part of project costs?
  • Does the project or partner have a facility or infrastructure that they own and is rentable to increase resources outside donor funding or can the project shift to for-profit, including institutional and individual in-kind products or technical knowledge skills that can be sold to cover part of project costs?
  • What new equipment is needed, e.g. computers, vehicles, technical (e.g. weighing scales) for activities to continue, and which stakeholder will retain them?
  • Or even no resources are needed because some project activities will scale down, move elsewhere, focus on a smaller number of activities that are locally sustainable, or the whole project will naturally phase-out)

2. PARTNERSHIPS:

The objective of that Oxfam project was to reduce the risks of communities placed in a situation of acute vulnerability to the cholera epidemic in two departments in Haiti (where about 1.5 million inhabitants reside). It focused on sustainability by effectively supporting and accompanying governmental WASH and health structures in the rapid response to alerts and outbreaks recorded in the targeted communities. How? Through awareness-raising activities among the populations concerned, by strengthening the epidemiological surveillance system and coordination between concerned stakeholders. The project also aimed to improve drinking water structures such as drinking water distribution points, drinking water networks or systems, catchments, and boreholes.  As part of this intervention, Oxfam worked in close collaboration and in support of the Departmental Directorates of Health (DH), DINEPA (government services responsible for water and sanitation), and local authorities at the level of cities, towns and neighborhoods, and community structures including civil protection teams.   Oxfam and DINEPA staff intervened through mixed mobile response teams that included technical and managerial staff from the health department to whom Oxfam provided ongoing technical support in terms of WASH analysis and actions, WASH training, finance training, and monitoring, as well as logistical support for the deployment of teams in the field (provision of vehicles and drivers). Oxfam was therefore working to ensure that cholera surveillance and mitigation actions were led by state and community actors, and by supporting state structures to build their capacities and allow ownership of the various aspects of the fight against cholera.   Concretely, this was done as follows:

  • Preliminary meetings and discussions were held with concerned governmental authorities to agree on a plan of action based on needs, implementation means, priorities, and budget for the health and wash governmental services/teams to be able to function. This was followed by the signature of an MoU between Oxfam and the Departmental Directorates of Health (DH).
  • An action plan was set up with the DH and DINEPA (governmental water and sanitation agency) at the very beginning of the project.
  • Outbreak response teams were managed directly by the DH and the staff was recruited, managed, and paid by the DH. The DH and DINEPA implemented the activities, managed the staff of the mobile teams, and provide technical monitoring in coordination with Oxfam.
  • The epidemiological monitoring activities carried out by the DH were also monitored by the Oxfam epidemiologist who, in close coordination with the DH, built the capacities of epidemiologists and staff at the departmental level and at the level of the treatment centers to ensure adequate monitoring and communication.
  • An Oxfam social engineering officer worked with DINEPA to ensure that the various water committees at the sources/infrastructure rehabilitated by Oxfam were functional. Sources/infrastructures were rehabilitated in concert with DINEPA to ensure the proper ownership.
  • Oxfam provided funding, and technical supervision and wrote and submitted the final report to the donor. Based on DH’s regular reports on activities which were then consolidated by Oxfam for the donor.
  • Teams were paid directly by the DH from funds received by Oxfam, based on the budget agreed by both Oxfam and the DH, and were based on government salary scales.
  • The Oxfam WASH team, which systematically accompanies case investigations in the field, further encouraged the participation of DINEPA and its community technicians, through regular meetings with the DINEPA departmental directors.
  • Overall, Oxfam ensured to provide support and capacity building of the DH, DINEPA, and community actors involved in the fight against cholera, to ensure proper ownership and to avoid substitution of the health/wash authorities.

3. OWNERSHIP:

The type of peer-partnering at design and during implementation described above is vital for ownership and sustainability. Unless we consider people’s ownership of the project and capacities to sustain results, they won’t be sustained. See Cekan’s exiting for sustainability checklists on phasing over before phasing out and exit, strengthening ownership, which brings us full circle to the participatory hard-wiring described above in Haiti.

4. CAPACITIES-STRENGTHENING

We have to strengthen capacities at the most sustainable level. Taking an example from IRC’s Sierra Leone Gender-based Violence project involves looking at what happens when capacities training done for local participants and partners to take over are not done right. In this case, there were two-year consultancies to the Ministry (MSWGCA) on strategic planning and gender training, but “it is not clear if this type of support has had a sustainable impact. The institutional memory often disappears with the departure of the consultant, leaving behind sophisticated and extensive plans and strategies that there is simply no capacity to implement.” The report found that community-based initiatives that are the “primary sources of support for GBV victims living in rural areas in a more innovative and sustainable way that promotes local ownership. They also may yield more results,” most donor agencies find it hard to partner with community-based organizations so they recommended a focus on training and capacity-building of mainstream health workers to respond to GBV and aim for the government will assume control of service provision in approximately five years. The excellent manual by Sarriot et al on Sustainability Planning, “Taking the Long View: A Practical Guide to Sustainability Planning and Measurement in Community-Oriented Health Programming puts local capacity strengthening at the core. We have to consult and collaborate throughout and create an ‘enabling environment’ so that the activities and results are theirs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: Sarriot et al 2008

Obviously, we should check on the sustainability we hope for. As ITAD/CRS note, we should do and learn from more ex-post evaluations which is much of what Valuing Voices advocates for.

 

Recommendations for fostering sustainability:

Few donors require information on how hard-wired or how soft-wired programming pre-exit is at closure which would make sustainability likely. Even fewer demand actual post-closure sustainability data to confirm assumptions at exit, sadly we believe most of our foreign aid has had limited sustained impacts. But this can change.   Donors need to be educated that the “localization” agenda is the new trend (just as gender, resilience, and climate change have been at one point). It is beyond the “nationalization” of staff members (e.g. replacing expatriates with national staff), which is only one of the elements relating to locallization. True localization is to promote the local leadership of communities in their own ‘sustainable development’. While this is easier to say than to do, sustainability depends on it. We foster it through the hard-wiring and soft-wiring we discussed above and more steps, below.   Here are specific steps from Laurence’s and Jindra’s experiences with the Global South:

  • Funds & additional time for local partnership and ownership need to be embedded in the design and planned for, which requires a different approach on which the donors also need to be sensitized/ educated/ advocated to;
  • In-depth needs assessment must be carried out just before or when an NGO sets up an operation – it usually takes time and should be integrated into any operation. Advocating this approach to donors is key so that it can be included in the budget or the NGO needs to find its own funds to do so) and the NGO country and sector strategy can then be updated yearly to embed such activities into the (I)NGO DNA;
  • Conduct a capacity strengthening assessment of the local authorities or partners with whom we are going to conduct the project. This can take between 3 to 6 months, depending on the number and type of actors involved but this is an essential element to build self-sustaining local capacities and ensure that comprehensive capacity building is going to take place. This transparent step is also an essential step to ensure ownership by national/governmental stakeholders;
  • It is vital to allow time to plan for an exit strategy at an early stage, even as early as design. This requires time and needs to be included in the budget for the implementation of the plan at least one year before the end, for phasing over to local implementing partners to take over before the donors/ Global North implementers exit, and for possibly strengthening capacities or extending programming to deliver on their timeline rather than ours before exiting out. More on this from CRS’ Participation by All ex-post and of course the oft-cited “Stopping As Success: Locally-led Transitions in Development” by Peace Direct, Search for Common Ground, and CDA. Also do not forget shared leadership noted by UK’s INTRAC’s “Investing in Exit”;
  • Finally, don’t forget about evaluating ex-posts and embedding those lessons into future design/ implementation/ monitoring and evaluation.

  Investing in sustainability by hard-wiring or soft-wiring works! Let us know what you do…      

[1] https://drc.ngo/our-work/what-we-do/core-sectors/humanitarian-disarmament-and-peacebuilding/

[2] https://www.drc.ngo/media/vzlhxkea/drc_global-cfm-guidance_web_low-res.pdf