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- Promoting Peaceful Political Transitions
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"This flexible, fast assistance — for everything from temporary employment programs to work with political groups and the media — has addressed needs that other donors could not. Policy-makers in Washington should explore options for enhancing this and other flexible, civilian, rapid response capabilities."
—Robert Orr, National Security Studies Quarterly, Summer 2001.
"One of the most innovative models in AID's long history."
—John McDonald, Harvard International Review, Fall 2000.
OTI is guided by a number of strategic principles that have proven especially important for working in transition environments.
Rapid. OTI programs are conducted with a sense of urgency, much like the emergency response efforts of the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. OTI can start up programs in new countries within days or weeks of a decision to intervene, and issue grants to small, local groups within two to three days after proposals are submitted. Particularly in countries where there is growing instability, and for organizations without other sources of outside support, timely response can mean the difference between "now" and "never."
Flexible. Rather than apportioning its funds far in advance, OTI attempts to leave maximum resources in reserve for unanticipated contingencies, both in existing country programs and for as yet unknown new ones. To achieve this flexibility, OTI accords its field managers a high degree of authority over program decisions, and delivers most of its funds through small, short-term grants instead of large, multi-year procurements.
Transparent. In exchange for the flexibility granted OTI, Congress demands and deserves complete, accurate, and real-time information on how OTI's funds are being spent. OTI posts reports on its website at least monthly for its country programs, and maintains a highly detailed grants database showing the amounts, purposes, recipients and status of every sub-grant, most between $5,000 and $50,000.
Political. For humanitarians, it can be dangerous to take sides in a conflict or to become affiliated with opposition movements. For OTI, the overriding goal is to advance peaceful, democratic change, helping to promote the kind of political transformation that is needed for stability and prosperity. While OTI avoids partisan involvement, it believes that broadening participation in social, political and economic decision-making is key to sustainable development.
Targeted. OTI's programs are individually designed to address a country's most pressing transition needs, focusing attention on the "make-or-break" issues that will decide the country's future. In developing its programs, OTI consults regularly with local partners, as well as with key U.S. government personnel and other donors. This approach ensures that each OTI program is tailored to the country's unique circumstances and that OTI's resources are carefully prioritized for maximum impact.
Community-based. OTI takes a bottom-up approach to democracy, seeking to encourage those who have been traditionally left out of decision-making to play an active role in determining their own futures. Across its programs, OTI has reached out to those marginalized in previous regimes, such as women, youth, ethnic and religious minorities, rural populations, and internally displaced persons. Although OTI works with local, regional and national governments, its funds are normally provided in the form of small grants to local community groups and non-governmental organizations.
Tangible. In uncertain transitional periods, a population needs assurance that democracy or peace is worth taking risks for. Unless there is a visible, positive impact on their everyday lives, average citizens may lose faith in the benefits of political change. OTI supports projects that create and publicize tangible transition dividends, such as helping a community rebuild needed infrastructure, in order to sustain the momentum for positive change.
Short-term. Transitions from war to peace or dictatorship to democracy take many years, even decades. However, it is often the first two to three years, before traditional development programs can take hold, that are the most critical for success. OTI generally limits its involvement to this initial period of uncertainty, in which its expertise, speed and flexibility give it a comparative advantage.
Catalytic. Since OTI seeks to have a tangible impact in a short time and with limited resources, it must support activities that will instigate broad change and leverage longer-term support from other donors. OTI looks for partners and projects that will provide the spark for social transformation and that can be replicated on a larger scale. Often this involves training trainers, who continue to pass on skills at a multiplying rate, or developing media programming that reaches large segments of a population.
Complementary. OTI has learned from experience that its programs are much more effective when they build on, or lay the foundations for, longer-term development efforts. To retain its special niche that strengthens, rather than duplicates, substitutes for or competes with other programs, OTI coordinates all its activities with the relevant USAID offices, and undertakes only those that are deemed valuable but cannot be reasonably carried out by others.
Field-focused. OTI senior management recognizes that in order to implement programs in fluid political settings and respond to fleeting windows of opportunity, field-based staff require a high degree of autonomy and independence. Field staff are encouraged to take responsibility for program implementation and monitoring, including most grant decisions, while Washington-based program managers provide support and broad strategic direction. In addition, OTI avoids concentrating all its efforts in the capital city, opening as many as seven field offices for each country, with staff authorized to approve small grants right on the spot.
Risk-taking. Fear of landing in the headlines with a spectacular mistake has kept most development programs from taking risks. While reducing the amount of its financial exposure through small and short-term grants, OTI actively seeks out new partners and unusual ideas that have the potential to bring major dividends. Some of the groups that OTI supported while they were still nascent, such as Otpor in Serbia, ultimately became leading forces for positive change.
Innovative. OTI was developed as something of a laboratory for USAID, where new types of programming and methods of operating could be explored. To ensure that its funds are fast and flexible, OTI created a special contracting mechanism known as "SWIFT" to deploy staff to the field on short notice and to deliver small grants to local organizations.
Last updated: May 17, 2013
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