Wednesday, October 19, 2022


DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR ADAMS-ALLEN: Good morning everyone, it’s great to join you here. Michele, thank you for the introduction and for you and your team’s incredible leadership as we developed this new policy.

Adam, thank you for getting us started this morning and for your team’s incredible work. I had the chance to interact with all of you as this was being developed and I’m just so incredibly impressed with the amount of work and thought that has gone into this.

I really want to thank Laura Alvarez from USAID/Paraguay for sharing a perspective that sometimes gets overlooked in our Agency – that of our local staff. As a local capacity strengthening and monitoring and evaluations expert, Laura’s experience working with local organizations in Paraguay is one of the driving forces behind the policy we’re launching today. 

What you heard from Laura – that our local partners in Paraguay have been made stronger and more confident through collaborative relationships with USAID – is precisely the model of development that we’re pursuing through this policy, and that we know leads to sustainable, locally-led, demand-driven results. 

Foreign Service Nationals, like Laura, are the key to successful capacity strengthening in the countries and communities where we work. They possess the experience, the wisdom, and the knowledge that allow us to deepen relationships and maintain continuity across long-term partnerships in communities that are affected by conflict or natural disasters and among populations that are traditionally overlooked and underrepresented. 

If you’re tuned in to today’s event, you are likely aware of how difficult it can be for USAID to work with local actors. It is hard for us and as we’ve heard repeatedly, hard for our partners. So over the years we have relied heavily on our Foreign Service Nationals like Laura to provide advice to USAID’s technical offices and implementing partners on practical strategies to help strengthen the capacity of local organizations.

That, among many other reasons, is why the empowerment of Foreign Service Nationals is a top priority for Agency leadership and I am pleased to share that many of our local staff were involved in the development of this policy.

After decades piloting strategies and gathering learnings, we are finally prioritizing strengthening local capacity with complementary initiatives that put local actors in charge of their own futures. 

Under the umbrella of an ambitious localization agenda, we are launching the Local Capacity Strengthening Policy with the goal of shifting power to local actors, at a minimum to create space for our local partners, so they can lead on addressing their countries’ and communities’ development challenges.  

We are used to thinking about development results in terms of outputs, which remains important in many contexts: a number of vaccines delivered and shots in arms; a number of new teachers or books in a school system; an increase in agricultural production or water infrastructure that reaches rural communities that lacked access to safe drinking water or sanitation. But what does it say about our partnership if the next pandemic, the next climate disaster, or the next conflict wipes out a country’s ability to rebuild for themselves? What does it say about our partnership if we invest in a program that potentially, inadvertently strips local actors of their agency and ultimately just sounds good in a press release?

Fundamentally, this policy is about accelerating a shift in mindset across the Agency – one that forces us to be intentional about how we use local capacity strengthening as a programmatic approach. And it emphasizes that capacity strengthening – in and of itself – is an outcome we can invest in to achieve more sustainable results. 

Policy documents, of course, tend to be theoretical or abstract, so let me give you an example. In the turbulent years before the current war in Ukraine, USAID sponsored the UNITER project – the Ukraine National Initiatives to Enhance Reforms. UNITER embodies the approach outlined in the Policy by creating new approaches to advocacy for combating corruption; for maintaining accountability among local and national authorities; and for strengthening democratic governance. With the support of USAID experts, Ukrainian Civil Society Organizations have gained access to the tools and resources necessary to grow their influence, and advocate for legislation that has strengthened their power as participants in the democratic process, including through the establishment of a Capacity Development Marketplace, where local actors can go to access new financing, technical assistance, advice, and partnerships.

Since 2012, the Marketplace has shifted management to a local NGO, ISAR Ednannia, with more than 1,000 service providers, and 2,000 civil society organizations regularly using it as a platform for capacity strengthening services. Even as Vladimir Putin initiated an unjust – and unprovoked – war against the people of Ukraine, amidst an immediate and unrelenting threat to their existence, the demand in the Marketplace for strategies to achieve fair and just governance remains strong.

The original activity included USAID-funded vouchers for select civil society organizations to pay for strategic planning services, financial management assistance, or fundraising support. And we’ve seen that the Marketplace concept empowers local Ukrainian NGOs to determine for themselves the kinds of capacities that they want to strengthen, and that will fortify the progress democratic progress they have won to date.

Similarly, in Mexico, USAID’s Mission implemented the Civil Society Activity, to improve institutional capacities of civil society organizations to more effectively address issues related to crime and violence prevention, legal justice reform, and human rights protections. The project engaged dozens of organizations and individual community leaders to exchange information and ideas to better understand the criminal justice system in Mexico, and to share resources, such as key contact information, international best practices, and human rights guidelines to work with local authorities.

In keeping with the policy’s focus on working at the system level, this activity identified the key stakeholders involved in providing community justice and fostered relationships between them, including groups that do not always collaborate easily, like human rights advocacy groups and local civil authorities. 

Helping local actors understand and appreciate one another’s strengths and contributions is a critical way to demonstrate respect for local priorities, and to encourage system-level progress. In the case of the Mexican Civil Society Activity, the result has been to expand the power of human rights and social service NGOs to convene gatherings, exchange issues of concern with local authorities, and promote conversations on criminal justice reform in the affected communities.

These are just two examples of the Policy in practice, demonstrating that it is designed to be applied to all kinds of programming, be it in the global health context, agriculture, or humanitarian assistance. 

Sector-specific implementation guidance will, in fact, be developed over the next year to make the Policy’s application even more relevant to the diverse areas in which USAID operates.

In the end, for us to truly center local partners and align our efforts with their priorities, requires an ongoing culture shift on our part. The Local Capacity Strengthening Policy does just that. It is not merely an activity to check a box on becoming better partners. My hope is that this is a policy that makes USAID a more effective, sustainable, and equitable partner through a cultural shift that treats local actors as indispensable partners.

I know investing in local organizations can seem riskier. It can take more time. And for years, USAID leadership has pushed for similar approaches with varying degrees of success. But we believe we are at a unique juncture with widespread agreement from development practitioners to Congress to the White House to our partners around the world, for making locally-led development the future of development assistance, including by investing in the capacity of our partners to design and implement their own programs. 

If we ever hope to put our partners on a path to independence from aid, if we want to see truly sustainable results that outlast our partnerships and our investments, we have to support and equip our local partners. With the launch of this policy, I think and I hope, we have a much better chance to deliver on this transformational agenda. 

I’m looking forward to the panel discussion on this topic, and looking forward to hearing from all of you.

Paloma Adams-Allen Local Capacity Strengthening Policy
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