In supporting new approaches to improve learning outcomes for children in Indonesia, INOVASI is working with a range of local grant partners to build sustainable outcomes. Photo by: INOVASI

CANBERRA — Building local trust, forging partnerships with government, and ensuring sustainability are the main challenges that NGOs face, an education program has found.

The INOVASI program, a partnership between the Australian aid program and Indonesian government under the management of Palladium, has supported 54 pilot projects across 17 districts of Indonesia to identify new ways of improving learning outcomes for children.

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To understand how partnerships can support the program’s objectives, INOVASI hosted two large seminars on partnerships for learning in Bali and Surabaya. These forums brought together representatives from national and subnational government, civil society, universities, and foundations to discuss ongoing collaboration in the education sector.

Working with local grant partners is instrumental in delivering new approaches to education throughout the country, the program found.

“New staff in the government may not necessarily have the same priorities and agenda as their predecessors. When this happens, NGOs have to reintroduce the program they have implemented.”

— Feiny Sentosa, deputy technical director, INOVASI

INOVASI findings

The seminars found that, at times, local culture does not fully support NGO programs. Trust must be built up over time with local government stakeholders, village leaders, and religious leaders. Lack of program ownership can be a risk if relationship building between NGOs, civil society, and government is not done well from the outset — sustainability and exit strategies need to be considered early on to avoid program “drop-off.”

But the high turnover of government staff is also a challenge for the sustainability of NGO programs, requiring ongoing engagement with new government players to continually build buy-in and support for the programs being delivered.

“Many NGOs and local foundations working in education lack experience working with government, and thus the question [of] sustainability remains,” Feiny Sentosa, INOVASI’s deputy technical director, explained to Devex.

“Sometimes, new staff in the government may not necessarily have the same priorities and agenda as their predecessors. When this happens, NGOs have to reintroduce the program they have implemented and sometimes the program may even be canceled if the local government has new priorities.”

Sustainable strategies for NGOs

Sentosa said that the value of NGOs in delivering new education programs in Indonesia lies in their ability to play an important role in supporting the government’s education activities — especially with regards to the quality of learning.

“NGOs often have good training programs that involve quality mentoring, and those working in inclusive education play a key role in improving access for children with disabilities, helping get them into school,” she said. But creating and maintaining community and government ownership of these programs requires true partnership in program delivery.

Due to the need for a legal umbrella or regulation that guides partnerships between NGOs and government, a regulation called “Self-management procurement type 3” was developed in Indonesia. This regulation allows the government to procure services from a third party, such as an NGO, and guides partnerships between the two. While the long-term implementation of this framework is yet to be seen, Sentosa said it is a “step in the right direction” to build sustainable partnerships between NGOs and government.

NGOs with weak operational procedures — including many small ones that may not have standard procedures in place — as well as resourcing issues, can prove a challenge for maintaining ongoing relationships with government, Sentosa said.

“Many NGOs have a small staff base, and this team may manage everything in day-to-day implementation,” she said. “Resources can be stretched.”

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In furthering a sustainability agenda for education programs, Sentosa suggests sharing costs, as well as vision mapping, between NGOs and government early on in program implementation. Resource sharing is another important consideration — seeing someone within government assigned to be a key liaison for civil society to create consistent relationships on both sides.

Working in partnership with other NGOs will also improve ongoing engagement.

“NGOs working in education can form an association so that they can better position themselves when dealing with the government, and in advocating for policy that is conducive and supportive for implementing their programs,” Sentosa said. “INOVASI has also facilitated meetings between NGOs and district governments to allow both parties to discuss methods of possible collaboration.”

According to Sentosa, sustainable education NGOs in Indonesia are usually ones that provide relevant programs that are in line with the curriculum, and especially those that fill skills gaps in the curriculum.

“In addition, sustainable programs are those that don’t depend on the presence of the NGO for implementation — for example, the program has been owned by schools or the community,” she said.

As an example, Sentosa pointed to Yayasan Literasi Anak Indonesia and Taman Bacaan Pelangi as programs focused on reading and literacy that are achieving sustainable education outcomes.

What INOVASI is doing

INOVASI is currently acting as a broker, working in close collaboration with local governments to support their education programs, and helping to ensure the partnerships with NGOs and other players can provide a platform for both parties to build trust. This is an important part of building a positive experience in implementing innovative education pilot projects.  

It is also providing NGOs with operational support to manage and implement a grant pilot project that is compliant with donor requirements. And it is strengthening the monitoring and evaluation capacity of local organizations by providing them with training on theory of change and how to measure learning outcomes for their respective interventions.

In the future, Sentosa hopes fostering this relationship could also contribute to a better match between supply and demand, with NGOs and other local foundations providing services to district governments in continuing professional development programs for teachers — helping to address education needs in Indonesia’s districts. But this can only be achieved through sustainable partnerships and local ownership of initiatives.

About the author

  • Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Senior Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.