Kathleen Flanagan on Abt's 'surgical' approach to localization

Localization is a new concept to many development organizations — but not for Abt Associates. One of the most established U.S. aid implementers, the company has been at it for the past five to 10 years, according to its CEO, Kathleen Flanagan.

In a conversation with Devex President and Editor-in-Chief Raj Kumar, Flanagan shared how Abt is going local.

“We’ve … changed some of our strategies and tactics in collaboration with the client in thinking about a more surgical level for this country [and] what might be the best way to build capacity and sustainability,” she said.

Abt, according to Flanagan, assesses the local environment to find out whether there are capable individuals or businesses to tap as subcontractors and mentor them to become prime contractors, or whether it needs to stand up an entity if there’s a lack of established companies that can take on that role.

She gave an example of the time when Abt established a nonprofit in the Dominican Republic.

“We stood it up about three years ago, we’ve transitioned it. It was [composed of] Abt Associates employees, local employees [that] then went in and ran the organization,” she recalled. “We’ve mentored them quite closely for last few years and they’ve just won a number of primes [prime contracts] on their own to kind of become a sustainable organization in the Dominican Republic.”

Abt is also keen on mentoring and training locals to become leaders in their countries, Flanagan said. In Peru, for instance, a former chief of party whom she described as “phenomenal” and oversaw Abt’s health financing work, is now the country’s health minister [Midori de Habich].

“So we think about success with localization … a little bit more surgically, [asking] ‘What’s really needed here?’” Flanagan said. “It’s not a peanut butter kind of approach to things and how do we go about making sure that we’re building capacity and sustainable results [into] the work that we do?”

Watch the video above for more from our conversation with Kathleen Flanagan.

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    Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.