Local partnerships: No 'short-term marriages'

    The high-level plenary session called, “Asia is Rising; Development is Changing.” From left to right: Department of Social Welfare and Development Division Chief Maricel Deloria, Australian Embassy in the Philippines Lead Governance Specialist Paul Hutchcroft, Devex President and Editor-in-Chief Raj Kumar, USAID Asia Bureau Acting Assistant Administrator Denise Rollins, RTI International Vice President for Global Programs Paul Weisenfeld and ADB Vice-President of Operations Stephen P. Groff. Photo by: Wilson Q. Tan / Devex

    The days of traditional donors doling out money to poor nations as mere beneficiaries, and international organizations telling them how to solve their problems — rather than listening to them to figure out what the true needs are — are definitely over.

    Participants at the Devex Partnerships Forum in Manila agreed on Tuesday that local partnerships are without a doubt not just the future, but already the present of doing good, especially in Asia-Pacific, where the development landscape has changed dramatically over the past decade and many developing nations are graduating to middle-income status.

    With that in mind, the question is not anymore whether to “go local” — it’s how to get it right, make it truly sustainable and thus achieve local ownership of development programs.

    For instance, the U.S. Agency for International Development has committed to spending 30 percent of its funds on so-called “local solutions” as part of the USAID Forward reform agenda.

    “USAID has heard you,” said Denise Rollins, the agency’s acting assistant administrator for Asia, explaining that USAID has “made a dramatic shift in the way we do business” by now pursuing an “aspirational” target for at least 30 percent of all its funds to go to local partners.

    However, some local partners are more suited to this goal than others. Find out more in the below Google Hangout.

    Philippines — a model for USAID ‘local solutions’

    And not only donors are fully “going local” these days — multilateral institutions like the Asian Development Bank and implementers like RTI International have been doing it for many years.

    “For us it’s different, because our shareholders are the countries themselves,” noted ADB Vice President for Operations Stephen Groff, while Paul Weisenfeld, vice president for global programs at RTI, said that “everywhere we work, partnerships help us fill gaps.”

    RTI, Weisenfeld added, always looks for long-term, strategic relationships in its local partners with a special focus on innovation, no “short-term marriages” like the development community used to support in the past.

    Solid links are furthermore even more important now in the region, where many poor countries are graduating to middle-income status.

    “Ultimately, our money is just a drop in the bucket” for these nations, commented Paul Hutchcroft, lead governance specialist at the Australian embassy in Manila. Rollins agreed and gave the example of India, where USAID is encouraging high-net worth individuals to become more engaged in charity.

    So keeping all of this in mind, where do these experts see localization 10 years from now?

    After a representative from Engility suggested a future in which international organizations will deliver specific professional services to governments, Rollins predicted that USAID will likely focus less on service delivery and more on technical assistance, but that will depend on their partner governments and how the agency engages with them.

    “Our strategies are not developed in a box,” she said.

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    About the author

    • Carlos Santamaria

      Carlos is a former associate editor for breaking news in Devex's Manila-based news team. He joined Devex after a decade working for international wire services Reuters, AP, Xinhua, EFE ,and Philippine social news network Rappler in Madrid, Beijing, Manila, New York, and Bangkok. During that time, he also covered natural disasters on the ground in Myanmar and Japan.