These are the practical realities of localization

From right to left: Raj Kumar, Devex president and editor-in-chief, Mamadou Biteye, the Rockefeller Foundation's managing director for Africa, Aaron Williams, executive vice president of RTI International's International Development Group, Jane Karuku, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, and Steve Allen, regional director for UNICEF East and Southern Africa, at the Devex International Development Partnerships Forum's high-level plenary panel on "Practical Realities of Localization" last Oct. 16 in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo by: Jonathan Kalan

Foreign aid may be “going local,” but much more needs to be done to create the right conditions for local partnerships to take hold and succeed in the long run.

That was one key takeaway from the first-ever Devex Partnerships Forum in Nairobi, Kenya, on Wednesday.

“We need local solutions for local problems for local communities,” said Mamadou Biteye, who oversees operations in Africa for the Rockefeller Foundation, the event’s lead sponsor.

The forum, Biteye noted, is an important start to what should become an ongoing conversation about localization and and how organizations — both local and international  can achieve sustainable results through partnership.

The need for this conversation is what prompted Devex to gather in Nairobi some of the industry’s leading thinkers and doers. All in all, the event brought together more than 200 representatives from 44 exhibiting organizations and 150 participants from African development organizations.

Local development has taken the front seat, said Raj Kumar, president and editor-in-chief of Devex, during his opening remarks. And development work has never been more challenging or more necessary, Biteye added.

“Innovation is no longer about going it alone,” Biteye said. “There is a good deal to learn, replicate, build from and scale. We will need to join our hands together to maximize our impact.”

The opening panel also featured Jane Karaku, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, Aaron Williams, executive vice president of RTI International’s International Development Group, and Steve Allen, regional director for UNICEF East and Southern Africa.

These speakers, as well as others attending the event’s workshops and seminars, engaged in lively discussions on what international organizations are looking for in local partners, how local partners may engage international counterparts, and how to ensure such partnerships achieve the desired impact.

Karaku, for instance, cited the example of an aid group coming up with an idea for a new breed of crops. A local group, she argued, would be able to advise whether it’s what the farmers or consumers in the area really want and need.

During the plenary Q&A session, Mike Mutungi of I Choose Life, a Kenyan NGO, asked a poignant question: What do international organizations have to offer local groups? The selection of partners is a two-way street, he noted, and prospective partners must vet each other and ensure everyone benefits from collaborating.

His question set the stage for frank, honest debate  and plenty of laughs  throughout the forum.

UNICEF’s Allen pointed to the United Nations as a candidate that could loosen some of its policies in order to nurture partnerships. UNICEF’s culture of risk aversion and propensity for tight regulation makes it harder for players in the field to establish a track record and break in with the multilateral donor, Allen said.

Several event attendees wondered how a local organization could bring enough resources to the table to be of strategic value, and several workshops and breakout panels throughout the day helped to shed light on this common challenge as well as other important development questions.

The sessions also brought attention to sectors that might not typically be seen as collaborative, but could benefit from local partnership, including ICT and energy.

In “Tools and Tips for Strengthening Monitoring and Evaluation,” moderated by ICF International, Khalila Salim, director of Jamii Smart, presented the mobile web portal of the same name, which provides real-time information on maternal and child health in order to track statistics and inform decisions at a national level.

The key is to keep such monitoring and evaluation tools simple and relevant, Salim said, a point that resonated with several development professionals who crowded around Salim after the session for tips on how the portal might be useful for other sectors, such as education.

The challenge of scaling up promising interventions was a focus of another panel, “Energy for Agriculture: Powering Clean, Sustainable Growth,” moderated by representatives from Engility.

In Africa, renewable energy is used mostly to expand poor people’s access to energy, while in the industrialized world, solar energy is largely the domain for the middle and upper classes, said Mark Hankins, CEO of Africa Solar Designs. So what about solar energy for those on the grid here in Africa?

Ibrahim Mamma, a partner at Vantage Consulting Ethiopia, noted that in order to encourage the use of renewable energy, it is crucial to establish legal frameworks and provide incentives for private companies to make large-scale investments.

During a panel discussion titled “ICT for Development in East Africa,” Eme Essien Lore, a senior associate director with the Rockefeller Foundation, shared the ambitious goal for Digital Jobs Africa, the NGO’s new employment initiative. The idea, Lore said, is to seize the opportunity presented by Africa’s youth bulge and the rise of the ICT sector to create thousands of jobs.

When asked what kinds of partnerships IBM and Microsoft might be interested in, IBM’s Africa Research Director Kamal Bhattacharya said he needs an ecosystem of partners to work with in order to know if the science he is working on is effective on the ground.

“I don’t see any sector that ICT cannot enable,” Patrick Onmuwere, Microsoft’s director of Youth Enablement, Africa Initiatives, added.

Concurrent panels on health systems, food security, improving access to justice and building capacity at a community level all stressed collaboration and also built on what UNICEF’s Allen remarked in the morning: “What we need is investment in human capital.”

UNICEF needs to develop a talent pool in a range of new professional fields, Allen said, prompting Williams to add that even “the footrace for talent has gone global.”

That race was to be a focus of Thursday’s Career Fair in Nairobi, another first for Devex, which has in the past successfully hosted career fairs in Washington, London and Brussels.

Read more about the trend of aid “going local” as well as the Devex Partnerships Forum & Career Fair in Nairobi, and make sure to subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive top international development headlines from the world’s leading donors, news sources and opinion leaders — emailed to you FREE every business day.

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About the author

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    Kelli Rogers

    Kelli Rogers is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in Bangkok, she covers disaster and crisis response, innovation, women’s rights, and development trends throughout Asia. Prior to her current post, she covered leadership, careers, and the USAID implementer community from Washington, D.C. Previously, she reported on social and environmental issues from Nairobi, Kenya. Kelli holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and has since reported from more than 20 countries.