Home Blog & Media SocialEx: Pape Gaye on locally-led development and working together in partnership

SocialEx: Pape Gaye on locally-led development and working together in partnership

September 6, 2022

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George Miller



Pape Amadou Gaye

Baobab Institute
Founder & President

Pape Gaye is President Emeritus of IntraHealth International, where he spent many years as President and CEO. During this time, he focused on ensuring human resources for health and family planning became a crucial part of the worldwide conversation on global health. More recently, Pape founded the Baobab Institute for Health and Development, based in Senegal. In this insightful conversation, Pape discusses power imbalances, the importance of partnerships in locally-led development, the need for global participation, and more. 

This is an abridged transcript of their conversation; listen to the entire podcast or watch the video embedded below.



George Miller: Do you think it’s easy to define locally-led development?  

Pape Gaye: It’s a very complex and complicated issue because there are many dimensions. At the center of it is resources and a lack of resources. It’s money and the absence of money. At the heart of it, I think it’s about development and people. And when people are involved, we know it’s not going to be simple. It all depends on what point of view you take; that’s what makes it complicated. One thing I think is accepted by all is that the objective of locally-led development is not controversial. That’s the dream of everybody who works in development – to reach a day where the people you support can do what you’re trying to teach them. They can do it on their own. I think what is complicated is the how, time, complexity, and, frankly, the environment. 

These days the conversation has gotten more complicated because of what happened in the United States two summers ago: George Floyd, the conversation about decolonizing global health, the big focus we all have on equity, and the dream that we all have about putting women at the center of development … I think there’s a consensus now that it has to be something different – that the model worked to a certain extent, but it’s no longer working. And we are trying to figure out the right model, which makes it even more complicated because it’s almost like a process of discovery.

George Miller: Fundamentally, are we talking about how to address a power imbalance?

Pape Gaye: We have been operating for so long in a situation where we don’t have a level playing field. It might sound a little controversial to say that – because we know it’s not level. In fact, we know it’s taxpayers in the north making the sacrifice of donating some of their own resources. Why should it be level? My philosophy is that we need that global solidarity. Call it naive; I do not think we will succeed in the development agenda if we don’t have global solidarity which recognizes there are imbalances, and [that] we are making individual and collective commitments to change that. The paradigm shift needs to be done, in my opinion, with that caveat.

In the midst of the craziness that we are all living through, this idea of global participation [and] generosity needs to be there … Humanity is going to progress by people helping each other, not by people fighting each other.

George Miller: I was looking at the webinar you did for Humentum about partnerships of consequence – you were talking about the need to unlearn certain things. You said individual engagement is where it all starts, and I wanted you to talk a bit about how you can begin to make that sort of self-querying, self-questioning.

Pape Gaye: People like me, who’ve come here, studied at an American university, worked for a big American international NGO … We could be very easily in a position where we are perpetrating what we’re trying to change. Rather than making that change, we’re just adding to it, we’re aggravating it. We have a new set of values that we’ve embraced. We’ve got a new way of doing things. There are things that we agreed during our education to suppress or to let go.  

There are a lot of my own personal values that I left aside as a way of compromising so I can survive in this new organization. If I’m going to go back to the environment that I left some years ago and make a contribution, I have to make sure I am not biased by all the new baggage that I bring. It’s so important to encourage people to do that deep analysis because in the end the system may change but if you make the necessary changes at your individual level, you’ll be much more efficient trying to change the system.

George Miller: So, tell me what the motivation was to plunge in?

Pape Gaye: Five years ago, I started thinking about the idea of creating something after I retired. To me, it was very simple – I was going to go back to Senegal to open up a training center. I started talking to the Senegalese government about getting a piece of land, and then COVID-19 hit. I made my transition during the pandemic. The week when we were closing the office was the week that I was transitioning with my successor. Since we transitioned, she hasn’t had a chance to be physically present in the office. So, I said, okay, maybe there is room here for more learning.  

I started doing a lot of talking, a lot of listening, and a lot of observing – I got to think a bit more. The idea of a training center was there, but that was probably not all I wanted to do. What I really wanted to do is create a movement whereby locally, there will be thinking, conversation, exchange of ideas, and contribution to this discussion about locally-led development. 

Development was a phenomenon that was not born out of the countries. It was born under the goodwill of the international communities - the donor communities, so it remains that way. The thinking, planning, [and] the strategizing is done up here and parachuted down for implementation. And I said, 'that's going to change.' We have to start working on changing the model so that at least it's done differently.

George Miller: You must meet people who say locally-led development sounds like a good idea, but what about accountability? What about measurability? What about scalability? Are there examples that you reach for to say, at its best this is what it can do that you couldn’t do any other way?

Pape Gaye: There are some concrete examples that I can cite in the family planning world [such as] the Wagadu Partnership. [This] was a partnership created ten years ago among the nine French-speaking countries of West Africa who after a major conference in 2012, decided we have to do better on family planning because it’s linked to development. There’s been incredible progress in a few countries in that region when it comes to embracing family planning and making tangible progress. 

It gives me so much hope that in ten years you can mobilize the whole region and make progress in something mostly locally-led. That partnership is sustained today because it has been totally embraced by the leaders of those nine countries. It’s a very active platform. Donors are continuing to support it, but now they’re beginning to say, are there ways we could make this support more sustainable? We should continue to watch that.



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