Home Blog & Media Walking the Talk on Equitable Partnerships

Walking the Talk on Equitable Partnerships

July 7, 2023

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Jenna Thoretz

Senior Manager, Global Initiatives, US

The sector’s collective journey toward equitable development is well underway. However, operational barriers have hindered organizations from making meaningful, systemic changes to equip local partners. In 2022, Humentum’s “Operationalizing Locally-Led Development” webinar series shed light on these barriers, bringing together over 2,000 practitioners from 100 countries. The insights gained from the series led to the publication of “From Operations to Outcomes: A Policy Blueprint for Locally-Led Development,” the first installment in the “Collective Journey to Equitable Development” series.

The policy blueprint sparked further conversations and raised more questions, leading us to continue the series in 2023. This time we are focusing on steps organizations are taking to shift power by transforming their operating models.

Here’s what we’ve learned so far from practitioners discussing their experiences building equitable partnerships between INGOs, NNGOs, and funders.

There is no one-size-fits-all funding model to guarantee equitable partnerships

When we spoke with JSI International about their Tuberculosis Implementation Framework Agreement (TIFA), we learned that fixed amount awards (FAAs) were key to equitable partnerships. At the beginning of the grant, specific outputs were agreed upon for the FAAs to focus on. . Using fixed-amount awards helped JSI’s local partners mitigate some of the challenges with donor compliance. It also reduced the need for extensive reporting and administrative tasks. This allowed the local partners more autonomy in managing the funds and making the necessary decisions to implement the agreed-upon milestones.

Save the Children Sweden has found that its core support model aligns well with local partners. This model includes strategic funding, programmatic development, collaboration facilitation, joint advocacy, and organizational capacity building. For Breaking the Silence, a partner in Bangladesh, receiving core support from STC “increased the scope and quality of work of the organization.”  According to Program Director, Mohammad Zahiduley traditionally don’t receive funds from partners and donors until “two or three months” after starting the project and thus can’t cover “administrative costs [and] salaries of the key staff.” However, in receiving core support from STC, Breaking the Silence has been able to cover those costs and invest in its organizational capacity and strategic planning.

These funding models are just two examples of the various approaches funders and INGOs can employ. Although these models work differently, the common denominator between the two was the flexibility they provided local organizations to cover their costs and strengthen their capacities. However, as Mohammad Zahidulexplained, most NNGOs only receive activity-based support, which does not cover administrative costs or investments in organizational strengthening. He emphasized that flexible funding ensures the long-term financial sustainability of local and national organizations.

Intentional co-creation matters

Many INGOs and funders are increasingly incorporating co-creation processes into their work to build equitable partnerships. However, not all co-creation processes are created equal. According to a survey by the Reimagining the INGO (RINGO) initiative, local organizations are rarely given a say in the design process, even when invited to consult on program implementation.

Although NNGOs must be centered in the co-creation and program design process, it is also imperative that local communities themselves are not sidelined. While it is important to center NNGOs in the co-creation and design process, it’s equally crucial not to sideline local communities.

Dzikamai Bere, National Director for the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) shared his experience of the “elite capture” of funds—not by malicious actors—but rather by goodwilled members of a “’white-collar civil society,’ a civil society that is totally disconnected from the people.”

JSI’s Reimagining Technical Assistance Initiative—based on principles of partnership, mutuality, and co-creation—aims to combat the lack of co-creation in the sector. Mounia Msfer, Deputy Project Director, TIFA Project, explained that JSI spends significant time with the local partner to understand their priorities and jointly develop objectives. More flexible funding is necessary to cover some of the costs associated with building more equitable partnerships, given the reality at hand.

To shift power, capacity strengthening must focus on long-term sustainability

Several of the panelists acknowledged that significant capacity already exists among NNGOs. However, many lack experience managing large grants and the dedicated operations teams many INGOs possess. To that end, capacity strengthening and sharing are crucial to sustaining and expanding NNGO operations longterm.

JSI’s partnerships with ProLink, Africa University, and Joint Clinical Research Centre demonstrate the positive outcomes of investing in NNGO operations. These collaborations facilitated the development of organizational policies, seamless collaboration with other organizations, and access to donor funding. However, capacity strengthening should be an ongoing processthat other local organizations facilitate, as highlighted by Edem Assisi, Executive Director of ProLink and Dr. Cissy Kityo Mutuluza, Executive Director of Joint Clinical Research Centre.

Partnerships can be more equitable but the onus is on INGOs and funders to create an enabling environment for power shift

Panelists unanimously agreed that while there is a shift in power within the global development sector, it is not happening quickly or significantly enough. Progressive INGOs and funders are taking steps towards equitable partnerships, flexible funding, and organizational capacity strengthening, but true co-creation is still not the norm. For Dr. Moses Isooba, Executive Director of the Uganda National NGO Forum, INGOs are “the fulcrum for change.,” Yet, they are also inextricably tied to funders and their desire to retain power and control over global development. He emphasized the need to hold INGOs’ and donors’ “feet to the fire,” to ensure real transformation. As local and national NGOs work to shift power, they are acutely aware that INGOs are facing “an existential threat” to their way of working and that as rational actors, they must transform or cease to exist.

While some INGOs have responded to existential pressure by reevaluating their operating models and partnerships with NNGOs, not all have followed suit. Unfortunately, many NNGOs observe INGOs registering as local organizations to access funding designated for local and national NGOs. Although funders like USAID could have prevented this by revising their definition of a local entity, the current definition allows for such loopholes. It is the responsibility of transformative INGOs and funders driving equitable development to collaborate with national partners to hold their peers accountable. These actors must brainstorm brave new ways of operating and working together to achieve global development goals.

Where to from here?

Many of the NNGO panelists agreed that there is still an important role for INGOs to play—as mentors, brokers, mobilizers, and advocates. Ultimately, the secret to success lies in the everyday decisions made by organizations that shape the landscape of global development. It’s time to infuse every funding decision, every partnership, and every program with the principles of equity, local leadership, and genuine collaboration.

Register for the remainder of Humentum’s 2023 Operationalizing Locally-Led Development series. 

Learn more about The Collective Journey to Equitable Development.