Development, by definition, requires us to build local capacity and continuously look for places where we can step back and allow local actors to take the lead. However, there are still concerns among international implementers that doing so will lead to weaker results or unreliable monitoring and evaluation.
Are these worries valid? It’s on us, not our local partners, to answer this question and overcome these concerns.
International partners have role to play in supporting development by sharing best practices and expertise, as well as by providing complementary financing to support ongoing initiatives. They can help stimulate change, but their involvement shouldn’t be viewed as a substitute for the efforts and sustained commitment of local communities and leaders on a path to make their ends met.
We can ensure strong results and consistent monitoring by working with local actors as equal partners and in the spirit of mutual respect and understanding and agreeing on a common strategy. By taking steps along the way to support sustainability, like identifying the right organizations to carry forth development objectives, building their capacity, identifying champions, operating from an agreed-upon framework with clear roles and responsibilities, and instituting joint review protocols. We also need to work to build trust.
Technology has made it easier than ever to be meaningfully connected with local partners. And COVID-19 has shown us what has been possible all along: Many workshops, trainings, research, outreach and much can be done virtually. The question is why it took a pandemic and a halt on travel for the development industry to gain such an appreciation for these tools and take a fresh look at how they fit into the Journey to Self-Reliance.
The ongoing pandemic is likely to force development actors to relinquish a more hands-on approach and place more trust in organizations able to operate on the ground. It has required us to be innovative in searching for solutions to challenges to our outcomes and monitoring.
When managed properly, development is a process that provides an opportunity for communities to create, innovate and pursue a life that is secure and in which basic needs are met. Development occurs when people can rely on their own assets (institutions, good governance, adequate resources, finances, manpower, political will and a clear vision and strategy) to achieve the positive change they seek in a sustainable way.
The challenges of the pandemic have caused a shift in thinking that we shouldn’t abandon when things return to normal but maintain as the new default to support sustainable development and self-reliance.
Semere Solomon is Senior Director of the Africa Center at Creative Associates International.