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Pacific holds the potential for international agencies to directly engage with local partners

Display Date: 9/5/11

This article was originally published in the APR Newsletter ‘Making a Difference in Asia and the Pacific’, Issue 39, in September/October 2011.
Author: Vikash Kumar

IFAD consultants undertaking field check to make sure that the project is appropriately targeted

In July 2011, New Zealand Aid Programme (NZAID) signed a grant funding agreement of US$1.8 million to provide financial aid to the Mainstreaming of Rural Development Innovation Programme (MORDI) Tonga Trust. The grant funding is to enable this local non-governmental organization (NGO) to continue to promote self-sufficiency and sustainable livelihoods development throughout the isolated communities of Tonga. Furthermore, New Zealand thereby reaffirmed its commitment to engage with local partners to deliver aid where it is most needed.

The value of partnerships

Partnerships between regional and international development agencies and local development organizations such as MORDI Tonga Trust establish a direct line of assistance for vulnerable communities. Such partnerships help to continually expand community development initiatives and meet the needs of disadvantaged people.

The NZAID-MORDI Tonga Trust partnership, for example, has helped seven new rural isolated communities in Tonga to be part of the MORDI Tonga Trust’s development processes. Eleven community empowerment training initiatives have already been conducted in such topics as small engine repairs skills, leadership skills building, development planning, proposal writing, first aid and sea safety, and funding amounting to US$200,000 have been used to implement eight village infrastructure and income-generating projects.

The benefits of partnerships are clear: without partnerships with international and regional development agencies, local development partners would struggle to support new development programmes and ideas. At the same time, without the direct involvement of community-based organizations and facilitators, international agencies with their “bigger picture” framework usually struggle to understand the local issues and concerns facing communities, and risk failing to address them appropriately.

With such clear, direct and mutually beneficial linkages, how can we improve relationships with international agencies and local grass-roots partners in the Pacific?

Opportunities for improving partnerships

Signing of Grant Agreement between NZAID Programme and MORDI Tonga Trust

It is often challenging for international agencies to work directly with local partners since most local partners lack capacity to administer the large programmes and grants that international agencies usually come with. This is certainly true in the Pacific context, where local conditions are not conducive to large programmes since project sites are widely dispersed and accessibility is difficult. Local partners lack human resources, facilities and systems to absorb these projects in their originally designed large packages.

Despite these challenges, partnerships can work in the Pacific and this is now being demonstrated by the joint partnership between NZAID and IFAD to support MORDI Tonga Trust. How is this being made possible at the local level?

Firstly, the project design has taken local partners’ capacity and local conditions into account. The project is broken down into manageable sections and will be delivered at a rate that both the communities and MORDI Tonga Trust can comfortably handle.

Secondly, both IFAD and NZAID adjusted their own development agendas so that the priorities of the community take precedence. The key ingredient in reaching common ground was to take the community’s priorities as paramount and then organize their own agendas around that. International agencies must not be so stringent about their agendas that they are not able to see the priorities of the target beneficiaries.

Thirdly, agencies should agree to harmonize the financial and narrative reporting requirements so that one set of reports can fulfil the requirements of multiple agencies. Local partners are often caught in churning out different reports with different formats for different agencies, thus wasting too much human and time resources that otherwise could be used to implement activities.

Lastly, regular external technical support is being provided in the form of review missions, monitoring visits, and other support to provide the local NGO partner with capacity building and learning opportunities to strengthen programme delivery on the ground. This has enabled MORDI Tonga Trust, over the last three years, to arrive at a stage where it can administer fairly large grants.

Establishing a holistic approach to development partnerships

If the repackaging of large projects/grants into smaller more manageable portions for local partners is not an option, then the international agencies should consider drawing on the strengths of the civil society/ private sector/public sector partnership to manage larger projects in their original forms. Each sector contributes through their area of expertise and is able to handle a section of the project. This however, will greatly increase the role of the international agency in terms of coordination and harmonization among various partners. Managing such a set-up could be highly complex. However, once a rhythm is established, a genuinely holistic approach will be in place to address development issues in the scattered islands of the Pacific.

In order to ensure successful and long-standing community development results, it is essential for all development partners, especially international agencies, to adopt a holistic approach by continuing to facilitate and foster growing relationships between the communities, private sector, government and non-governmental organizations throughout the Pacific region.

Vikash Kumar, MORDI Learning Unit Coordinator

Useful links:

FSPI website
Mordi Tonga website

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