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#27 Local Partners

February 24, 2011

Expat Aid Workers cannot survive without local partners.

There are few things that guarantee the success of a relief or development intervention quite as reliably as working through local partners. Whether you’re up against a deadline and don’t have time for a proper randomized clinical trial followed by a life-saving assessment workshop… or just don’t know the local language, landing the right local partner is a sure way to totally pull this one out of your ass.

Local partners can be relied on to “provide context” (help you understand why the basic principles of good aid do not really apply in their location), explain the nuances of local business culture (“… here in Badiboopistan we’re used to our foreign NGOs just transferring the entire budget to us to implement… we’ll send you a report at the end of the program”), or help you avoid the pitfalls that typically befall those less committed to – you know – local partnership than you (“…local registration isn’t really necessary…”).

Having the right local partner listed on your in-country website or proposal can totally make your entire program. Or, if you play your cards right, having just any local partner on your proposal or website can totally make your program. Never mind hiring actual subject-matter experts in relief and development. A convincing local partner can make even the most luke-warm program appear cutting-edge. And there aren’t many things that Expat Aid Workers like more than appearing cutting-edge.

“Local partnership” is, by itself, a viable program strategy. No matter how hare-brained, out to lunch, or just plain idiotic your program is, having a local partner will make it all okay. Local partners are experts in taking total dumbass amateur Expat Aid Worker project ideas and spinning them into pure gold. No one’s taking your recycled-soda-cans-into-bracelets-for-sale-in-Europe as the salvation for poor third-world women seriously? No problem: Find a local partner, get some shots of them making the, um, jewelry, include the word “local” in the photo caption (throw in “sustainable” for good measure) and you’re ahead of the pack. Getting dissed in coordination meetings because your org “specializes” in sending retired gymnasts into the field to “empower” local people to make high-energy stoves out of recycled USA vegetable oil tins? It’s all good: get a local partner to gush about you on local television and you’re golden.

But that’s not all. Perhaps the most valuable benefit of “working with local partners” is that this enables one of the most cherished Expat Aid Worker activities of all time: “capacity building.” The beautiful thing about “capacity building” is that no one knows exactly what it is. It can be training. It can be equipment (or “assets”, depending on the donor). Those life-saving workshops that went a little over budget? Those pesky expense report items that don’t align with a particular operational budget line? Those junkets that lasted a little longer than planned? There is an answer. “Capacity building.” Worried that you might not make frequent flyer status this fiscal year? “Capacity-building for local partners” is a trans-program financial mother lode that is almost impossible to run dry.

So next time there’s a gazillion-dollar RFA for some sector your organization has zero experience with, in a country where you have no presence but that your board randomly decides it is in your “strategic interest” to pursue, never fear. Just get a local partner. And be sure to write plenty of “capacity building” into the budget.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. fake permalink
    February 25, 2011 3:08 am

    This one seems a bit more bitter than the rest

  2. Postconflicted permalink
    February 25, 2011 9:35 pm

    Also great: having a specific local counterpart for individual “skills transfer”

  3. Learning As U Go permalink
    February 26, 2011 11:50 pm

    This blog is getting to be more like a “How to” guide rather than just stuff EAW like. I think this will be where i send people to build their capacity – as in, “You need to do some capacity building? I think I know an on-line resource you should look at!”

  4. February 27, 2011 2:40 am

    Forgot to include another great role (or use) of the local partner: someone to shift the blame on to when it all goes wrong.

  5. Capacity Builder permalink
    March 7, 2011 7:55 am

    I think Capacity Building deserves its own entry. This is great.

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