When an Expat Aid Workers thinks up some program somewhere that seems like a cool idea, donors insist that there be “local ownership” of this activity. This is granted by stakeholders, which is why stakeholders are so great. If the program ends up being a mess, a great deal of documentation of stakeholder-granted local ownership can end up saving the donor a great deal of embarrassment, and if it is really really bad, it can save the EAW his or her job. On the other hand, if things go well, everybody knows who’ll end up getting the credit.
Stakeholders are people who actually live in or near where the activity will take place. These are usually relatives or friends of the EAW’s local head office staff that can be called to attend a stakeholders meeting, or people on a “regional contact list” that will be somewhere in the office. It is important to involve local “institutions” and “civil society”. An “institution” is any organization that owns computers, and/or has an English speaker on staff. “Civil society” is composed of individuals who speak English and have in the past been given grants by the EAW’s organization (especially SLoNGOs), or really anyone who has attended meetings, round tables, workshops, conferences, training sessions, or trainings of trainers or participated in any capacity building efforts put on by the EAW’s organization or other similar organizations and who have a keen understanding of the facipulator/facipulee relationship.
Ideally the EAW would want to invite government officials, but the senior ones are probably corrupt jerks and don’t speak English, which complicates things. Younger local government officials may speak English but if they have any influence it has come through ass kissing of their superiors so they may make a real show of disliking the initiative. On the other hand there may be some younger English speakers in the local government that have no influence at all. These make the best stakeholders and they make even fully embrace the program the EAW has plucked out of nowhere.
These programs and initiatives that EAWs come up with may be innovative and new in ways that can go crossways with conservative and traditional cultures in the implementation areas. The recipients and locals partners didn’t get an International Relations MA from SAIS or International Development degree from Sussex, so their resistance is completely understandable.
But therein lies the beauty of this stakeholder process. It is a way to transform “people” (who have no ideas what this EAW is talking about, and perhaps little interest in the goals or methods of the program) into fully vested “stakeholders”.
Here’s how: invite these people to the most expensive hotel possible; if it is in the capital, so much the better. (And don’t forget the per diem!) The more money that can be spent on the process the better. Hold a lengthy power point presentation with a large number of slides with all the points and sub-points to tell them what you want to do, and then ask them what they think. As active participants in traditional cultures, they have long experience in consensus building interaction of this type, so they are likely to immediately ask penetrating questions and engage in a lively exchange. But if they don’t, that’s ok too. Take notes and write a report in English about how they liked the idea and voila! They are stakeholders in the program. Be sure to take pictures that can be sent to the donor.
How do you know when people have become real stakeholders? One indication that they begin statements thanking the EAW and his/her organization for its efforts in holding the meeting and strongly encourage the donor to invest more time and efforts on the same issue, with a great number of follow up meetings. Another indication is that when people want to get on the local advisory board of the project that needs to oversee and approve local bidding that will be a part of the project. And finally they volunteer relatives to work on the project.
EAWs do what they do in order to develop whatever poverty stricken banana republic they happen to find themselves in. The process of that development can often be a complex web of problems, alliances, history, incentives, economics, logistics, and causality running every which way. The obvious way to cut through all of this is a “program” that does a specified (more or less) activity for a specified amount of money (it’s usually ok if it costs a little more) over a specified amount of time (it’s always ok if it takes a little longer) with specific deliverables (don’t ask). The EAW’s program although ultimately paid for, overseen, and probably managed by Expats, requires some kind of local ownership. For this reason, stakeholders are an important part of the beginning of the program. And let’s not forget, they are the ones who will look back on it fondly when the program is over.