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Connecting with Local Partners: How Things Have Changed

Insights
USAID staff and a local stakeholder look at papers on a table
Oct 19, 2021

Lovesun Parent is the director of external partnerships at USAID’s New Partnerships Initiative Incubator.

Two fundamental goals of USAID’s partnerships efforts are working with more diverse partners and connecting with those partners in new ways that help guide them toward successful, sustainable efforts to improve their communities. 

In the past, partnering with USAID could appear complicated for organizations that had never worked with the Agency—and even for some with previous Agency experience. To help solve that challenge, USAID is changing the way it approaches awards by giving partners a larger role in the process and a greater influence over outcomes. In short, the approach is about elevating local leadership and empowering local development actors.

At the Partnerships Incubator, we support this effort by focusing not just on identifying new partners, but also on creating tools and resources that enable them to gauge their readiness to work with USAID and learn some of the Agency’s basic requirements. We are also helping these partners build their own skill sets and knowledge to address complex development challenges. 

I have noticed some important trends that organizations interested in working with USAID can capitalize on to introduce themselves to the Agency and potentially partner with USAID. 

First and foremost, partners are now often working side by side with Agency staff to co-create projects. This approach makes better use of everyone’s knowledge and ideas. Co-creation is turning out to be a great way to harness partners’ local knowledge and networks. This is important because local innovation and creativity can increase sustainability and help ensure project success.

Some of the trends address logistic improvements. For example, incorporating co-created design processes into the procurement process can not only save time, but can improve results. The Agency is also requiring less complex proposals upfront, using more oral applications and presentations, and conducting phased competitions. These new approaches simplify processes, lower barriers to entry, and potentially lower costs and speed awards.

A positive overall trend is the Agency’s renewed emphasis on results, and not on simple compliance. I am excited about this change because it will help partners achieve real progress and build strong sustainability.

Going forward, USAID is looking at additional improvements to simplify processes and expedite projects. As an example, it is considering using customized performance periods to match intended project results, instead of asking partners to shoehorn operations into prescribed performance periods. The Agency will also work toward less burdensome reporting requirements, and it plans to develop new ways to use report data to learn, adapt, and collect the most useful information more effectively. 

With these changes, USAID’s ultimate goal is to provide knowledge and resources that help local leaders and development professionals build capacity and drive development well into the future.