How Strong Partnerships Enable Better Development Results

July 11, 2016

Administrator Gayle Smith suggests that we live in a time of extraordinary development achievements and gains, and as such we need to be flexible and turn all available resources to the advantage of producing better development results. With that in mind, the Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid (ACVFA) convened development partners on June 2 to explore how to best leverage evidence, innovation, and partnerships.

With regards to partnerships, our community recognizes the value of bringing together the private sector with governments, civil society, scientists, and academia to achieve development goals. SDG #17 and USAID Forward explicitly recognize that such engagements are necessary to ensure project relevance to support sustainable results.

While we know that strong partnerships enable better results, we can still benefit from sharing our experiences and learning from one another about how to create more of these relationships with clients and partners. To that end, here are some of the practices and values that drive EnCompass partnerships:

Recognizing the Value of Strong Partnerships

Partnerships are everywhere. If you think about it, a partnership is formed any time entities come together to work toward a mutual interest. In our complicated world, where we work hard each day to support the achievement of sustainable development goals, EnCompass recognizes that everything we seek to accomplish is done through partnerships; partnerships with clients, partnerships with consultants, and partnerships with other businesses and with ultimate beneficiaries. Some of these relationships are formal and some are informal, but they are all critically important in enabling desired outcomes. As such, the time and effort it takes to build these relationships is a worthwhile and worthy investment.

Flexibility and Understanding

Our industry often seeks greater value for clients through efficiency and standardization, but standardized designs and protocols can encourage a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t always get the job done. At EnCompass we believe that we can derive value from properly investing time to learn about the system(s) and people we are working with. This allows us to identify approaches that work best before selecting a tool from our toolkit. By placing a premium on inquiry and communication in the early stages of a relationship we learn more about our clients and what makes each of them unique.

One example of the value of flexibility in relationship building can be seen in EnCompass’ work with the Global Libraries (GL) team at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). When EnCompass was hired in 2012, we understood that BMGF wanted us to support M&E capacity building for its grantees, but the criteria for which we would be selected to work with grantees and even the range of services we could expect to provide were not fully defined. Through our first few engagements, we realized that the Global Libraries team wanted to approach our contract as a learning partnership; exploring different service models to see what would be most useful to grantees, without preconceived ideas about what would work best. As such, the first year of our contract was spent exploring different approaches and evaluating our services in collaboration with the GL team. Over time, we found that some things we tried worked better than others, so remaining flexible and listening to each other while reassessing what we had done helped us work together successfully. In the case of our work with the BMGF, our flexibility and commitment to quality resulted in more tailored and better services for the Foundation’s grantees.

Inclusivity and Engagement

One thing we learned early on is that relationships need to be fostered from the start. At the outset of any new partnership, EnCompass takes time to identify common objectives and the strengths our partnership will bring to bear on any joint efforts. We try to be inclusive, not only to foster a sense of shared responsibility but also to ensure that we are seeing a multi-faceted view and different perspectives.

A great example of the power of engagement can be found in EnCompass’ work on the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation maternal health accountability grant portfolio in Nigeria, where we serve as the monitoring and evaluation partner. Our blog post entitled “Evaluation: What’s the Use?” describes how participatory and appreciative approaches resulted in better project outcomes.  

By involving grantees as partners throughout the evaluation process, we ensured that the project was relevant to their work, and that our deliverables were accurate, timely, and comprehensive in nature. In addition, by fostering engagement and commitment in the evaluation we found that grantees became more and more enthusiastic about monitoring workshops and applying data to decision making.

Looking Ahead

We were pleased to participate in the ACFVA meeting and learn about participants’ experiences and the shared value and understanding of the importance of partnerships.

“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objective. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” – Andrew Carnegie

Photo c/o Sabine Topolanksy

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