Equal Partnership to Sustain Development Cooperation

Development cooperation involves not only the tangible element of development funding from donor agencies, but also the intangible element of knowledge transfer to local implementing partners. In order to achieve the collective development objectives and further ensure sustainable impacts of development cooperation, it is important for both development agencies as grantors and their local implementing partners as grantees to rethink about these elements and reformat the traditional concept of development cooperation into a more progressive concept of equal partnership.

Development cooperation and its current outlook 

Aligned with the international agenda, development cooperation is aimed at narrowing inequality gap between first and third world countries to enable the latter to actively participate in the provision of international public goods and interests. In Indonesia, the development cooperation had mushroomed due to political transformation after the Reform in 1998. In the particular field of socio-political cooperation, however, the government is considered as one of elements to be transformed, thus leaving non-profit and private actors as viable local implementing partners, with the latter being increasingly favored. This shifting selection of local partner was first pointed out at the 2011 High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF) in Busan, South Korea.

As the post-2015 development agenda has pushed development agencies further to find the most appropriate local implementing partners to advance global priorities, there is perceptibly a growing trepidation that non-profit actors have not fulfilled the general expectations despite shared values or ideology. In this regard, the traditional relationship between development agencies and non-profit actors often faces shortcomings in terms of alignment with the set of standards such as professional implementation management and accountable evaluation.

Due to its relatively young period of existence, the local non-profit actors still struggle to manage their own organization while, at the same time, implement programs in a professional manner. Meanwhile, donor organizations, under heightened scrutiny to deliver aid effectiveness, want to ensure that their development programs are held to the highest standards by their local implementing partners. This is something that private actors have been comfortably gaining ground on, thanks to their arguably better ability and capacity to accommodate grantors’ demands. Eurodad estimated that in 2010 about 7.27 billion euro of public finance was invested in private companies operating in the world’s poorest countries by the International Finance Cooperation, the European Investment Bank and six European bilateral aids.

Mindset matters

Recognizing this shift, it is important to be critical of what prompts the perception that private actors make better local partners compared to non-profit actors. While most would argue quite literally that such preference ultimately boils down to performance quality in program implementation, a more constructive answer will be to look at the mindset that characterizes relationship dynamics between development agencies and non-profit actors, which further form their respective perception of the other.

Private organizations, with their emphasis on professional and commercial standards, represent a different mindset from non-profit actors. In many development cooperation, the latter perceive their position to merely serve the demand of their grantors. The tendency to remain passive in building their capacity and in communicating their insights based on local wisdom and context often leads to insufficient performance quality.

On the other hand, development agencies often find themselves in a result-oriented mindset. This means that local implementing partners are expected and required to deliver the targeted outcomes regardless of their capacity to communicate their thoughts and insights, which is necessary to perform optimally.

It is very important to change the perspective of both grantors and grantees towards their form of relationship to achieve the ultimate objective of development cooperation in ensuring sustained development impacts. The term “cooperation” in development cooperation refers to collective works among parties committed to the relationship. Each party has elements to contribute to the relationship, and their commitments to the relationship shall be tied by good communication and smooth coordination to yield successful and effective partnership in achieving the desired common objectives.

Short-term vs. long-term: addressing the dilemma

The decision to replace local implementing partners as a short-term solution to ensure more up-to-standards implementation and evaluation needs to be reconsidered. Improving the institutional capacity of local implementing partners to align with the required standards of aid effectiveness shall be considered as a long-lasting investment. Though this effort may not bring instant and tangible results, the refined capacity of local implementing partners will support achievement of objectives and sustain the impacts of development programs in the long run. Development agencies need to focus more in supporting local partners to improve their institutional capacity through technology transfer, knowledge sharing, and capacity building efforts.

Further reverting to the main goal of development cooperation, the relationship between two independent and sovereign parties of development agencies and local implementing partners should be cooperative and non-hierarchical, and bound by common understanding on the targeted project impacts. This will be more compatible with the ultimate goal of development cooperation to create equality over the globe.

Inneke Suhanda
The writer is an Operations Manager at Kiroyan Partners. The views expressed are her own.

Source: The Jakarta Post, 6 July 2017, page 6

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