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3 Lessons Learned Championing Local Leadership in Development

By Catholic Relief Services on August 12, 2021

local technology leadership

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the international development and humanitarian sector to adapt to a different operational model, with most international staff unable to travel and meet local communities. This has accelerated the operational changes needed to support local leadership.

While there are many facets to the evolving manifestations of local leadership, this piece is focused on INGOs and their local implementing partners.

When considering the points of view of local actors, locally led project design, adaptation and delivery have a great potential of effectiveness of response and can practically contribute to the sustainability of programs. This hinges on a process of mutual capacity strengthening (including finding and sharing innovative and flexible solutions) with local and global partners so that more responsibilities and decisions can be handled at the local level.

There is a need for support in reinforcing existing or introducing new capacity and digital systems for local partners to have more autonomy and accountability. This leads to maintaining transparency and efficacy during times of crisis, which ultimately builds mutual trust with local organizations.

Building Local Technology Leadership Capacity

The relationship between local implementing partners and INGOs should be one of mentorship and accompaniment, with increased leadership, agency and responsibilities emerging at the local level. It is this type of enabling environment between local and international actors that will get the most out of ICT4D solutions whether it is for the purposes of monitoring/evaluation, capacity strengthening, information sharing, or program implementation.

It would be remiss not to highlight local partners’ need of ongoing IT support and increased resources to bridge the gap that must be crossed before the digitization of local actors can properly take place.

These struggles are not new by any means, but they can seem quite overwhelming when juxtaposed with the challenges of sustainability (resources to equip, maintain, and renew tech), quality (infrastructure, connection, IT support), and efficiency (trained staff and culture of digitization on all levels of organization).

Lessons Learned in Local Leadership

From the perspective of those working for INGOs, one of the biggest challenges seems to be a lack of consistent funding streams to support the retention of permanent local partner staff.

Essentially, with such a high level of turnover with local partners, INGO staff are having to train new partner staff over and over again. High rates of staff turnover put an added strain on capacity strengthening, particularly in the realm of ICT4D, because it compounds problems like unreliable internet connectivity and/or a lack of familiarity with online conferencing technologies exponentially.

However, while these may be the biggest challenges, some of the lessons learned in this process of strengthening local leaders are:

  • Developing and sharing step-by-step guides and standard operating procedures with partners really helps with facilitating trainings and handing over roles/responsibilities.
  • Holding frequent and regular online or small in person trainings when possible as well as feedback and reflection sessions with permanent local partner staff.
  • Providing remote supervision and quality control using simple and well-known tech like WhatsApp or email.

One example of this type of WhatsApp supervision is sharing photos to document how activities are being implemented on the ground – enabling quick feedback based on the practices that are being observed. Not to mention, just the ability to provide quick communication support helps partner staff feel more confident in making decisions for themselves.

Tying both perspectives together, we see a large emphasis being placed on the need of partners to secure stable funding streams that would not only promote their sustainability translated in staff retention, but also help in procuring necessary technologies like smartphones, tablets, and access to software.

Trust for Local Technology Leadership

An overarching theme that we see emerge is the need for building up systems of accountability and transparency to foster trust between local partners and INGOs. This greater trust is essential as local partners take more of a leadership role in implementing activities.

When considering both the perspectives of local actors and of larger INGOs, there is a balancing act that needs to occur.

On one hand, there needs to be some flexibility on the part of global actors to foster an enabling environment for local partners to build capacity and trust; and, on the other hand local partners need to be willing to step up to the plate knowing that greater leadership comes with increased responsibilities. One of these key responsibilities being in the realm of data protection.

Finally, a closing takeaway relating to ICT4D partnership capacity strengthening is selecting and maximizing the use of a specific technical solution or approach based on the changes that are desired. Essentially, using the desired outcomes of a given intervention as a roadmap to the types of tools that capacity is being built upon.

The above is largely based on the “Supporting Local Partners during COVID-19 and Beyond” session from the ICT4D Partnerships Conference that took place January 12, 2021. Watch the full session to get the whole conversation!

By: Paul S Wiedmaier, ICT4D Knowledge Management & Communications Specialist, Catholic Relief Services

Filed Under: ICT Installer
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Catholic Relief Services (CRS) provides humanitarian aid and development across the globe by responding to major emergencies, fighting disease and poverty, and nurturing peaceful and just societies. For almost 75 years CRS has assisted people and organizations on the basis of need, not creed, race or nationality. CRS seeks out and assists the most poor and vulnerable overseas.
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2 Comments to “3 Lessons Learned Championing Local Leadership in Development”

  1. Dizzy says:

    I didn’t have any expectations concerning that title, but the more I was astonished. The author did a great job. I spent a few minutes reading and checking the facts. Everything is very clear and understandable. I like posts that fill in your knowledge gaps. This one is of the sort.