Blogs One and Two of this series noted how the draft USAID Localization Policy Framework provides opportunities to improve Program Cycle processes for sustained local ownership. This blog examines sustainability more closely and describes how multi-sector Learning Communities can advance localization.
Implemented by Social Impact, USAID/Mexico’s Civil Society Activity (CSA 2017-2020) convened local, multi-sector communities of practice, or Learning Communities (LCs), to promote collaboration, local ownership, and a systemic perspective. Through LCs, organizations share lessons learned and best practices and strengthen the local system by reinforcing existing relationships, establishing new linkages among participants, and pointing to new alliances and opportunities for collaboration. Three LC groups engaged Mexican civil society organizations (CSOs) working in violence prevention and potential allies from the private sector, academia, and local government. These LC members had limited experience collaborating or sharing knowledge, despite their common interests, challenges, and objectives. The LC groups applied Collaborating, Learning, and Adapting (CLA) principles and integrated Human and Institutional Capacity Development (HICD) with “Capacity 2.0” and Local Systems approaches.
LC members agreed sustainability is cross-cutting and that local partners must be strategic and intentional in integrating sustainability to support localization. They applied the multidimensional view of sustainability presented in Table 1.
Here are lessons learned from CSA’s experience promoting localization and sustainability:
- To achieve local ownership, CSA and local CSOs had to agree on LC topics that generated value for participants. Encouraging local ownership requires a space where local partners can understand and derive value from their differences and complementary assets.
- USAID/Mexico encouraged CSA to broaden its systemic thinking on how CSOs could connect and collaborate with the local system. Hence, CSA incorporated new types of allies to increase partners’ understanding of their local system and strengthen their role within it.
- CSA learned to establish a balance between serving as an LC convener and letting others assume leadership. This required stepping back to promote participation and allowing new dynamics, roles, and ideas to emerge organically. It also meant new local leaders emerged in unpredictable ways, but they were supported and empowered through shared resources and knowledge.
When CSA concluded, the LCs continued to meet at various events and established a social media channel for virtual communication due to the COVID pandemic. Of equal importance, partners internalized and replicated the LC model: one of the best practices is CSA partner Appleseed/Mexico, which replicated the LC model with original and additional members, sustaining and broadening participation among Mexican organizations working on violence prevention and the rule of law. Under USAID/Mexico’s current 4-year Resilient Civil Society Activity (RSA), SI has partnered with FHI 360 to evolve the LC model, integrating CSA best practices and learnings. The model is now being implemented with various civil society groups in Mexico through an updated methodological framework called the “Resiliency Lab.”
Diagram 1: Resiliency Lab Methodology
This methodology was designed and is currently being implemented by the SI team under USAID/Mexico RSA.
Elise W. Storck is a Vice President and Senior Technical Advisor at Social Impact. Elise brings over 30 years of experience in strategic planning, performance management and training and has worked for USAID, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, CARE, the Panos Institute, Duke University, PBS Television, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and IBM. At SI, Elise manages capacity-building, strategy, and training programs designed to increase organizational effectiveness through participatory design, rigorous project management, and clear performance metrics.
María Huerta is the Collaboration and Engagement Lead at USAID’s Resilient Civil Society Activity (RSA), a four-year initiative implemented in Mexico by FHI 360 and Social Impact. She has a Master’s Degree in Social Development Practice and over 14 years of experience working in civil society. Over the past few years, she has specialized in participatory monitoring and evaluation for practice and learning. She is passionate about international cooperation for development and strongly believes in the power of community-building to advance development objectives in Mexico.